Originally created 12/10/97

Back to Boston: Eck's a Red Sox again



BOSTON -- Seeing his name on a Boston Red Sox uniform made Dennis Eckersley feel like a much younger man. That's understandable: The last time he wore one, he was one.

"I feel like I'm not 43, I'm 33," he said Tuesday after signing a one-year deal that will probably allow him to finish his career in the city where it first flourished. "I can't even remember when I won 20 games (in 1978). I'm like, `Who was that guy?' That was a lifetime ago."

Eckersley's agent, Jack Sands, told the Boston Herald that if Eckersley pitches as well as last year, when he saved 36 games for the Cardinals, he will earn the same $1.75 million.

Eckersley said he turned down deals worth twice as much.

"It didn't matter," he said, explaining that he wanted to be with his family in nearby Sudbury. "When it came up, it was like a no-brainer. I just feel like it was meant to be. I just feel like it was a nice ending to my career."

Although he said several times that he expected this to be his final year -- saying he "can't imagine" pitching more than one year -- Eckersley did not commit to retiring after the season.

"I've talked to guys who retired, and there are regrets if you quit too early. I don't want to do that if I don't have to," he said. "Once you say you're retiring, it's like you already have, so I don't want to do that.

"Maybe I'll say it with a week to go. I can think that far ahead. My whole life is sort of one day at a time anyway."

Eckersley broke into the major leagues with the Cleveland Indians in 1975, pitching a no-hitter in '77. He was traded to the Red Sox in '78 and won 20 games for Boston that year, but his career floundered and in 1984 he was traded to the Cubs for Bill Buckner.

After going 6-11 with the Cubs in 1986, Eckersley was traded to the Oakland Athletics, who turned him into a reliever and gave him a second career.

From 1988-1993, he averaged 43 saves per season. In 1990, he had 48 saves and a 0.63 ERA for one of three Athletics World Series teams he played on. Last year, a panel of baseball writers named him the best relief pitcher in baseball history.

In all, Eckersley has 389 saves -- second all-time to Lee Smith's 478. Eckersley has won 189 games.

"He's got an opportunity to do something no one else has done: win 200 and save 400 games," said Boston general manager Dan Duquette, who was a sophomore at Amherst when Eckersley first joined the Red Sox. "He had a great start to his career here. Hopefully, he's come full circle."

Tom Gordon, who made the transition from starter to closer last season, had been penciled in as the Red Sox stopper in 1998. Eckersley could be used as a tutor for Gordon or as insurance if that experiment fails.

"It's hard to know how they're going to use me," Eckersley said. "I'm just going to see what happens.

"Sometimes, being a setup man is harder than being the closer. Sometimes the closer can save the game in the seventh or eighth inning. But I'm not going to come in and say, `I'm the man."'