Dennis Eckersley had one of the most unique career paths ever taken by a Hall of Fame pitcher. "Eck" started off as a hard-throwing starter and posted a 20-win season and a no-hitter before he finished off the second half of his career as one of the most dominating closers in the history of baseball. Eckersley's unique ability to transition his skill set from a starting pitcher to a relief pitcher made him a slam-dunk choice for induction into Cooperstown. This list of the top Dennis Eckersley cards takes a look at some of his best cardboard appearances.
Most remember Dennis Eckersley for his time spent as the side-armed closer of the early 1990s Oakland A's teams. Before becoming the A's closer, he won 150 games and struck out more than 1,500 batters as a starter for the Indians, Red Sox, and Cubs. Towards the end of his time with the Cubs, it was clear that his skills as a starter were starting to diminish, but he was reinvigorated after being traded to the A's and moved to the bullpen to close out games. The defining year of his career came in 1992, when he won both the American League Cy Young and MVP Awards in the same season. Eckersley also helped the A's win a World Series title in 1989, where they defeated the San Francisco Giants, by closing out four games during the team's playoff run.
Collectors looking for Dennis Eckersley cards have plenty of great options and most of the cards produced during his twenty-four year career, and beyond, are both affordable and plentiful. In spite of the fact that Eckersley played in the mid 1970s, and the card market was dominated by Topps, he does have a handful of rookie cards beyond the standard Topps base card. As his career continued to progress through the 1980s and 1990s, card companies produced more and more Eckersley cards and included him in important base sets and inserts.
Before Dennis Eckersley's run as baseball's top closer, relief pitchers were often passed over in card sets for position players and starting pitchers. However, his popularity with fans and collectors would pave the way for not only his own cards to become a regular occurrence in baseball card sets, but also the generation of relief pitchers who rose up after Eckersley's career ended, including players like Mariano Rivera. This top ten list offers collectors a look at the key cards from this uniquely talented player.
Top 10 Dennis Eckersley Baseball Cards
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Many baseball fans remember the great A's teams that Eckersley played for during the early 1990s, but the Hall of Fame pitcher's first experience in the playoffs came with the 1984 National League East champion Chicago Cubs. Eck started off the season with the Red Sox, and has a card in the 1984 Topps set in a Red Sox uniform. However, his ten wins down the stretch helped the Cubs fend off a talented Mets team and made this card popular with collectors. While the 1984 Traded set might be best remembered for rookie cards of Dwight Gooden and Daryl Strawberry, Dennis Eckersley's first appearance as a Chicago Cub was also quite notable.
What made Dennis Eckersley a Hall of Fame player? There were many great years spent as a starter with the Indians, Red Sox, and Cubs, but his transition to a relief pitcher with the A's elevated him from a good player to one worthy of enshrinement in Cooperstown. The 1987 Topps Traded card of Eckersley was one of his first as a member of the A's and has become a top choice for collectors. The card was originally issued in the 1987 Topps Traded box set that also includes rookie cards of Greg Maddux and Matt Williams. For A's collectors, it not only includes the first Topps card of Eckersley on the team, but also offers the last glimpse of Reggie Jackson on a Topps card wearing an A's jersey.
The Mother's Cookies Company spent almost two decades (1983-2002) producing baseball card sets for teams on the West Coast. The Oakland A's had team sets stretched for slightly more than a decade starting in 1983 and lasting through the mid 1990s. Along the way, the annual set became very popular with collectors. The 1988 Mother's Cookies A's Set featured players on the current roster, including Dennis Eckersley, Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, and manager Tony LaRussa. However, Mother's Cookies also put out a set of All-Stars that year which featured great players who had played for the franchise in the past including Rollie Fingers, Rickey Henderson, and manager Dick Williams.
At the time this card was released in 1976 Topps, Jim Palmer was at the height of his career and coming off of his fifth 20-win season in a stretch of six years. Catfish Hunter had won 20 games for five straight years, but was entering the twilight of his Hall of Fame career. Meanwhile, Eckersley was just starting his time as a starting pitcher for the Cleveland Indians. Who would have guessed that almost thirty years later this card would feature three Hall of Fame players? This card is a rookie-year issue for Eckersley, and a popular card, but it is not in as high demand as his other rookie cards. It's really hard to argue against adding a card with three Hall of Fame pitchers to your collection.
The Donruss Elite cards were very popular with collectors starting with their initial inclusion in the 1991 Donruss set. In subsequent years, Donruss continued the Elite Series cards in their base set with the same design and card numbering that picked up where the previous set had left off. The 1991, 1992, and 1993 Elite Series cards were tougher pulls than the sets issued starting with the 1994 Donruss set, making the 36 insert cards produced during those three years more desirable for collectors. For Dennis Eckersley collectors, his 1993 Donruss Elite card represents his best inset card from the prime of his career as a relief pitcher.
Another one of the Eckersley rookie cards, the 1976 SSPC is a fairly common, and an inexpensive option for collectors of the HOF relief pitcher. The SSPC set was an unlicensed product that relied on contract photographers to take pictures of the players and the cards were edited by a high school kid by the name of Keith Olbermann. The Eckersley card is a rather clean looking card with the simple white border and close-up portrait style photo. Eckersley trimmed up the side burns a little as he got older, but he had the same long hair throughout his career.
Dennis Eckersley did not have many certified autographs while he was an active player, but has been more than generous with card companies since his retirement. Although his first certified autograph came in 1993 Fleer Ultra, his great looking signature saw an uptick in card coverage beginning in 2001. There are many to choose from, but his 2001 Topps Archives autograph features an on-card autograph of the Hall of Famer over a reprint of his iconic 1976 Topps rookie card. This card can have a slight premium over some of some of his other autographs since it is short printed at just 200 copies, but it is still worth the time and money to track down.
Yet another in the line of Eckersley rookie cards, the 1976 Kellogg's rookie has the 3D look that was typical of these sets, but this set had a little cleaner design with a white border framed by red, white, and blue stripes. The Kellogg's baseball cards from the 1970s and 1980s are pretty easy to find in good condition due to the fact that they have a plastic finish, but sometimes the fronts of the cards can experience cracking and splitting.
Eckersley's 1976 Topps card is one of the company's great rookies from the 1970s and his only official rookie card. There is also an O-Pee-Chee version of this card which has a bilingual back in French and English, whereas the Topps edition is only in English. One of the biggest flaws in this Topps set is the coloring of the cards. When you are tracking down a copy of this card, be sure to check out the brightness of the colors, especially around the labels on the bottom. Highly graded copies of this card can be found, but they do carry a bit of a premium.
The 1976 Hostess Dennis Eckersley card is easily his most condition-sensitive rookie because the card had perforated edges. Often times these cards were hand cut and the edges were less than ideal. Copies with sharp edges and high grades are easily his most in-demand rookie card, but there are very few of these that fit that description. Most commonly, the edges and corners of this rookie card are worn or the cutting was uneven, which hurts the centering. Still, the copies of the 1976 Hostess card with imperfections remain popular with collectors and generally gather a higher price than the other Eckersley rookie cards.