Eckersley closes another win with 'unbelievable' MVP award After club-record 51 saves, he's making more as dad

November 20, 1992|By Jim Van Vliet | Jim Van Vliet,McClatchy News Service

OAKLAND, Calif. -- It was just another day, another save for Oakland Athletics reliever Dennis Eckersley.

During a telephone news conference with Bay area reporters yesterday, he had to cut the interview session short when his son, Jake, swallowed a dime.

But, as A's fans have learned over the last six seasons, when the money's on the line, that's when Eckersley goes to work.

Eckersley, the most dominant relief pitcher in baseball, became Oakland's third American League Most Valuable Player in five years when the Baseball Writers' Association of America bestowed the 1992 award to him over Kirby Puckett of the Minnesota Twins and Joe Carter of the Toronto Blue Jays.

"It's unbelievable," said Eckersley, who won the American League Cy Young Award last week. "I didn't expect it to happen, even though I was by the phone all day. I was ready to be let down.

"It's great. I worked hard. But, jeez, a lot of people worked hard."

Eckersley, 38, compiled a major-league high and club-record 51 saves in 1992. He opened the season by converting his first 36 save opportunities, setting a major-league record. The A's were 65-4 in games in which he appeared.

Baseball purists will debate whether a player who appears in just 80 innings deserves the MVP award.

Even Eckersley isn't sure.

"I understand that there are a lot of deserving guys," Eckersley said. "I understand if they are upset. I probably would have voted for Carter, myself. . . . Though I may not have played nine innings, it was a grind. I was nervous for nine innings, if that matters."

Eckersley joins Willie Hernandez (1984) and Rollie Fingers (1981) as relievers who have won the American League MVP award. And it's hard to argue the logic.

In 1991, Eckersley's ERA bloated to 2.96, his highest figure since 1987, and the A's finished fourth in the AL West, 11 games behind. This year, Eck went 7-1 with a 1.91 ERA, and the A's won the AL West by six games.

"Being a closer on a club is a big responsibility," Eckersley said. "If you don't do well, it's the first thing people look at. It's glaring when the stopper goes haywire. In '91, I had a bad year and it reflected on how we played. I felt responsible. When you win, you're responsible, too."

The second major award in two weeks almost takes the sting out of the playoff loss to Toronto.

Almost.

"It does help, but the pain is still there," said Eckersley, who gave up eight hits -- including a tying home run by Roberto Alomar in Game 4 -- and compiled a 6.00 ERA in three playoff innings. "Every time I think about baseball, it's the first thing I think of. I feel like I have a lot of responsibility for next year.

"I can celebrate the moment. But I don't want people thinking I'm gloating on my awards. I blew the playoffs. Don't think I don't have that in my heart, too. Believe me."

Eckersley received 15 first-place votes in the balloting of 28 sportswriters. He totaled 306 points, outdistancing Puckett, who received three first-place votes and 209 points. Carter, who received four first-place votes, finished third with 201 points.

Eckersley joins Vida Blue (1971), Reggie Jackson (1973), Jose Canseco (1988) and Rickey Henderson (1990) as Oakland MVP winners.

"I couldn't celebrate the Cy Young because this thing was on my mind," Eckersley said. "People kept telling me I'd win. But I said, 'I got the Cy Young. That's good enough for me.' Now this? Wow!"

Eckersley said yesterday's award is the highlight of his 18-year career.

"When you first get here, you try to hang around for four years, get your pension," Eckersley said. "Then, you have a good rookie year and start setting goals. You start throwing good and you think, 'Hey, I can throw a no-hitter.' And I got one.

"You get on a good team and you think, 'Maybe I can win 20 games.' And I got that. Today, I was sitting by the phone. I'm not that cool that I thought I deserved it, but I knew if I was ever going to get it, this was the year."

Eckersley is the ninth player to win both Cy Young and MVP honors in the same season. He also helped his pocketbook.

A $100,000 bonus for the MVP brought his total 1992 pay to $3.35 million. He also earned a $100,000 bonus for the Cy Young and a $150,000 bonus for finishing first in the Rolaids relief standings.

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