August 23, 1992, 30 years ago today: Oakland’s Dennis Eckersley becomes the first pitcher in big league history to record 40 saves in four different seasons as the A’s beat Baltimore 7-3 at Camden Yards. Eckersley ended up with a career-high 51 saves for Oakland that season, becoming the first pitcher in MLB history to record both a 20-win season and a 50-save season. He’d go on to win both the American League Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Awards.
Little-remembered fact: Eckersley was born in Oakland. The A’s didn’t move there until he was 13, so he grew up primarily as a San Francisco Giants fan and was disappointed when the Giants didn’t draft him in 1992. Cleveland took him in the third round, and he debuted with the Indians in 1975, going 13-7 as a starter and earning AL Rookie Pitcher of the Year honors. With his career path apparently set, Eckersley no-hit the California Angels in 1977 before being traded to the Boston Red Sox in 1978.
Eckersley’s best year as a starter was that first one with the Red Sox, when he was a 20-game winner. He was dealt to the Chicago Cubs in 1984, part of the trade that sent future Boisean Bill Buckner to Boston. Then, followed by bouts with alcohol, he fell out of favor with the Cubs. Eckersley’s world changed when Oakland picked him up just before the 1987 season. Now sober, he actually started his first two games for the A’s, but manager Tony LaRussa converted him to a closer when the team’s regular in that role was injured.
Then Eckersley led the American League in saves with 45 in 1988, leading Oakland to the AL pennant. But that season is most remembered for one pitch he threw: the one a hobbling Kirk Gibson hit out in the bottom of the ninth for the L.A. Dodgers to win Game 1 of the World Series. That was merely a hiccup, though—Eckersley, with a mustache second only to Rollie Fingers in Athletics lore, logged a massive 220 saves for the A’s from 1988-92. He later pitched two seasons for the St. Louis Cardinals before finishing his career with the Red Sox in 1998. Eckersley was a first-ballot inductee into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2004.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)