fb-pixelWhat the heck is The Eck talking about? A guide to his unique vocabulary - The Boston Globe Skip to main content

What the heck is The Eck talking about? A guide to his unique vocabulary

Dennis Eckersley played 24 years and is in the Hall of Fame, but he has made his mark in the broadcast booth too.john tlumacki/Globe staff file

The distinctive lingo that Dennis Eckersley engagingly deploys on NESN’s Red Sox broadcasts includes a phrase that actually describes said lingo:

It’s a beautiful thing.

Eckersley, who pitched for 24 years in the majors, including eight over two stints with the Red Sox, excels in his own unique way in his second career. He’s more candid — blunt, even — and enthusiastic than one would ever expect a Hall of Famer to be.

There is no I’ve-seen-it-all haughtiness to him. He is one of the most accomplished players of all time and has the plaque to prove it, yet his enthusiasm for, say, the random August game against the Rays never wanes.


But it’s Eckersley’s particular lingo that adds that extra dollop of color to his analysis. He has contributed to the language of baseball. During his playing days, he coined the term “walkoff” — Eckersley actually called it a “walkoff piece,” as if it were a piece of art — for a game-ending home run.

“Man, it’s been 40 years since I got to Boston,” laughs Eckersley, who came over from the Indians in a trade during spring training in 1978. “I’ve been saying this [stuff] forever.”

A guide to Dennis Eckersley's baseball lingo
NESN broadcaster Dennis Eckersley is known for his unique turn of phrase on Red Sox broadcasts. Here's a guide. (Taylor de Lench)

All of the terminology isn’t entirely his; in Peter Gammons’s superb 1986 book “Beyond the Sixth Game,” which includes an Eckersley glossary titled “Dial-Eck,” Eckersley credits some of it to a former teammate with the Indians, Pat Dobson. Yet it is entirely authentic.

“It’s me, my personality, but it’s not always my own stuff,’’ said Eckersley. “It’s an accumulation of whoever I’ve been in contact with my whole life.

“The other day something came out that was new, and I don’t know where the [expletive] it came from. I started saying ‘pair of shoes’ about three months ago, and honest to God, I don’t know where it came from.


“I must have heard it from somebody. What it means is somebody taking strike three. It’s kind of weird, but I must have heard it somewhere in my life.”

By my unofficial accounting, his most common turns of phrase are “punchout” (for a strikeout) and “cheese” (for an excellent fastball). There are many more he uses when the moment calls for it.

“That’s one of them. Cheese. Gas,” he said. “Everyone’s got a different home run call. You never know what’s rattling around in the back of your head. I say this ‘bridge’ thing. I don’t know, it just sort of sticks.

“And I dropped a ‘Johnson’ one time, and that sort of stuck. That’s a three-run homer, a three-run piece. A three-run Johnson is what I came out with. It’s not a grand slam. A three-run bomb, usually. That’s when you’d say it. A lot of this stuff pops out.”

Here, then, in no particular order, is a handy updated guide to Gammons’s Dial-Eck. We hope it is also a beautiful thing that you enjoy from jump street. If you don’t know what that means now, you will.


Ecksplanation: A strikeout. If Eckersley has ever called a strikeout anything but a punchout, I missed it.

Proper use in a sentence: “Sale has 12 punchouts on just 68 pitches.”


Ecksplanation: A blazing fastball.

Proper use in a sentence: “Kimbrel blew away Stanton there with the high cheese.” (“High” signifying the pitch location.) Note: Occasionally, Eckersley will be specific about the kind of cheese, calling it “cheddar.”



Ecksplanation: A well-located fastball.

Proper use in a sentence: “Man, OB, that was some educated cheese there by Price. Ninety-four miles per hour, right on the black.”


Ecksplanation: An effortless fastball.

Proper use in a sentence: “Let me tell you, back in my day, no one had easy cheese like Gossage.”


Ecksplanation: Basically the same thing as cheese, though used more often in reference to a pitch’s velocity.

Proper use in a sentence: “Eovaldi was throwing gas from jump street.”


Definition: The beginning of a game or the start of a player’s performance in a game.

Proper use in a sentence: “From jump street tonight, Kimbrel just couldn’t find the strike zone with his slider.”


Ecksplanation: A finesse pitcher’s repertoire, or anti-cheese.

Proper use in a sentence: “Happ was hammering the strike zone with salad all night.”


Ecksplanation: A veteran finesse pitcher’s repertoire. He may not have great stuff, but he has learned to work, and often succeed, with what he has.

Proper use in a sentence: “When he was young, Colon used to throw gas, but now he’s trying to get by with educated salad.”


Ecksplanation: A pitcher’s ability to consistently hit the edges of the strike zone. Few pitchers ever have painted like Eck himself, who in 1990 walked just four batters (one intentional) in 73⅓ innings.

Proper use in a sentence: “When Sale paints the black with his slider like that, I don’t know why the hitter even bothers stepping in the batter’s box.”



Ecksplanation: A fastball with late movement.

Proper use in a sentence: “Wow, Kopech doesn’t just dial up the gas, that thing also has some hair on it.”


Ecksplanation: Hair. The on-the-head kind, not the moving-fastball kind. Term was actually coined by former Red Sox play-by-play man Don Orsillo in reference to Eckersley’s still-impressive mane.

Proper use in a sentence: “It was a sad day when DeGrom cut his moss.”


Ecksplanation: A pitcher who keeps pitching into trouble. The branch is in danger of breaking. When the trouble turns into a big inning, Eck refers to him as “falling out of his tree.”

Proper use in a sentence: “If Buchholz doesn’t stop nibbling, there won’t be much more branch work before he falls out his tree.”


Ecksplanation: Hitting a home run.

Proper use in a sentence: “Down two, Ortiz is up there looking to go bridge in this spot.”


Ecksplanation: An important home run, but not a grand slam.

Proper use in a sentence: “Ortiz has to be the Red Sox’ all-time leader in Johnsons.”


Ecksplanation: An epic grand slam.

Proper use in a sentence: “In Game 7 in the 2004 ALCS, Johnny Damon delivered the ultimate Slam Johnson.”


Ecksplanation: A ball hit to center field.

Proper use in a sentence: “Judge crushed it to dead central, but Bradley was there to run it down.”



Ecksplanation: Something that comes easy for a player, out of habit.

Proper use in a sentence: “Betts gets two hits a night just to stay in shape.”


Ecksplanation: Money

Proper use in a sentence: “With the season he’s having, Bogaerts is making himself a lot of iron on his next contract.”


Ecksplanation: A feeble hitter.

Proper use in a sentence: This kid is a lamb. He’s got no chance against Pedro.


Ecksplanation: A hitter who is left standing in the batter’s box after striking out. He’s nothing but a pair of shoes.

Proper use in a sentence: “Moncada has struck out 183 times this season. That’s a lot of pairs of shoes.”


Ecksplanation: Seriously? Phrases don’t get any more self-explanatory than this.

Proper use in a sentence: “When you see that J.D. Martinez drive clear the Green Monster, it’s a beautiful thing.”

Chad Finn can be reached at finn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeChadFinn.