After pitching in the most games in major league history--1,071--Dennis Eckersley said Thursday he had thrown his final fastball.
His 24 seasons in the majors were really two careers: 13 years as a starter and then, after a battle with alcohol, a move to the bullpen for 11 years as one of the most dominating relievers the game has ever seen.
"It's hard to walk away," he said, fighting back tears. "It's been a major part of my life since I was 8 years old."
Eckersley piled up awards and memories: six All-Star appearances, the AL most-valuable-player and Cy Young awards in 1992, the AL championship series MVP in 1988. He pitched a no-hitter for Cleveland in 1977, sat in the dugout for the 1978 Yankee-Red Sox playoff, gave up Kirk Gibson's famous World Series home run 1988, and closed out games for three pennant winners in Oakland.
Now 44 and third on the career saves list with 390, he only admitted he had reached the end this week, after the Red Sox refused to offer salary arbitration, making them ineligible to re-sign him until May 1.
"To be honest with you, somebody had to make the decision for me because I wouldn't have done it," Eckersley said. "I would much rather have left like I've done today than to leave in the middle of the season or getting booed out of the ballpark. I didn't want to taint my career."
Seattle made a small move Thursday, signing catcher Tom Lampkin to a $1.55-million, two-year contract. But the bigger news was that the Mariners are talking about contract extensions to Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez, deals that would be worth $60 million to $70 million each. Both are eligible for free agency after the 2000 season. . . . The Houston Astros gave right-hander Shane Reynolds a $21.5-million, three-year extension through 2002 with a team option for 2003. Reynolds, 30, went 19-8 with a 3.51 earned-run average in helping Houston to the NL Central title. . . . The Kansas City Royals added two potential starters, reacquiring third baseman Joe Randa from the New York Mets and signing free-agent shortstop Rey Sanchez.
Doctors treated a persistent infection in Joe DiMaggio's lungs, hoping to relieve congestion that grew worse overnight and clouded his overall health picture once again. Still, despite a low-grade fever and the increased congestion, DiMaggio was stable, and his blood pressure, heart and kidneys were all performing well, his doctor said in Hollywood, Fla. Friends of DiMaggio said fans could send cards to him at 3230 Stirling Road, Hollywood, FL 33021.
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Where Eckersley Ranks
Career save leaders since 1969, when saves became an official major league statistic (x-active). Since Dennis Eckersley was formerly a starter, he has more victories than the other top relievers: *--*
No. Player Saves Wins 1. Lee Smith 478 71 2. x-John Franco 397 77 3. Dennis Eckersley 390 197 4. Jeff Reardon 367 73 5. x-Randy Myers 347 41
When used primarily as a starter, Eckersley averaged 11.6 victories a season. When used primarily as a reliever, he averaged 32.5 saves. Other statistics: *--*
Start Relief Games 361 710 Innings 2,483 802 2/3 Hits 2,400 676 ERA 3.69 2.93 W-L 144-130 53-41 Strikeouts 1,618 783 Walks 616 122 Saves 0 390 Wins 144 53 Losses 130 41