The first-ballot Hall of Famer is in his second year as a member of TBS's major league baseball broadcast team
Dan Patrick: Is there one spring training memory that stands out?
Dennis Eckersley: The first one. I was in Tucson, Cleveland Indians, 1975. Gaylord Perry was there.
DP: Why are we O.K. with everything Perry did? We romanticize doctoring the ball.
DE: I don't know. People say if you ain't cheating you ain't trying, but looking back on it, that's silly.
DP: How do you get away with doctoring the ball?
DE: I've heard all kinds of stories. The catcher cut it with his gear, or the third baseman. Sandpaper—you saw that a lot. And guys swallowing sandpaper.
DP: You knew guys who swallowed sandpaper?
DE: If somebody's coming out to the mound [to search them], they'd take the sandpaper and swallow it.
DP: Do you look at [former A's teammates] Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco differently now?
DE: I always looked at Canseco strangely. But I didn't look at McGwire like that, because I knew he lifted a lot back in those days. But now, do I think he cheated? Of course I do. Part of me wants to blame it on the union. You hear all this stuff about Bud Selig [turning a blind eye], but look what we had to go through to get the union to even allow testing. If the union would have tested earlier, this probably would all be behind us.
DP: If I say "Dennis Eckersley" to somebody, what's the first thing they think of?
DE: Kirk Gibson. [Laughs.]
DP: I think of the porn mustache, the hair, the pointing and then I think of the home run.
DE: That's all right.
DP: If I gave you a do-over on Gibson, what do you throw him? Another slider?
DE: Nothing but fastballs. But I got tired of throwing fastballs. I was trying to punch him out. I thought he'd pull off [the slider], because in his physical state he had no legs. If I had it to do all over again, I'd check his bat. [Laughs.] I'm just kidding. But, my God, did you see how far he hit that ball?
A 22-YEAR baseball marriage is uncommon, which is why the end to John Smoltz's Braves career was so surprising. Smoltz had shoulder surgery last June, making his status for 2009 uncertain. He filed for free agency, and Atlanta offered an incentive-laden deal with a base salary around $2 million; the Red Sox gave him a contract worth $5.5 million plus incentives. Smoltz told me he's not happy with the way his situation was handled by the Braves. "If they don't want me, that's no big deal," he said. "But don't make it seem like I left for more money or that the [offers] are the same." Smoltz feels Atlanta didn't think he was serious about leaving. "They thought I would wait until the last second [then sign]," he said. "They said they were going to pencil me in. What does that mean? I know a pencil has an eraser too."
Fun in The Sun
LAST WEEK we did five shows from Arizona, which was a nice reminder of how great spring training baseball is. Tickets are a bargain (a prime seat will run you about $25 or about 1/100 of the cost of the most expensive seat at the new Yankee Stadium); it's always sunny and it's hassle-free. I've always been a Cactus League guy because the teams are so much closer together in Arizona than in Florida. And there's more action in the desert. Last week I chatted with a scout who pointed out that the ball jumps off the bat a lot better in Arizona, which makes it tough to judge talent. Bad news for scouts, good news for fans.
TEXAS TECH coach Pat Knight has two ways to express displeasure with officials: by ranting and raving on the sideline, or by calmly talking to the press. He did the former against Nebraska on Jan. 31, when he was ejected for a tantrum that brought to mind his father, Bob. He tried the latter after a loss to Texas A&M last month and was suspended for one game by the Big 12. One thing you won't see him do is toss a chair onto the court. "My dad ruined that for everybody," Pat told me last week. "Everywhere you go, the chairs have a chain around them or they're connected to each other or bolted to the floor."
THE FINE PRINT: Alex Rodriguez rented an apartment in Manhattan for $30,000 a month. Exclusive building. They have a strict no-pet/no-cousin policy.
Go to DANPATRICK.COM for more from Dennis Eckersley and other recent interviews, and hear live audio of Dan's radio show, 9 a.m.-noon ET, Mon.-Fri.
ILLUSTRATION BY KEITH WITMER
KATHY WILLENS/AP (ECKERSLEY)
HANS DERYK/REUTERS (SMOLTZ)
BILL KOSTROUN/AP (KNIGHT)