Eckersley fondly recalls All-Star Game memories

BOSTON – He was 22 years old, and it was two o’clock in the morning. The bleary-eyed, right-hander from Fremont, Calif., picked up the phone in his hotel room in Texas. On the other end was the Cleveland Indians traveling secretary, Mike Seghi, who was calling to inform the future Hall of Famer that he had been selected to represent the American League at the All-Star Game for the first time.

The year was 1977 and pitcher, Dennis Eckersley, was in his third season of what would become a made for the silver screen 24-year Major League career. He was a budding baseball superstar and just beginning to navigate his way through the rough seas of the big leagues.

California Angels flame-thrower, Nolan Ryan was selected by American League Manager, Billy Martin, to replace injured teammate, Frank Tanana, on the All-Star roster. Ryan, however, had already made other plans and refused to go, which infuriated Martin to the point where he loudly called for Major League Baseball to suspend Ryan for a week without pay. Ryan’s refusal led to the Yankee skipper to call on young Eckersley to replace the Ryan Express for the game to be played at Yankee Stadium.

“When I got to the hotel there was a key there, this really meant a lot to me, I had Nolan Ryan’s room, you know what I’m sayin’. It was great!,” the excitable Eck told me this week in the NESN TV booth at Fenway Park.

“I get to the park and Billy Martin is telling us what is going on. He told us that (Jim) Palmer’s got the first three (innings) and Eck has the second three. I was like ‘Don’t tell me now,’ because I was like freaking out, because I knew I had the second three!”

Eckersley has been known to have his own language at times, which is really endearing, and why he is one of the funniest storytellers in baseball.

His Eck-isms are classic.

“So, as it turns out, Palmer got his lunch and gave up like three bombs, which is unheard of, you know, finally somebody else came in to relieve him, but I pitched a couple of innings. I pitched the fourth and fifth innings and got everybody out and that was exciting. I faced six guys and I think four of them are hall of famers,” Eckersley said.

“I was only 22 and it was like the only time you were on TV. I was in Cleveland. We were never on TV, you know, maybe on the weekends, but this was a national piece. I mean, I was nervous, man!”

The long-haired sidewinder with the signature leg kick went on to tell more All-Star

memories.

“The second time, I started the game against Steve Rogers. He was with Montreal. This is 1982 in Montreal when I was with the Red Sox. Smoking hot day. You know how they have all the pomp and circumstance. I warmed up for a while.

“By the time I got to the mound I was gassed. I mean gassed,” Eck remembered with a laugh.

“I had to pitch three innings. Then I had to hit. I hadn’t hit in forever and I had to hit in the second inning. I had to hit against Rogers. I was scared to death. I was just, ready, get set, swung at the first pitch, hit a ground ball and kind of got my hands buzzing, you know. Anyway, in the third inning I go out and give up a walk and a knock or something. Two outs. (Dave) Concepcion of the Reds juices me off the foul pole, (expletive deleted)… so I lost that game.”

Eckersley went on to pitch in four more Mid-Summer Classics, saving three of them. He was inducted into Cooperstown in 2004, receiving 421 of a possible 506 votes that year. Eck told me he will “check in” on Tuesday night’s game from Washington, D.C., and that he wishes they played for something instead of it being just an exhibition.

On the break

After today’s game with Toronto, the Red Sox are off for the All-Star Break and will pick up on Friday in Detroit against the Tigers to start a six-game road trip that concludes with three games in Baltimore. Buckle up for the final 64 games of the regular season and get ready for what could be an absolutely epic pennant race.

Tim Neverett is in his third season as Red Sox Radio Play-By-Play Announcer for the WEEI Red Sox Radio Network throughout New England. Tim can be followed on Twitter @timneverett