Eckersley even gave up liquor for a while. He had a decent year in '85, but then he developed some shoulder tendinitis and started drinking again. Wrigley Field, with day games only, didn't help; the day games only made for longer nights. The oil was now mastering him. "The first year in Chicago wasn't too bad," says Nancy. "But then Dennis started drinking again. I could see it in his eyes, hear it in his voice on the phone. I think I really realized he was in trouble when he came home one day, chewing gum like mad. I went into the bedroom for a minute, and when I came out, he was still chewing. But there was a drink hidden behind the TV set."
"Nancy started going to Al-Anon [the support group for the families of alcoholics]," says Dennis. "She would tell me she was going to these meetings, and I would say, Aw, honey, what do you want to do that for?' I mean, how clueless can you get?"
How bad was Dennis?
"He was really bad," she says. "I asked myself all the time why I stayed with him—we did split for a while—and I think it was because I could still see that he was a good, caring person. But that person was getting smaller and smaller."
After a rotten season with the Cubs in '86, Eckersley was 32 and, a lot of people thought, washed up. He could have been had for peanuts. And he was, just before the start of the '87 season. "We had a couple of good reports on him," says Alderson, "but basically we were just waiting for the price to go down." In what is arguably the worst trade in Alderson, history, Eckersley was dealt to the A's, along with infielder Dan Rohn, for three minor leaguers: outfielder Dave Wilder, infielder Brian Guinn and pitcher Mark Leonette. (Only Guinn is still in pro ball, at Triple A Vancouver.) Not only that, but the Cubs agreed to pay the bulk of Eckersley's 1987 salary.
Unbeknownst to either the Cubs or the Athletics, Eckersley had seen the light. Or, rather, the video.
"It was between Christmas and New Year's after the '86 season. Nancy was off on a modeling assignment, and I was taking care of Mandee, who was 10 at the time. We were staying over at Nancy's sister's house in Connecticut. Well, one night I put on a real premeditated drunk. God, I was awful, and with Mandee there too. What I didn't know was that D.J., Nancy's sister, was filming the whole thing.
"The next day I stumbled downstairs, and there's the video of me on TV. I'm watching myself in horror, saying, 'D.J., turn that off, please turn that off' But she wouldn't, no matter how much I pleaded with her. So I had to watch this drunk who was me. And that was it. That was the wake-up call."
A few days later Nancy dropped Dennis off at Edgehill Newport, a treatment center in Newport, R.I. Six weeks later she picked him up, and they began to pick up the pieces. With a little help from the Athletics.
"The trade came at just the right time," says Eckersley, "but none of this was overnight. I didn't just become a closer, and I didn't just become a new person. I wasn't easy to be around, so Nancy and I kept our distance that year. In fact, if you asked me for one image from '87, it would be me sitting by the pool, with a Walkman on my cars and tears in my eyes."