Dennis Eckersley nicknamed “Eck,” was a Major League Baseball player elected to Baseball Hall of Fame in 2004 (his first year of eligibility). He enjoyed success as a starter, but he gained his fame as a closer, becoming the first of only two pitchers in Major League history to have both a 20-win season and a 50-save season in a career. He is also noted as the pitcher who gave up Kirk Gibson’s game-winning home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. The A’s used Eckersley almost exclusively for the ninth inning and inserted him regardless of the pressure or game situation. Instead of being a fireman or a mop-up man, Eckersley became a one-inning pitcher. Starters were no longer expected to finish games; there was another pitcher who was coming into the game in the ninth inning, no matter what. Although the idea of a dedicated closer was hardly new (Lee Smith was already closing for the Cubs by the time Eck was converted to the closer role), it was rejected outright by old-school purists; it took Tony La Russa and Eckersley to popularize it. Eckersley’s incredible short-term dominance of the position was perhaps the most influential aspect of this popularization. He was seen to shut down a game after the eighth inning; he was fresh, cocky, and always hit his spots. His pointed finger at a struck-out batter and his glare became well-known after he and Boston’s Dwight Evans famously battled during the 1988 and 1990 playoffs. After Eckersley, every team wanted a pitcher who would end a game after eight innings, save their starters from overextending themselves, and give their fans something exciting to look to in a late game. Although the value of a closer is still debatable, Eckersley’s influence is indisputable; by 2006, the notion of a team without a dedicated closer seemed as ridiculous as a pre-Eckersley team with one. Although the idea of a specialty, one-inning game closer was the suggestion of his Oakland A’s manager, Tony La Russa, it was Eckersley who put the ‘cool’ in the role of the closer.
Cleveland Indians (1975-1977)
Boston Red Sox (1978-1984, 1998)
Chicago Cubs (1984-1986)
Oakland Athletics (1987-1995)
St. Louis Cardinals (1996-1997)