Affleckersley … or why the careers of Dennis Eckersley and Ben Affleck have mirrored each other

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Friday Feb.22/2013

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By Paul Francis Sullivan (Lead Baseball Writer):

One was a starting pitcher who became a Hall of Fame reliever. The other is a one time pretty boy actor who has transformed into an acclaimed movie director.

Besides the Red Sox connection, what do Dennis Eckersley and Ben Affleck have in common? If you take a closer look, their careers are quite similar.


Both were born in the East Bay but wound up living in Massachusetts

Yup, Mr. Boston, Ben Affleck, was born in Berkeley California in 1972. He moved to New England when he was a kid and obviously became a big Red Sox fan. He and Jennifer Garner still have a home in Massachusetts.

One of the Red Sox of Affleck’s youth was Dennis Eckersley, who was born in Oakland (and would obviously return to the East Bay for his greatest seasons.) He lived in Wayland, Massachusetts during his playing days and now lives in Ipswich.


Success came quickly for both, maybe too quickly

In the mid 1970s, Dennis Eckersley broke in with the Cleveland Indians. He was a dynamic pitcher from the start and threw a no hitter at age 22.

By 23, he was a 20 game winner and an All Star. He continued being the ace of the Boston Red Sox staff, starting the 1982 All Star game and twice finished in the top ten for the Cy Young Award before he was 25.

Ben Affleck was a working actor with a few respected films to his credit, including Dazed and Confused. But at age 25, he co-wrote the screenplay for Good Will Hunting with his childhood friend Matt Damon.

The  1997 film would be made by acclaimed director Gus Van Sant and win the Oscar for Robin Williams. The drama was an unexpected box office smash and earned Affleck and Damon the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Damon would also be nominated for Best Actor.

The two became critics darlings and the press fell in love with the handsome pair as they appeared on every magazine cover and talk show. The two collaborated on the show Project Greenlight which collected an Emmy.

Affleck followed up Good Will Hunting’s success with roles in the blockbuster Armageddon and the Oscar winning smash Shakespeare in Love.  His star was on a steady rise. He would soon come crashing to Earth.


Personal turmoil would coincide with career failures

Remember how Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow were a big item for a while? Remember how the J-Lo engagement sparked all the media rage for “Bennifer”? There was a paparazzi feeding frenzy about Ben Affleck as his career eroded into a joke.

Films like Reindeer Games, Forces of Nature and The Sum of All Fears didn’t exactly win over new fans. And Pearl Harbor and Daredevil became high profile turkeys.

By 2004 and the flops of Jersey Girl and Surviving Christmas, Affleck seemed to have hit rock bottom. Even his previous triumphs were being discounted. Rumors swirled that William Goldman ghost wrote the Oscar winning Good Will Hunting.

And with Matt Damon’s star soaring with the Jason Bourne and Ocean’s 11 series, Affleck was clearly the less talented of the two.

Meanwhile, Dennis Eckersley had his own marital issues. His wife left him for his Cleveland teammate Rick Manning. And his partying and alcoholism led to his downfall in Boston. Sent off to the Chicago Cubs, he continued to slide.

Members of his family video taped him drunk and showed him the tape. He went into rehab shortly thereafter.


Both had a huge change and made shocking comebacks

In 1987, Dennis Eckersley was a washed up starter dealing with a drinking problem. At age 32, he was on his last legs when he was dumped to the Oakland A’s. If anyone had predicted then that he would have been a first ballot Hall of Famer, they would have been sent to an insane asylum.

Eckersley had three career saves at that point. Oakland manager Tony LaRussa, dealing with an injury to his closer Jay Howell, inserted Eckersley into the closer role. He took to it and revolutionized the position.

The first of the exclusive “one inning closers”, Eckersley made the ninth inning a mere formality. In 1988, he was brilliant. By 1990, he improved to mindboggling.

His ERA for 1990 was 0.61 over 73 1/3 inning. For eight straight seasons he walked fewer than 14 batters a year. His WHIP was under 1.00 for five straight seasons.

In 1992 he won the American League Cy Young Award and MVP. 10 seasons after being dumped by the Cubs, he pitched the Cardinals into the NLCS and was still one of the top relievers in the game.

Affleck rehabbed his own image by getting rave reviews tapping into his own life playing George Reeves in Hollywoodland.

But things truly turned around when he went behind the camera and directed Gone Baby Gone. He turned the acting responsibility to his brother Casey and the film got good reviews.

He followed that up with the wildly entertaining cops and robbers thriller The Town. With a top notch cast (including an Oscar nominated performance by Jeremy Renner) and a hair raising heist of Fenway Park, Affleck showed his value as a star and as a director.


 Both Received the Highest Honors in their field

Dennis Eckersley was elected into the Hall of Fame in 2004, his only ballot where he received 83.2% of the vote. He is widely regarded, along with Mariano Rivera, Hoyt Wilhelm, Rich Gossage and Rollie Fingers, as one of the greatest relief pitchers in the history of baseball.

Like Eckersley’s 1992 season, Affleck’s follow up to The Town put him over the top. The CIA thriller Argo combined docudrama, espionage and dark comedy as Affleck played a CIA operative creating a fake movie production to sneak fugitives out of Tehran during the Iranian hostage crisis.

The film became that rare and most desired combination. It was a crowd pleasing box office blockbuster that wowed the critics and took home awards. As of this writing it appears to be the odds on favorite to win the Oscar for Best Picture, even over Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln.

The film has cleaned up during award seasons, taking home the top prize from the Screen Actors Guild, the Writers Guild, the Producers Guild, the British Academy Awards, the Golden Globes, the Cesar Awards and Affleck himself won the Directors Guild Award, an honor that eluded Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick.

As one of the producers, Affleck would win his second Oscar if the film takes home the biggest prize. However, he was not nominated for Best Director at the Oscars  (perhaps lingering resentment for his early success.) There has been outrage for his snub, which shows how far his career has come. At one point it was a joke that he had won an Oscar. Now it was a joke that he wasn’t nominated.

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Both just do not age

Seriously, take a look at a picture of Dennis Eckersley in the 1970s and look at him now. He has the same hair, the same mustache. He looks amazing. He hasn’t aged a nanosecond. He is tanned, looked healthy and probably could still make a few staffs as a middle reliever.

Save for a beard here of there, Ben Affleck hasn’t aged a beat either. He still has his hair and good looks and could be ready for a Good Will Hunting sequel at a moments notice.


Both can not shake their biggest failures

When people think of Dennis Eckersley’s career, what is the first image that comes up? Is it his clinching the 1989 World Series? Winning the 1988 ALCS MVP? Being a Cy Young and MVP? His no hitter? His Hall of Fame speech?

Nope. Any discussion of Eckersley requires mention of the Kirk Gibson home run. It is the most famous pitch he ever threw. And his reaction to it is almost as famous as Gibson’s iconic fist pump around the bases.

Eckersley seems to have a good sense of humor about the Gibson homer. He allows his studio mates on TBS to replay it with some good ribbing along the way. But in an odd twist, that home run is a huge part of his legacy.

Like Eckersley and the Gibson homer, Affleck may never win enough Oscars to rinse the stink of Gigli from his resume. The film with the unfortunate title was supposed to a romantic caper to cash in on the public’s fascination with Bennifer. Instead it was a dead on arrival flop that for a while seemed to put the nail in his career’s coffin.

Affleck, like Eckersley, has joked about his failures and seems to take it all in stride. Perhaps that is the best thing for millionaire celebrities can do.

So enjoy the Oscars this weekend and remember if Argo takes home the big prize, then Ben Affleck will be the most honored man in film for the year. I wonder if Dennis Eckersley will send his Hollywood counterpart a notice of congratulations.

*** The views and opinions expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of or their partners.***

A big thank-you goes out to our Lead Baseball Writer Paul Sullivan. ‘Sully’ has appeared in the HBO Sports documentaries “Curse of the Bambino” and “Reverse the Curse of the Bambino” as well as on ESPN2’s Cold Pizza and NESN’s “Spaceman: A Baseball Odyssey.” He has performed stand up comedy all across the United States and appeared on the TV show “Monk.” He is currently a producer for Wild Eyes Productions in Los Angeles. Sully has previously produced such shows as”Axe Men”, “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and “The Bonnie Hunt Show.” He received an Emmy nomination for his work on San Francisco public television. An award-winning filmmaker, he directed the feature film “I’ll Believe You” as well as many short films including “Sergi” as featured on PBS’ “Independent Lens.” Sully’s personal blog is here He has been a contributing baseball writer for USA Today, Baseball Digest, The Hardball Times and Time Out New York. His videos can be found on the Sully Baseball channel on YouTube.  You can reach Sully on Twitter here

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About Paul Francis Sullivan

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Posted on February 22, 2013, in The Rest: Everything Baseball and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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