The realization that Jerry Remy would be missing a chunk of the season as the Red Sox color commentator on NESN due to complications from cancer surgery was greeted by Boston fans with the type of horror you’d expect when the announcement is finally made that Fenway is being torn down.
But, alas, there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and it came in the form of former reliever and studio analyst Dennis Eckersley.
He has filled in capably as a sarcastic, seat-of-his-pants color commentator who brings a certain analytical irreverence to the game. His old-school style and phrasing add more than a little color to the broadcast.
Of course, we should have expected entertainment from the man widely credited with creating the “walk-off” craze, trademarking the overused utterance during an interview late in his playing days.
Unfortunately, the eccentric announcer has already gained some Internet notoriety for a few famous on-air slip-ups, including mention of the “s” word and a particularly offensive butchering of the name “Masterson.”
But most of what he has to say is informative and insightful, even if you need a manual to understand some of his terminology.
Consider the following phrases, all of which could realistically be uttered by Eckersley during any particular broadcast:
“Look at this at bat between Beckett and Johnny Damon. Beckett paints on the first two pitches and then comes back with some high cheddar for the punchout.”
“You’re not going to beat Kevin Youkilis pounding the strike zone with salad. You have to bring some hot cheese. Pitches with a little hair on them. That’s how you punch out Kevin Youkilis.”
“The manager has had enough of this salad. He’s going to the bullpen to find someone who can really bring the cheese. He’s looking for someone to bring the gas, a little high cheddar with some hair on it, maybe to buzz this dude’s moss and set it up so he can paint for a punchout.”
Dizzy yet? Don’t feel bad if it’s all Greek to you.
To that end, we present your Dennis Eckersley Guide, or, as we like to call it, Webster’s New World Ecktionary. Keep it on your end table for easy reference, and Red Sox games will be much more entertaining and enjoyable.
A particularly potent fastball. Josh Beckett will often use his “cheese” when he needs a critical strikeout. High cheese, the most commonly mentioned variety in Eckersley’s vocabulary, refers to a well-placed fastball high in the zone. Also referred to as “hot cheese.”
Same as cheese. Only slightly more descriptive.
See also, Cheese, cheddar. The same elements are at work here. Eckersley has also created the phrase “Gas Masterson” for Red Sox reliever Justin Masterson. Here’s hoping it catches on more quickly than the aforementioned gaffe in referring to the young hurler.
Though Eckersley is somewhat famous for the head of hair he has sported for decades, its mention during a broadcast refers to a pitch with late life. For instance, a fastball that blows a hitter away is said to have “hair” on it.
sal*ad [sal-uh d]
Simply put, the opposite of cheese, gas, and hair. When a pitcher is throwing off-speed junk, Eckersley will often say he is “pounding the strike zone with salad.” Jamie Moyer has made a career out of his salad, and he’s on his way to 50.
This phrase was not necessarily coined by Eckersley himself, but rather used by broadcast partner Don Orsillo to describe Eck’s flowing tresses. By the way, Eckersley somehow manages to rock a hair and mustache combo straight out of the 80's and still seem cool doing it. You try growing moss like that…I guarantee you’ll get funny looks at work.
The thing that made Eck famous as a player, paint is the ability to put the ball on the outside corners of home plate. The plate is surrounded by a thin strip of black, and placing the ball on those edges is often referred to as “painting.” Easily Eckersley’s second favorite quip.
This is his favorite. The ratio of punchouts to other phrases is nearly 3-to-1. It’s simple, really—a strikeout is a punchout. He will never refer to a whiff by traditional standards. A strikeout is a punchout, period.
Jump Street [juhmp street]
As punchout is Eckersley’s only reference to a strikeout, jump street is his only point of view for the beginning of any given event. For instance, when Jon Lester gets shelled, Eck will say he “was going bad from jump street.”
Let’s hope you don’t think the same of this column.