Maybe not, but it was certainly entertaining. Complementing his cocksure attitude on the mound was DialEckt, the weird dialect that spread through baseball via the Eck and friends. Early in his career in Cleveland, Eckersley fell under the influence of veteran righthander Pat Dobson, who was given to verbal eccentricities. Together they came up with a new brand of chatter. For example, liquor was "oil," money was "iron," a big game was a "Bogart." As for baseball terms, DialEckt included some that have since entered the everyday lexicon of ballplayers: "cheese" (fastball), "yakker" (curveball), "kitchen" (inside pitch) and "kudo" (the bow a batter takes when he bails out). All of this led to Eck's pithy pronouncement on his craft: "Pitching is simple—cheese for the kitchen and a yakker for the kudo."
When he failed to complete negotiations on a five-year contract before pitching the Red Sox's '79 opener, Eckersley explained his disappointment to the Boston media this way: "I wore a three-piece, and they chilled me. I wanted the Bogart, but not without the iron out front."
Despite his flamboyance, Eckersley was going through a searing experience in his personal life. On March 30, 1978, Eck found out that he had been traded to Boston. The same day his first wife, Denise, told him that she didn't love him anymore. In June, he learned that she and his best friend. Rick Manning, a Cleveland outfielder, were having an affair (they would eventually be married).
"I was hurt at first," says Eckersley, "but Denise and I were kids when we got married. We were 18 and didn't know anything. What hurt was being separated from Mandee [his daughter]."
The divorce was not yet final in September '78, when Eckersley and Mandee, who was two at the time, were reunited for the first time in months at a Baltimore hotel. Watching the two of them, Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk said to a reporter, "Look at Eck's face. There's a 23-year-old kid holding all his real emotions inside him." The next day Eckersley started against the Orioles but pitched badly and was removed.
"I headed for the clubhouse, all teed off," recalls Eckersley, "and there at the end of the hallway was my daughter. It was just like The Babe Ruth Story. I broke down."
Somehow Eckersley maintained a civil opinion of the man who stole his wife. Says Hurst, "Every time Manning came to the plate against us, I used to fume and think, I hate that man. But Eck never did hate him. He still considered him a friend. I don't know how he did that."
The close friendship between Hurst and Eckersley has long struck outsiders as peculiar. Hurst is a quiet, rather shy Mormon from St. George, Utah, who angrily stormed off the Red Sox' charter in Oakland during this year's playoffs because he felt too much drinking would make the trip back to Boston intolerable. Yet the formerly hard-drinking Eckersley was Hurst's idol.
"I wanted to have Eck's style on the mound," he says. "My first day of spring training, I called home to tell everyone I'd played catch with Dennis Eckersley. The other day I found my '81 baseball card, and I saw that I had grown a mustache to look like the Eck. Once I got to know him, I realized how complex and decent he is. He was always there to help me through some very rough times. He understood adversity and knew how to deal with it. When he was traded by the Red Sox to the Cubs [in May 1984], I actually sat down and cried."
Eckersley's grace under fire shows up in many ways. It came as no surprise to Hurst that Eckersley patiently answered questions for nearly 45 minutes after having given up a dramatic homer to Kirk Gibson in the first game of this year's World Series. Hurst had heard about the class Eck had shown after pitching the third game of the '78 Boston Massacre—that infamous four-game sweep of the Red Sox by the New York Yankees in September. The score was 0-0 in the fourth inning when a two-out, bases-loaded pop-up fell amid five Red Sox fielders. By the time the inning was over, New York had scored seven runs.