He’s a Hall of Famer with an MVP and a Cy Young trophy in his den. He pitched 24 big league seasons and has been broadcasting Red Sox games for NESN since 2003. But at this hour, Dennis Eckersley doesn’t know much more about the 2020 Red Sox than anybody else. Eck never made it to Florida for any spring training games (the Sox played 21) and admits he has some catching up to do.
“[Expletive], I haven’t even thought about that team,” Eck said with a chuckle. “Seriously. I really haven’t thought about them. I was just about to join them in Florida when all this happened.”
Eckersley has been in California since the baseball world shut down along with everything else in mid-March. He’s planning to return to Greater Boston this coming week and hopes to be broadcasting all 60 Red Sox games along with Jerry Remy and Dave O’Brien when the season begins later this month.
Notice we did not say “expects to be in the booth” or “expects to be on hand at Fenway.”
That’s because Eck won’t actually be at the games he’s telling you about. When Rafael Devers walks to the plate for the first time this year, Eck, RemDawg, and OB will be calling the game from a studio in Watertown near the Arsenal Mall.
“Three in the booth the whole time is going to be good because we need some [expletive] energy,” said Eckersley. “Seriously. It’s going to be dull as a [expletive]. There’s going to be an awkwardness to the whole thing. No big deal, but it’s just going to be robotic.
“The thing that gets me is no fans in the stands. That’s what jumps out at me. At Fenway, there was always a home-field advantage. That’s out the window.
“For me, personally, as a player I was an energy guy. The older I got, the harder time I had throwing at spring training. Seeing a packed ballpark would get me fired up.
“Everybody’s in the same boat, I know that, but you’ve got to get fired up. There is urgency. There’s not that many games, so everybody is playing harder. But you don’t realize the energy that comes from being in a full ballpark. You play better. It makes you as good an athlete as you can be when you add the crowd. It’s that focus and energy.
"Think about it. It's the ninth inning and you're warming up and there's nobody to hoot on you on the road. There's nothing there except you don't want to mess this up and hurt your team.
“It will be meaningful to guys who are playing out their contracts, but what if you’re on a team that starts off 10-20? You’re already out of it. It’ll be so easy to say, ‘I’m having a bad year. This is just nonsense anyway.’ And then you go right down the toilet.
“To me, we’re going to see the best from the strong mental guys. ‘Cause if it starts going south on you in a 60-game season, you’ve got no time to make it up. In a normal year when you start off bad and it’s May, you say, ‘Hell, man, I’ll get it back.’ Well, now you’ve only got five starts left and the season’s over.‘’
Eckersley was the greatest closer of his generation. How would he have felt about coming into an extra-inning game and seeing a designated runner already standing on second base?
“Not good,” he said. “Now you’ve got to be able to punch somebody out. And you’ve got to think they’ll be bunting more there. But we need a strikeout now.
“This might be a little different brand of baseball. You can’t be trying to go bridge every inning.”
Given the roster flexibility, will there be more pitchers routinely used in nine-inning games?
“We already do that anyway,” he answered. “How many more are you going to use? Maybe stretch somebody more a little bit, I don’t know.
“But you don’t want to overdo it. They overused [Matt] Barnes for a month last year. Are you going to bring your closer in, or use him earlier? I don’t know how they’re going to do this. A closer for two innings? I don’t know.
“How good can they be with just a couple of weeks to get ready here? Everybody’s going to be a little bit off, aren’t they? Some of these guys might be ahead because they’ve been doing their thing. That would give them an edge. Watch out for hamstrings. Everybody’s going to feel ready — let’s play — and they’re really not ready.”
Does he think the young players will be able to stick to the safety protocols?
“Nobody wants to be the one that messes it up,” he said. “I don’t think they’ll let you. You can’t sneak out. I mean, where are you going? I don’t know.
“It’s going to be new, and you’ll do whatever you’re supposed to, but you wonder how long it takes and before it just becomes a lot looser. Like we all have been. I’m a lot looser than I was about some stuff two months ago. We all are. I’m not afraid to do some stuff that I used to be.
“It’s going to be interesting just because it’s weird.”