The Dennis Eckersley documentary does him justice — he makes sure of it
Dennis Eckersley has always seemed an obvious candidate for a documentary. He’s a Hall of Fame pitcher that had several compelling phases in his life off the field and on, including two playing stints with the Red Sox as well as his current gig as an enthusiastic and stylistically unique analyst for NESN.
He had a walk-on role in arguably the greatest walk-off home run in baseball history. Heck, Eckersley, with his his own special lingo, even made the term walk-off part of baseball’s dictionary.
But this is also a guy who casually dropped a one-liner during a broadcast this past season about his first wife leaving him for a teammate. As a player and broadcaster, Eckersley has always been that way — accessible, authentic and candid — and so even his most shocking and sobering stories have long ceased being secrets.
When the MLB Network announced in late November that the documentary we’ve been waiting for, titled “Eck: A Story of Saving,’’ would premiere this Thursday (8 p.m.), the first reaction here was: It’s about time. This is going to be great.
The second reaction? But what more could we possibly learn, since he’s always been so forthcoming?
I’m glad to report that the first reaction was correct. It is great, with Eckersley animated and in peak storytelling form while he’s interviewed onstage at the Cabot Theater in Beverly.
And the second reaction? Nothing to worry about there. While most of the territory is familiar to those who followed him during his 24-year career and beyond — his early days as a hotshot with the Cleveland Indians, the stunning trade in the spring of ’78 to the Red Sox, his victory over substance abuse in the ’80s, and his baseball rejuvenation as a record-setting closer with the A’s into the ’90s.
But there is enough new stuff, and much more that feels new because it’s Eckersley telling the story.
When writing about something that hasn’t aired yet, I sometimes struggle with how many fresh details and stories to reveal, especially when the subject is already so familiar. So let’s keep it to one good one here — Eckersley’s telling of his no-hitter for the Indians against the Angels on Memorial Day 1977, when he was just 22 years old.
“We got one run in the first,’’ said Eckersley. “And I had to make that thing hold up. And I was dealin’ that night. I really was.
“The last inning, I got two outs, and Gil Flores [a spare outfielder for the Angels] was the next guy up. And the photographers . . . a guy kept running out by the coach’s box [near first base] and kept setting up his camera.
“Well, he was bothering Gil Flores. And I’m chomping at the bit. This was the last out! And he’s taking his time,’’ said Eckersley, becoming more animated. “I went off. I said, ‘Hey! They’re not here to take your picture. You’re the last out! Get in the [expletive] . . .’ ”
Before he can finish the sentence, Eckersley leans back, breaking into laughter.
“And then I punched him out.”
Yeah, the doc does the Eck justice. The subject makes sure of it.