That Dennis Eckersley sure did live an interesting baseball life, didn’t he?

I mean, by the time his rookie cards showed up in 1976, he was just 21 years old but already had four professional seasons under his belt … including an auspicious rookie campaign with the Cleveland Indians in 1975.

From there, he developed into one of the game’s best starting pitchers, with the Indians, then with the Boston Red Sox.

The armor started to tarnish, though, as Eck shifted into the 1980s, and a move to the Chicago Cubs didn’t do much to turn his fortunes around … and neither did a battle with substance abuse.

A trip to rehab and exile to the Oakland A’s, though?

That was more like it, and then a move to the bullpen at the behest of manager Tony LaRussa and pitching coach Dave Duncan was exactly like it.

Suddenly, Eckersley was dominant again, only this time at the back end of games — he became the lockdown closer and provided part of the foundation that let the Bash Brothers flourish.

So, while Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, Terry Steinbach, and others got down to mashing baseballs, collectors got down to pulling Eck’s rookie cards from the hobby slush pile.

And, even though Eckersley started appearing on cardboard way back in the dark ages of 1976, he gave us several “first” pasteboards to chase down.

Here, then, is a complete rundown of all those glorious (or not) Dennis Eckersley rookie cards.

1975 SSPC Dennis Eckersley (#506)

1975 SSPC Dennis Eckersley

OK, so you can debate the year of this card all night long — I’ve always called it a 1976, but PSA calls it a 1975.

The copyright date supports PSA, but I’m pretty sure these were actually issued in 1976.

Puh-tay-toe, puh-tah-toe. 1975, 1976.

All the same.

What’s not really in doubt is that the so-called “pure cards” were pirated … bootlegged … illegitimate … unlicensed … not approved by baseball or the player’s union or your mother.

But definitely approved by collectors, who always pined for a “real” set of cards that looked like this … one that would hold real value, and one that was licensed.

1989 Upper Deck listened. So did 1988 Topps, mostly.

A funny thing happened on the way to oblivion, though — collectors began to embrace SSPC as if it were real (and not imaginary).

So here we have the 1975/1976 SSPC Dennis Eckersley rookie card showing Eck up close in his red Cleveland Indians jersey, just before he steps onstage for yet another set as lead singer for Queen.

Good, solid 70s stuff. Real or not.

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1976 Hostess Dennis Eckersley (#137)

1976 Hostess Dennis Eckersley

The 1976 Hostess Eck rookie card, on the other hand, is as real as they come.

And as tasty as they come, too … you know, thanks to its placement on the bottom of Hostess snack cake thingies.

This card features a great Spring Training shot of a young Eckersley in his white Indians togs, standing in a posed set position.

Red, white, and blue for the Bicentennial, too!

It’s great.

But … if you want a single, you’ll have to get a hand-cut version, because this puppy was originally part of a …

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1976 Hostess Panel (Fergie Jenkins/Don Money) Dennis Eckersley

1976 Hostess Panel Ferguson Jenkins, Don Money

Yeah, see, you might think of pitchers in general and relievers in particular as loners on the diamond.

After all, they stand out there on the mound all by their selves and face down the savages that stroll into the batter’s box a mere sixty feet and six inches away.

Lone warriors.

Only, that’s not true at all.

They need fielders behind them, coaches to make sure their arms don’t fall off … and it would all sort of come apart if there were no catchers for them to toss to.

So, pitchers are part of the team.

And on this card, this Hostess panel, Eckersley is part of a team, too.

There on the left is Don Money, All-Star third baseman, who is not Rick Monday and who played too early to really cash in on his name, like on social media or something.

On the right is Fergie Jenkins, a Hall of Famer who was in his first of two seasons with the Boston Red Sox when Hostess caught up with him for this panel.

And there in the middle? The rook, the kid, the phenom, the hotshot … the Eck.

You can’t fit this three-fer in a standard nine-pocket sheet, but sometimes, you just gotta live a little.

This qualifies.

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1976 Kellogg’s Dennis Eckersley (#19)

1976 Kellogg's Dennis Eckersley

Man, if you liked to wash down your patriotic baseball cards with sugary sweet foodstuffs, 1976 must have been a nirvana of a summer.

Not only did Hostess treat you to their treats, backed up by baseball’s biggest stars (i.e., “see above”), but Kellogg’s did the same.

Well, not exactly the same, but …

Kellogg’s included little packs of cards — OK, packs of card, singular — in their cereal boxes, and one of those cards featured our young Mr. Eckersley.

Like the other cards on this list, this one shows the future Cooperstown dude in his Indians jersey. This is the only card on the list, though, that comes to you in live, striped plastic crackle 3-D.

Kellogg’s were Sportflics before Sportflics were Sportflics, only much, much better.

And this Eck rookie card is much, much good.

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1976 O-Pee-Chee Dennis Eckersley (#98)

1976 O-Pee-Chee Dennis Eckersley

At first glance, you might think this is just Eckersley’s now-celebrated 1976 Topps rookie card.

And you’d be pretty much right, too, as this card came at the end of a four-year run (1973-76) when OPC mirrored Topps right down to the full checklist.

But then you notice that the edges are somehow both fuzzier and more crisp than the Topps version. And you turn the thing on its edge and find a paler card stock than the Topps brown mush.


Turn it all the way over, and you see the real deal: “PICHE COMME LANCEUR DANS LES MAJEURES.”

Yeah, French.

And then, O.P.C. instead of Topps Chewing Gum in the trademark line.

And that paler card stock.

Still, though, it’s a major Eckersley RC, and heap more scarce than the Topps version.

A winner — gagnant — all around.

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1976 O-Pee-Chee A.L. ERA Leaders (Jim Palmer/Catfish Hunter) Dennis Eckersley (#202)

1976 O-Pee-Chee A.L. ERA Leaders Jim Palmer, Hunter

Same story here as for the base Eckersley rookie card, except this one features the three gents at the top of the American League ERA leader board in 1975: Jim Palmer, Catfish Hunter, and Eckersley.

It’s pretty remarkable that Eck was even able to appear on this card given that he pitched for the Indians in 1975 and that he was just 20 that summer.

For the record, Palmer checked in at 2.09, way ahead of Hunter at 2.58 and Eckersely at 2.60.

Right behind that trio was Frank Tanana of the California Angels, who clocked in with a 2.62 ERA with a league-leading 269 strikeouts.

(Somehow, Tanana teammate Nolan Ryan puttered around that season to the tune of just 186 Ks.)

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1976 Topps Dennis Eckersley (#98)

1976 Topps Dennis Eckersley


This is the same card as the OPC rookie card up there, with the exception of the fuzzy edges and the card stock and the French.

And, if the card(s) have any gum residue on them, this one will just have normal bubble gum. The O-Pee-Chee will have that amazing orange and orange-flavored stuff.

Anyway, this card spent a lot of its life as nothing much, since Eckersley had sort of fallen into the commons bin by the time the hobby exploded in the 1980s.

Then, when he became the John Smoltz prototype, the SandyKoufaxMoRivera alpha model, Eck sent us all scrambling to rescue his RCs.

When we did, this was the one we reached for and, eventually, slabbed.

And there it sits today, still at the top of the 1976 Topps value hierarchy — think $600+ for PSA 9 copies, and several thousand for a perfect 10.

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1976 Topps A.L. ERA Leaders (Jim Palmer/Catfish Hunter) Dennis Eckersley (#202)

1976 Topps A.L. ERA Leaders Jim Palmer, Catfish Hunter

Same deal here, except we never really did put a lot of effort into unmarooning this card, collectively, at least.

Still, it’s a classic card that features three — THREE — Hall of Fame hurlers from baseball’s wacky decade.

And funny thing … not one of them has 300 wins to his name.

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1976 Wiffle Ball Discs Dennis Eckersley

1976 Wiffle Ball Discs Dennis Eckersley

These Wiffle Ball “cards” were one of about 512 issues of thin cardboard discs produced by MSA in the mid-to-late 1970s.

Other incarnations were attached to products and companies like Isaly, Crane, Burger Chef, Saga, and Red Barn.

This one, though, the Wiffle Ball issue, was featured on boxes of — wait for it — Wiffle Balls, and it included an Eckersley rookie card.

The discs came complete with perforated borders that let you punch them out of the box, so plenty of singles got torn to hell.

Nice graded copies bring a small premium today, and you occasionally still come across a complete box.

But not a complete game, because Eck was done with all that starting-pitching jazz way back in 1987 (two starts with the A’s).

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