August 25, 2019

Hall of Fame No Longer Closed to Closers

July 20, 2008 by · 1 Comment 

Next Sunday, Rich “Goose” Gossage will become the fifth relief pitcher inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.  Gossage was the most feared reliever of his day and should have been inducted a few years earlier.  The other four Hall of Fame relievers are Hoyt Wilhelm (class of 1985), Rollie Fingers (class of 1992), Dennis Eckersley (class of 2004) and Bruce Sutter (class of 2006).  With three closers gaining election this decade, it appears the barriers for relievers to gain election are now over.  The BBWAA Hall of Fame voters have accepted that relief pitchers, long considered mop-up men, do belong in baseball’s ultimate shrine.

As I begin to prepare to head to Cooperstown for the induction ceremony (my 22nd consecutive year), the thought of what other relievers may have been overlooked keeps popping into my head.  So I took a look.  Without going into great detail, below is a brief summary of some of my favorite relievers that have been passed over for enshrinement in Cooperstown. 

Frederick “Firpo” Marberry (1923-36)

Marberry was the greatest relief pitcher of the first half of the Twentieth Century. Although saves were not an official statistic until 1969, Marberry was the first to reach 100 career saves (101 overall).  He led the American League in games pitched six times and saves five times.  He also started 187 games and finished his career with a record of 148-88 (.627 winning percentage). Firpo was a key contributor to the Washington Senators in their only World Series championship season in 1924. In the World Series, he pitched in four games, started one, saved two and had ten strikeouts in eight innings. His best season may have been 1929 when he went 19-12 with 16 complete games and 11 saves while the Senators won just 71 games.

John Joseph “Fordham Johnny” Murphy (1932,34-43,46-47)

Murphy was the key reliever for many great Yankee teams in the 1930s and 1940s.  The 3-time all-star surpassed Marberry’s record career save total in 1946 and finished with 107 for his career.  He led the league in saves four times and had a 93-53 career record.  Murphy was on six World Series championship teams with the Yankees.  His World Series pitching line included a 2-0 record, with four saves and a 1.10 ERA in 16.1 innings pitched.  Unfortunately, he lost two seasons to World War II.  He later won the World Series as the general manager of the New York Mets in 1969. 

Elroy Leon “Roy” Face (1953,55-69)

Face was the next to hold the career saves record when he passed Murphy’s 107 total in 1962.  When Face retired in 1969, only Hoyt Wilhelm had more career saves.  His 193 saves with the Pirates (188) and Expos (5) was the National League’s career save record until 1982 when Bruce Sutter passed him.  For many years, he also held other NL records like career games pitched and innings pitched in relief and still holds the NL record of 96 relief wins.  In 1959, he went 18-1 with a .947 winning percentage, which is still a major league record.  Selected to six all-star games, Face led the league in saves three times and saved three games in the 1960 World Series as the Pirates defeated the Yankees for the championship.  Face received moderate support by the BBWAA Hall of Fame voters, spending the maximum 15 years on the ballot from 1976 to 1990. 

Ronald Peter “Ron” Perranoski (1961-73)

Perranoski was a lefty workhorse in the 1960s and early 1970s for the Dodgers and Twins.  He finished his career with 179 saves, 737 games pitched and a 2.79 ERA.  He pitched in 50 or more games from 1961 to 1970 and led the league in games pitched three times.  As the saves leader in 1969 and 1970 with the Twins, he became the first pitcher to have two 30-save seasons (31 and 34).  His 179 saves was a record for a left-handed pitcher until Sparky Lyle broke the record in 1977.  He was a two-time World Series champ with the Dodgers (1963 and 1965). 

Michael Grant “Mike” Marshall (1967,69-81)

Marshall was the 1974 NL Cy Young Award winner when he pitched in a major league record 106 games, went 15-12, with 21 saves and a 2.42 ERA.  Marshall also pitched in over 90 games in two other seasons with 92 in 1973 with the Expos and 90 games in 1979 with the Twins.  The two-time all-star led the league in games pitched four times and saves three times.  Besides winning the Cy Young in 1974, he received votes in four other seasons.  He also finished in the top eleven in MVP voting four times.

Albert Walker “Sparky” Lyle (1967-82)

Lyle was the premier left-handed relief pitcher of his day.  His best season may have been 1977 when he won the AL Cy Young Award with the world champion Yankees.  Lyle went 13-5 in 72 games with 26 saves and a 2.17 ERA.  His first season with the Yankees was equally as impressive with 35 saves, a 9-5 record and an ERA of 1.92.  The three-time all-star led the league in saves twice and games pitched once.  Until Rollie Fingers passed him in career saves in 1980, Sparky’s save total was second only to Hoyt Wilhelm’s major league record of 227.  Lyle pitched in 899 games without starting a game, a major league record held until Kent Tekulve passed him in 1987.  He continues to hold the AL record for relief wins with 87.  Lyle finished his career with a 99-76 record and a 2.88 ERA. 

Kenton Charles “Kent” Tekulve (1974-89)

Tekulve was a submarine throwing reliever who was a workhorse for the Pirates and Phillies.  If not for the strike in 1981, Tekulve would have pitched in 50 or more games in 13 consecutive seasons, four times leading the league.  He pitched in 90 or more games three times, 85 games in another season and 70 or more games six other times.  When he retired in 1989, only Hoyt Wilhelm had pitched in more games.  He pitched in 1,050 games with zero career starts, a record until John Franco passed him in 2004.  The bespectacled pitcher saved over 30 games twice (both years finishing second in the league) and saved 184 for his career.  He won 94 games and had a 2.85 ERA.  He was the closer for the world champion “We Are Family” Pirates in 1979, pitching in five World Series games, saving three and striking out ten in just over nine innings. 

Daniel Raymond “Dan” Quisenberry (1979-90)

Another submariner, Quisenberry was the premier reliever in the AL in the 1980s.  He led the AL in saves five times, games pitched three times, was a three-time all-star and received Cy Young and MVP votes in five seasons.  He was the closer for the Kansas Royals when they won the World Series in 1985.  When he retired in 1990, he ranked sixth all-time with 244 saves, twice saving over 40 games in a season.  He pitched in 674 games with zero starts and a 2.76 ERA.  Known for his practical jokes, “Quiz” died of brain cancer in 1998.  Despite his dominance, his quick demise as a closer has kept him out of the Hall of Fame. 

Lee Arthur Smith (1980-97)

Smith retired in 1997 as the career saves leader with 478.  He saved over 30 games ten times, including three consecutive 40-save seasons (1991-1993).  The seven-time all-star led the league in saves four times and finished second four times.  He received Cy Young and MVP votes in four seasons as well.  He pitched in 1,022 games and struck out 1,251 batters with a 3.03 ERA.  With Gossage being elected in 2008, Smith has the best chance of any reliever to gain election into the Hall by the BBWAA until Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera are eligible for election.  He received 43.3% of the vote in 2008, the third time he received over 40% of the vote. 

Thomas Anthony “Tom” Henke (1982-95)

“The Terminator” was one of the most overpowering pitchers of his day.  Henke struck out 9.81 batters per nine innings in his career.  He saved 311 games and had an ERA of 2.67.  He was the closer for the Toronto Blue Jays in 1992 when they won their first World Series.  After pitching for either Texas or Toronto during his entire career, he pitched for St. Louis and had one of his best seasons in 1995.  He saved 36 games with a 1.82 ERA and won the NL Rolaids Relief Man of the Year Award.  Henke then decided to call it a career at age 37. 

John Karl Wetteland (1989-2000)

Wettleland was another closer who got out of the game when he had plenty left in the tank. He retired in 2000 at age 33 with 330 saves and a 2.93 ERA. His 295 saves in the 1990s led the majors. Wetteland had four 40-save seasons and four other seasons of at least 30. The three-time all-star was the closer for the 1996 World Series winning Yankees.

Honorable Mention:

Lyndall Dale “Lindy” McDaniel (1955-75)

Frank Edwin “Tug” McGraw (1965-67,69-84)

John Frederick Hiller (1965-70,72-80)

Jeffrey James “Jeff” Reardon (1979-94)

Randall Kirk “Randy” Myers (1985-98)

Robert Allen “Robb” Nen (1993-2002) 

Relief Pitchers Not Yet Eligible for the Hall:

John Anthony Franco (1984-2001,03-05)

Trevor William Hoffman (1993 to present)

Troy Eugene Percival (1995-2005,07 to present)

Mariano “Mo” Rivera (1995 to present)

William Edward “Billy” Wagner (1995 to present)


One Response to “Hall of Fame No Longer Closed to Closers”
  1. Vaden Chandler says:

    Wetteland may still have a shot at making it. We’ll see…

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