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Dennis Eckersley is going into the Hall of Fame next week. For a stretch he was hands down the greatest reliever in the game and arguably the best it has ever seen. (If Eric Gagne keeps it up for four or five years and the Dodgers win anything he might merit being mentioned in the same breath as Eck.) Eckersley had his best years with the A's, but like so many other stars, he got his start with the Indians. (As you know, your blogger is quite the Tribe fan.) In the late 1960s and '70s the Indians turned out some of the game's top players: Lou Piniella, Graig Nettles, Chris Chambliss, Tommy John, Pedro Guerrero. Alas, none of them made his mark with the Indians.
Eck was no different. For three years he was one of the game's best pitchers. He became just the eighth pitcher under 22 to fan 200 hitters in a season, and in '77 he had a 22 1/3 hitless inning streak (two-thirds shy of Cy Young's major league record). Included in that run was a no-hitter against the Angels in which he struck out 12 and walked one.
Now, if you're a Cleveland sports fan you know you're going to have your heart broken. And you can get used to that. You deal with it. You mope around in your pajamas for a couple of weeks, you call various local seminaries and ask for brochures, you listen to bad music and dabble in poetry. If you're really ambitious you write a novel or, worse yet, a song. But eventually you get over it. Cleveland teams, however, don't stop with the heartbreak. They treat you like one of those urban-legend victims who wake up groggy on a park bench missing a kidney. They just -- literally, sometimes -- gut you. (After Game 7 of the 1997 World Series I think I vomited up my spleen.)
So naturally we couldn't keep Eck. We traded him to the Red Sox for Rick Wise, Bo Diaz, Ted Cox and Mike Paxton. Of the four, the most celebrated hitter was Wise. Alas, he was a pitcher. (He once tossed a no-hitter and homered twice in the same game.) The reason I bring this up is to remind you of what I -- and some members of the media -- believe caused the trade: Eckersley's wife was stolen from him by Rick Manning, a centerfielder whose gorgeous, flowing hair made people overlook the fact he was a mediocre hitter. It wasn't quite like Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich, the two Yankees who swapped wives, but it was nearly as unseemly. So conspiracy theorists speculated that the Tribe brass decided one of them had to go. They picked Eck, because, well, that's what we do in Cleveland.
I couldn't help but think about this -- another great player who could have been a cog in an early '80s lakefront juggernaut -- last night as I watched Trading Spouses on Fox. Are you kidding me with this? For starters, it was a Chappelle's Show skit a year-and-a-half ago. And to make matters worse, one of the families was named Biggins, which is the surname of one of Dave's greatest characters, Tyrone Biggins. The show is, predictably, ridiculous -- and you can't not love it.
In the first hour we saw Nana, a 72-year-old Japanese grandmother who does 600 crunches a day and works out with a medicine ball. From the looks of her daughter-in-law, she also makes a mean pork shumai. We also met Omar Biggins, an 11-year-old who goes by Spud. He's arguably the most endearing TV character in years. Spud, if you're reading this, you're the man. But the greatest character was Tammy Nakamura, the bottle blonde who made Spud stand in a closet because her hair dryer (which looked like it was constructed by Dale Earnhardt, Inc. to serve as a portable wind tunnel) kept tripping the circuit breaker.
I can't decide what I liked more, when she said, "You have to learn how to speak; that's how people perceive you," then proceeded to refer to her Japanese-American husband as a "minor." Or when she said, "As Dorothy said as she's clicking those toes, 'There's no place like home.'" Or heels, either one. Tammy, I think if you click your toes instead of your heels, you don't go back to Kansas; you wind up in Branson, Mo., a place you look quite familiar with.
At any rate, Eck, congrats. I only wish you were going into Cooperstown wearing a Tribe hat.
I've never seen people more divided over a movie than Anchorman. For the record, yours truly loved it. "Look at me, Ron, I'm riding a furry tractor!" Brilliant.
I've spent some time in Knoxville, so this story doesn't surprise me at all.
Finally, thank god, there's going to be another Police Academy. From what I understand, the hold up all these years was the guy who played Fackler was busy with his Royal Shakespeare Company commitments. He does a mean Rosencrantz. I only hope the new movie features Sweetchuck, the little guy played by Tim Kazurinsky. (What happened to him?) Man, do I love Sweetchuck.
Stay classy, America.
Mark Bechtel covers NASCAR for Sports Illustrated and SI.com.