Top of Mind: Dennis Eckersley, Extended Version

When you watch pitchers, are you ever re-living past experiences?

DE: Sometimes. What I don’t miss is the failure. I’m thinking, “Yes, I don’t have to deal with that,” because I know how hard that was for me up until the end. And I keep that in mind when I’m doing what I’m doing, too.

JS: What do you do in your free time, away from baseball?

DE: I like to golf. I just wish I was better at it. Once again being competitive and not being good at something…and that’s really one of the few things you’re probably going to play the rest of your life. It’d be nice to be good at it.

Probably don’t have as much time this summer with all of the games.

DE: Let me tell you something: If you’re still in baseball the way that I am, you know, doing the games, you’re talking seven, eight months. So those other four months are a beautiful thing. I look forward to it. Go to Florida. I only do so many games, but I’m watching every day and I’m watching more than one game now, with all the packages and stuff.

JS: Did you ever think you’d go another way, go into coaching?

DE: No. It’s not that I don’t have the patience for it, but you have to have a passion to want to teach. You don’t just teach because you did something well. Not necessarily. I can’t get it across.

JS: What’s the dynamic been like with [NESN announcer] Don Orsillo?

DE: He’s been great. He really has.

JS: He always sounds so friendly.

He is, absolutely. And I think he’s comfortable with me, too. …It’s like he can say whatever he wants, because I’m always asking him. In fact, I need to make a point to not do that anymore. Because I’ll say something like I’m waiting for him to cosign it, like, “Right, Don?” and he looks at me like, “You’re the one who’s supposed to know what’s going on.”

Concerning steroid abuse in baseball, do you ever think about the pitching records? That what you were doing was in the middle of [the steroid era]?

DE: When I left the game, I didn’t think I was. And I didn’t think that pitchers did it. I thought if anything it’s just the guys that are trying to hit bombs or trying to get stronger. The everyday players. Little did I know it was all the way through the game. But do I feel like it’s not fair, or my numbers could have been better? I don’t know.

JS: As much as it made of the Oakland teams that you were on, did you ever have a clue…?

DE: I think everybody knew Jose [Conseco] did. I mean, it was pretty obvious, because he had people hooting on him in ’88 back here in Boston. …I didn’t think anything of it, I just thought he was silly for doing it. Jose was kind of a freak anyway, right? And then looking back, I was blind. My answer is that I was so concerned with myself, I was so absorbed—you have to be. I was thinking about getting somebody out.

JS: So Jose was the only guy who really stuck out?

DE: Obviously Mark [McGwire] followed suit. But do I know for sure? I don’t know for sure.

JS: So it hadn’t occurred yet to people that this could be a big deal?

DE: No, it hadn’t. We’re talking ’96, ’97, ’98—my last three years—and ’98 was the year McGwire hit 70. And I played with Mac in ’97 and he was huge. If you had asked me back then, I don’t know what I would have said. I don’t want to sound like a dope but…it didn’t affect me, sort of. I wasn’t thinking, “Oh my God, this isn’t fair, these guys are all juiced up.” I never thought that. I didn’t think like that.

JS: Who’s the best pitcher of our time?

DE: I would’ve said [Roger] Clemens. Now I say Pedro [Martinez]. There you go. That’s me. And I love Pedro. I thought Roger was the best of my era, but if he started to do whatever we think he did—and once again we don’t know—and that started in ’97, when he left…I could go both ways. I could say he was a Hall of Famer up until that time regardless. But I say Pedro because he played in that era where people were juiced and he was dominant, just dominant.

JS: Does the fact that the Red Sox traded you for Bill Buckner ever come up anymore?

DE: A lot of people don’t know that. Because when I say it, people just go, “Oh, really?”

JS: It’s spared you a repetitive and boring conversation over the years.

DE: Yeah. And I’ve always said if I had played in Fenway Park, if I were playing for the Red Sox and gave up a Kirk Gibson home run, I wouldn’t be living here either. Just like Buckner.

JS: Anything outside baseball, in the news or anything else, striking your fancy?

DE: You know something? Because Jennifer’s been in politics, and because the presidential race was just here, I’ve been watching more politics over the past five years than I ever have. Which is not a bad thing until you get addicted to it.

JS: What shows do you watch?

DE: For starters, The O’Reilly Factor, beginning probably eight years ago. We watch Larry King every night. Because I’m a Republican, we watch Fox a lot.

JS: Are you an O’Reilly fan?

DE: Kind of. Not as much as before. You know, I go in cycles with him: I like him for a while, then I don’t, then I come back.

I was almost rooting for Hillary. And I didn’t like Hillary. But McCain was killing me, and we didn’t have anybody.

JS: What’s your favorite baseball movie?

DE: Everybody says Bull Durham or Field of Dreams, but For Love of the Game affected me, because he was a 39-year-old pitcher, and it caught me and got to my emotions. So I’d say that one.

JS: I usually go with Major League.

DE: Yeah, that’s just corny shit. But it’s funny.

JS: No affinity with Ricky Vaughn?

DE: No—that was ’89, so I’d just been doing it for a couple of years, but I didn’t see myself as being Ricky Vaughn because I had control.

JS: When you see Jonathan Papelbon out there now, and he sort of cultivates the image and tries to intimidate on the mound—does that ever remind you of you in any way?

Completely different style. …He’s so deliberate, and I used to get exuberant. …The only thing I don’t like about it is that it takes too long. It’s like, “Throw it!” That’s what bothers me, people who don’t hurry up and pitch, ’cause the game is so damn long anyways.

The more you watch the game, the more you’re involved in the game on a daily basis, it all becomes how long the game is. …A team comes to town and says, ‘Yeah, we’re playing pretty good, we’ve got quick games.” It’s all about how fast the games are: “We may be losing but at least it’s quick.”