*This interview was originally published in September 2004 by Ocean View Press and was conducted by contributor Paul Stanish.
On August 7th, 2004 I was given the opportunity to interview one of the newest members of the baseball hall of fame, Dennis Eckersley. Considering the thousands of players to play major league baseball, this is a remarkable feat, because only 258 players are in the hall of fame. Dennis played in the majors as a starting and relief pitcher for 24 seasons, dominating in his role as closer for the Oakland A’s in the late 80’s and early 90’s. He appeared in over 1000 games, recorded 390 saves and 197 victories. He was only the 3rd relief pitcher to be inducted into the hall of fame.
In this interview, Dennis talks about his heroes, the Boston fans, player development, former managers, and about what it takes to reach the major leagues, among many topics. I want to thank Dennis for his time and for relaxing me. I sat down and was intimidated and nervous, but he completely calmed me down with his great smile and candid answers to my questions.
Paul- When did you start playing baseball?
Dennis- Oh God, probably about 8 or 9 years old. Organized anyway. Little league, about 8 or 9.
Paul- Were you always a pitcher?
Dennis- Yeah. I also played shortstop.
Paul- When you were trying to make the majors, what was your biggest challenge?
Dennis- Ahh, I’d say……., the big leagues were always an unreachable league. When you get there, you’re around all these players that are playing better than you have ever seen before. You have to realize that you’re good enough to play in the big leagues. You need to have confidence. You have to reconvince yourself that you are good enough to play with those guys.
Paul- Did managers or coaches ever encourage players that didn’t have that type of confidence? Or was it up to the player to adjust to that?
Dennis- It’s all about how you go about it. You don’t want a young player to jump from or over A or AA right to the majors. It’s gotta be step by step and not take too big of a jump too early. That’s how you can loose your confidence.
Paul- Do you think that that’s hurting baseball right now. Players jumping so much.
Dennis- Yes. I think there is a lot of players, pitchers in particular, that aren’t ready to be in the big leagues. It’s changed a lot. They are trying to offset big salaries by getting players up there at minimum pay.
Paul- Except for the Red Sox and Yankees! Ha.
Dennis- Yes, True!
Paul- Did you have any mentors or heros growing up?
Dennis- Yeah, Juan Marichal. I grew up in San Francisco. I emulated him.
Paul- He influenced you to play baseball?
Dennis- Absolutely. Willie Mays too.
Paul- Who was your favorite manager to work under?
Dennis- Tony LaRussa
Paul- How come?
Dennis- It’s all about success, and My success came from proper management. He knows not to overuse you. He knows when and what situations to put you in that you can be successful. You also need a manager that has confidence in you. He was the man.
Paul- What was the most challenging part of your career.
Dennis- For me. Dealing with failure. 1983 was a horrible year for me. Physically I wasn’t feeling well and the following year, I was traded. I knew it was time to be traded. I didn’t have to be traded either. I just knew it was time to leave.
Paul- What was your hardest accomplishment as a player?
Dennis- I wouldn’t say one accomplishment. Having played a career that long is an accomplishment in itself.
Paul- How does it feel to be in the hall of fame? What does it mean to you?
Dennis- It’s hard to explain. I never really expected it nor do I think anyone really ever expects it. The experience was everything I expected it to be. It was intense.
Paul- What was it like to play in Boston?
Dennis- Boston was great. Coming from Cleveland to playing Boston was unbelievable. The packed houses, the intensity of the fans.
Paul- Is that a big difference between coming to Boston to play and other cities?
Dennis- Yes. There is so much intensity and urgency with playing in Boston. It brings great pressure too, but I like that.
Paul- Did you have any pre-game rituals?
Dennis- A ton. After a while they get to you though. If I lost a game, that would pretty much be the end of that ritual.
Paul- Was there one that you kept throughout your entire career?
Dennis- I never touched the white baseline!
Paul- What hitter did you hate facing the most?
Dennis- George Brett and Rod Carew. I never liked the guys that stayed on the ball. I never minded guys swinging to hit the ball, I just never liked guys who stayed on it.
Paul- What are you doing to enjoy your retirement now?
Dennis- I’ve been traveling a lot. I’m available a lot more now with my family. I can sleep late. That’s enough for now. Ha ha!
Paul- Any advice or tips for kids playing baseball right now?
Dennis- It’s always corny to say “have fun”, but yes, try to have fun. Have as much fun with the game as you can.
Paul- Thanks so much for talking to us.
Dennis- You are very welcome!