Top of Mind: Dennis Eckersley, Extended Version
JS: You’re from Oakland originally, so basically the only time you were in Boston before moving back here after your career was one year at the end and several years in the middle. How did you [and your wife, Jennifer] end up deciding to plant down here?
DE: When I first came to town back in ’78, I was single. And then I married somebody—not Jennifer—who was from Boston, and that’s how I ended up staying. Next thing I know, I go to California. Between Chicago and California for years, and I kept coming back here for the off-season. Why? Because she was from here.
JS: So when you’re watching the Red Sox play Oakland, are there any conflicting feelings?
DE: I have no feelings for anybody, none. When you play the big leagues as long as I have, all you care about is someone you know. Say, like Tony La Russa—when I watch the Cardinals, I hope they win. You have to have a personal connection. Being a fan of one team goes out the window once you’re a big league player, truly. I was a San Francisco Giant fan. Not anymore. And being in Boston, everywhere you go, it’s like, “What happened with the Sox today?” Doing this job, you want to be objective, and it’s easy for me because I’m not a homer. I mean, I hope they do well but I’m not sitting there like a fan. I don’t want anybody to think I don’t care about the Red Sox, but not to the level of “Oh God!” …I’m glad I’m not deeply connected to it, you know what I’m saying? …Because then you’re just saying whatever you see. You don’t have any bias.
JS: I imagine people on the street still recognize you for your pitching, but is it strange that you’re probably getting recognized as much now, especially after this year, for being a broadcaster?
DE: You know, even if I did this or not, this place is crazy—anywhere you go, any connection you have with the Red Sox, let alone what I’m doing, [you’ll get attention]. Obviously it’s probably more now, but it’s not like I’ve seen a big difference.
JS: Is it your ambition to continue on with TBS, or wherever that leads you?
DE: Yeah, that’s a pretty good gig. There’s only so many channels you can be connected with, it’s either ESPN or—
JS: It’s such a Goliath.
JS: What you’ve got to do is go kidnap Joe Morgan.
DE: It’s not like I have these aspirations to be the number one guy. I’ve let life come to me. I mean, how would you ever project that you’d step in for Jerry? You just wouldn’t. Nobody would. He’ll be here till it’s over, as long as he wants. So that came my way. TBS came my way. And I made the most of it. And it came at a time when I was ready for it.
JS: It’s funny to hear you say these things because you used to be so competitive when you were playing. You used to scare me when I watched you as a child.
JS: Only when you were pitching against the Red Sox.
DE: I mean, ultimately you want that mound presence, right? What do you mean? What’s that got to do with them coming to me? I mean it’s not that I’m not [competitive]. I want to be as good as I can be.
JS: You sort of have to pick your spots, is what you’re saying.
DE: Yeah. It takes time, you can’t push it. So it’s like this TV thing. In games, you’ve got to do it.
JS: As a pitcher, you were grooming yourself to be intimidating?
DE: I don’t know if I was doing that on purpose. This is who I am. That’s why I probably get self-conscious when somebody says to me, “It’s 1990, it’s 2000″—in other words, “Get with it.” It kind of gets to me if somebody drops “porn star” on my moustache. I don’t think I was trying to be intimidating at all. I didn’t do it on purpose. I’m just competitive and that’s just what it looks like.
JS: People still give you flak about your moustache?
DE: Yeah. What am I supposed to do? That’s what I was getting at: how I look, people get on it. I get just as sensitive as anybody else. That’s another part of this business—you can’t be sensitive to criticism, because you’re open for it.
JS: I don’t think there’s ever been a sportscaster liked by everyone.
DE: Exactly. So that’s part of the business, too.