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Appreciating Dennis Eckersley's Broadcast Greatness Is Easy Cheese

Tomase: Appreciating Eckersley's broadcast greatness is easy cheese originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Of all the misery the Red Sox have inflicted upon us this season, the worst news yet just dropped: Dennis Eckersley is leaving the broadcast booth.

The Boston Globe reported Monday that Eckersley will retire this fall in order to move back to the Bay Area to be closer to his grandchildren. It's great news for the Hall of Famer's quality of life. It's selfishly terrible for the rest of us.

Complaining about baseball's pace of play or overreliance on analytics or soul-sucking three true outcomes is easy, at least until Eckersley brings his infectious joy behind the microphone. For three-plus hours, he's all hair and cheese, bridges and beans, 3-2 hooks and three-run Johnsons. He marvels at the smallest details as if they're revelations, even though he's a 67-year-old Hall of Famer who spent 24 seasons in the big leagues. There's nothing he hasn't seen, and yet he somehow makes every crazy carom in short left field feel unprecedented.

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Coming not even a year after the death of his partner, Jerry Remy, Eckersley's broadcast departure hits almost as hard. Remy survived cancer so often, even he knew he was on borrowed time. We were lucky to have him as long as we did.

By comparison, we're not ready to let Eck go. He remains at the absolute top of his game, effortlessly filling broadcasts not just with anecdotes and humor -- not mention a colorful language memorialized online with The Ecktionary -- but pointed commentary and criticism. There's a reason everyone -- and I mean everyone -- took his side vs. David Price during the whole, "Yuck!" fiasco in 2017. Eck is a treasure, and if Price wanted to make fun of his feathered hair, he'd have to come through all of us.

That experience shook Eckersley, but it also showed him how much he is loved. As lucky as the fans are at home to listen to him on a nightly basis, those of us who have been around him on the road or in the clubhouse are even luckier. He's the exact same guy off camera as on, except more casually profane, and he'll shoot the breeze with anyone. The first time he earnestly asked my opinion on a Red Sox player, in Detroit's press dining room more than a decade ago, I practically had to sit down. You're asking me?

Hall of Famers usually make terrible broadcasters, because the job takes work and they just want to show up and let their superstardom shine, à la Alex Rodriguez or Joe Montana or Isiah Thomas. That's not a problem for Eckersley, who makes it sound so easy because he has never stopped living the game.

If Joey Votto goes 3 for 4 with a couple of bombs against the Phillies, or Carlos Rodon throws a four-hit shutout in San Francisco, you can guarantee that Eck not only knows about it, he was flipping between the two games. On the two percent chance it comes up on the broadcast, no need to start furiously Googling.

There's nothing he hasn't seen, and yet he somehow makes every crazy carom in short left field feel unprecedented.

John Tomase on Dennis Eckersley

That part's not work for him. It's joy, and he's such a great broadcaster that it's easy to forget how uniquely dominant a player he was. He retired with more appearances (1,071) than anyone, along with a no-hitter, Cy Young Award, and MVP. At the height of his powers, in 1990, he struck out 73 batters and walked only four with a 0.61 ERA. Forget about three true outcomes -- when Eck pitched, there were barely two.

I grew up watching him and then covered him at the end of his career in 1998 as a young pony-tailed reporter. Manny Ramirez hit his final pitch over the left field fence for an ALDS-clinching home run, and Eckersley tearfully announced his retirement a couple of months later after being non-tendered at age 44. He hesitated to walk away from a game that had been the driving force in his life since age 8. He wasn't sure what he'd do next.

It turns out he wouldn't go very far. He joined NESN in 2003 and slowly became a fixture. It's now clear the pinnacle of Red Sox color commentary occurred when Eck and Remy settled into the three-man booth and just pressed go. Truth be told, Remy felt a little threatened by his former teammate in the early days, at least until he realized the laid-back Californian wanted no part of his job. "Gimme fewer games, not more," Eck joked.

He remains the best in the business, but the change in the broadcast this season, with multiple analysts cycling through the booth, took a clear toll. Where Eckersley had easy chemistry with the laconic, gleefully antisocial Remy, it has occasionally sounded like a struggle to squeeze a word in alongside the loquacious Kevin Millar, for instance.

Maybe that doesn't matter. Eck has talked about moving back to the Bay Area for years, and I think there's a part of him that wondered why the A's never came calling. He's always recognized how little time we all have, in the grand scheme, and seeing his friend and partner wheeled out on a stretcher last year undoubtedly left a mark.

So when this season ends, so will Eckersley's broadcast tenure. It's a blessing that he's getting out in time to enjoy his family and we will all miss him. Hopefully he picks up a West Coast game or two.

In the meantime, let's enjoy the games he has left. Eckersley remains fit and trim in his late 60s, and of everything the misanthropic Price got wrong about him, he most offensively whiffed on this: His hair remains awesome. Except of course we know that it's moss.

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