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August 24, 2011

Everybody Hates Saves

Good friend of The Hall of Very Good (and originator of The Topps Traded 1975 Project), David Jordan hit Cooperstown last month and had a "quick conversation" with Goose Gossage.

Apparently the Hall of Famer is everywhere and, well, here's Jordan's story.

As someone who has immersed himself in Induction Weekend Culture two of the last three years, I believe I have a sense of the different levels of involvement certain Hall-of-Famer players employ.

You have guys like George Brett,  Carl Yastrzemski, Ernie Banks, Steve Carlton, Cal Ripken and Sandy Koufax, who show up for the ceremonies but aren’t interacting much with the fans on Main Street.

Then there’s the Jim Rice, Dave Winfield and Robin Yount types.  They provide extremely limited time windows to sign autographs and then that’s it, they’re gone.  Some players like Willie McCovey, Stan Musial and Nolan Ryan (even before his heart scare), who, most likely because of age-related ailments, rarely even attend.

And then there’s Goose.

He was everywhere and, quite possibly, the most visible athlete during the weekend. He was always ready with a smile for a fan or a quick conversation.  I would say Goose, Gaylord Perry and Fergie Jenkins, were the most ubiquitous around town during my time there.

Before getting to my conversation with Goose...the trip made me think a lot about saves.

Apparently you’re not one of the cool kids if you still measure closer effectiveness by saves or hitters by Runs Batted In.  Sure, there are finer barometers for performance assessment, but baseball is a game of tradition, and such a low-stakes controversy like this, there’s really no need for you to be throwing around the 96 you got on the fifth grade Language Arts final.

There’s quite a bit of chatter going on regarding the prospects of Trevor Hoffman being elected to the Hall of Fame now that he’s retired. Again, I would love to hear more thoughts on this, but I don’t know if I see it. 

Mariano Rivera should be passing him on the all-time saves list by the end of the season since he’s only nine away from him now.

Incidentally, is ANYONE talking about this? With all the pomp and circumstance surrounding Jeter’s 3000th hit, there has been nary a word in the media regarding the run-up to Rivera eclipsing Hoffman.

Here’s the top ten closers in history by saves:

  1. Trevor Hoffman – 601
  2. Mariano Rivera – 592
  3. Lee Smith – 478
  4. John Franco – 424
  5. Billy Wagner – 422
  6. Dennis Eckersley – 390 (which is amazing when you realize he spent half his career as a starter)
  7. Jeff Reardon – 367
  8. Troy Percival – 358
  9. Randy Myers – 347
  10. Rollie Fingers – 341
That’s all well and good. Now, let’s glance at the Top Ten relievers measuring PWAR...or “Pitcher Wins Above Replacement".

  1. Mariano Rivera – 55
  2. Goose Gossage – 36.8
  3. Hoyt Wilhelm – 33.2
  4. Trevor Hoffman – 30.8
  5. Lee Smith – 30.3
  6. Billy Wagner – 29.7
  7. John Franco – 25.8
  8. Bruce Sutter – 25
  9. Kent Tekulve – 24.9
  10. Rollie Fingers – 24.4
Conclusions and questions:

  • Mariano Rivera is the greatest closer in the history of the game. And it’s not even close.
  • Kent Tekulve may be the most forgotten great closer in the Baseball Conversation today.
  • Did Billy Wagner throw away a shot at the Hall of Fame by retiring two to three years too early? Outside of saves...his numbers are better than Hoffman’s.
  • Is a closer’s WAR baseline for inclusion into the Hall 30 wins above replacement now? Is it 35?
  • Now you know why Rich Gossage is a Hall of Famer.
Although he is mostly known today for his time with the Yankees, Goose said he still has a good amount of people ask him about his years on the South Side of Chicago.

I mentioned to him how I always found it odd that both he and Terry Forster were shifted to the bullpen for the 1976 season.

Listen to what this ballclub did.  Okay, trading Stan Bahnsen for Chet Lemon and Dave Hamilton in mid-season...that I can deal with. But then you trade Jim Kaat, a 20-game winner, to the Phillies during the winter meetings.

Now you’re left with Wilbur Wood, who was beginning his decline, Jesse Jefferson and Claude Osteen, who wouldn’t even make it out of spring training the following season.

So what did the ChiSox do with their American League Fireman of the Year?

“Yeah, the ballclub called me in the offseason,” Goose told me, “And told me I was going to the rotation. I’d do anything to help the ballclub so I was fine with it.”

This ’76 squad had Gossage in the rotation and a young Pete Vuckovich in the bullpen...whom they left unprotected, by the way, in the expansion draft the following winter.


So, what do you think?  Who is the greatest closer of all-time and why? saves even matter anymore?

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