(20)17 Again

The first real baseball piece I ever wrote (pre-Girl At The Game) was about the Dennis Eckersley-David Price incident. That was two years ago, in the midst of a mediocre 2017 season. Now, here we are again, digging through the trash of seasons past, as if this season doesn’t have enough stink of its own.

In case the origin story escapes memory: two years ago, Eduardo Rodriguez was struggling through a rehab stint with the Triple-A team in Pawtucket. When NESN gave an update on his performance during a Boston broadcast, Eck, who was filling in for Jerry Remy at the time, called ERod’s performance “Yuck.”

Maybe Price just felt a sense of loyalty to his teammate, or maybe it struck a chord because he himself was struggling in 2017. Whatever the reason, Eck’s fairly innocuous quip set him off. On the team plane after the game, Price confronted him, verbally accosting and swearing at him in front of the team and a few media members, going so far as to tell him, “Get the F*** out of here!”

It was as bad as it sounds, an underperforming pitcher mouthing off to a Hall of Famer. And then the next day, Price made it worse when he said, “Some people just don’t understand how hard this game is.” It was an ignorant comment; anyone with internet access could Google Eck’s name and would quickly deem it ridiculous given everything he’s lived through, on and off the field.

Price never apologized directly, and former manager John Farrell did not force him to. Neither did the Sox, which was a bad look for the organization as a whole. A player, and at the time, not a very good one, ambushing a Hall Of Famer and world champion is an ugly situation that should have been resolved as quickly as possible, and it wasn’t. But eventually, everyone moved on. The magic of 2018 helped with that, as Price went from grumpy postseason ne’er-do-well to a smiling, cheerful legend in his own right. All was well in Red Sox Nation.

Fast-forward to 2019, and Globe writer Chad Finn writes an excellent piece on Eck’s life. It’s a colorful, emotional story that I cannot recommend strongly enough. In it, Eck details how “humiliated” he was, and comments on the incident:

“I didn’t know how to deal with that. I don’t plan on saying a word to him, I don’t plan on seeing him, never. [Broadcasters now board the plane before players.] I don’t really give a [expletive] one way or another. I don’t think he really cares one way or the other.”

The entire anecdote is only 258 words out of the 3,757-word story. But it was enough to spark an old flame that was never properly extinguished. A welcome, if not petty distraction from the very real problems this team is currently facing.

Over the past two seasons, I’ve always kept my ears pricked up whenever Eck is in the booth during a David Price start, curious to see what the Hall of Famer will say. But I’ve never heard anything other than professional, even complimentary commentary from Eck, which is pretty big of him, considering the tirade Price unleashed that day. It further proves that his original comment – again, just the word “Yuck” – was Eck doing his job, albeit in a more colorful and unique way than many of the boring broadcasters around baseball. He’s known for his “Eck Speak;” there’s even The Ecktionary, a Twitter account devoted to his terminology. Phrases include “High Cheese,” and “a Pair of Shoes,” meaning high fastballs, and a strikeout, respectively.

According to Price, he attempted to reach out to Eck to apologize face-to-face, but Eck did not show up. Whether this is true or not, Price should have ignored the story when it reared its ugly head again. After all, he’s openly stated since the incident that he acted in poor taste, and expressed regret to members of the media, though not directly to Eck himself. Bare minimum, he could have easily dropped Eck a text or email at any time over the last two years.

But instead of letting the story die down for the second time, Price took to Twitter to mock and further insult Eck, saying he “needs attention,” and that “it’s trash.” That was bad enough, but then he pivoted in a perplexing way, to MLB’s recent documentary about Eck, claiming that the documentary did not feature any of his former teammates. Except it featured several of Eck’s former teammates, even though the focus of the documentary was supposed to be one of self-reflection. Seems like Price never tuned in.

At this point – and frankly, it’s long overdue – the Red Sox should stick the two of them in a room together, away from the prying eyes of this city’s rabid fans and media, so they can put an end to this once and for all.

While it’s true that this all could have been avoided if Eck had simply not commented on the incident, the overriding fact remains that Price still owes Eck the apology he should have given him two years ago. So at the end of the day, Price is the one who looks bad, as does the organization as an extension. It’s a shame, because it was really nice to see him evolve last year into a player fans could really root for and support. For the first time in his Boston tenure, he looked at home. But this was a page straight out of the pre-2018 unpleasant Price playbook. To quote Toronto Blue Jays scout, former Orioles and Expos GM, and member of the 1978 World Champion Yankees, Jim Beattie, “If I was a ballplayer and got criticized by Dennis Eckersley, I think I’d go back to the hotel and look in the mirror.’’

Photo: WTSP.com

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