How do you spell relief?

How important are relief pitchers? It’s obviously a very important position in the game today, but how important are relievers in a historical context? Rollie Fingers and Goose Gossage are Hall of Famers, but does anyone really put them on the same level as Bob Gibson or Warren Spahn? The same basic position–pitcher–but vastly different roles in the game.

I’ve been thinking a lot about relief pitchers lately, partly because of Aroldis Chapman’s role in the bullpen so far this year with the Reds, and partly because of Trevor Hoffman’s historic 600th save. Are relief pitchers too specialized, to the point that they don’t get the recognition they deserve? Or do they receive too much credit for too little work?

In the 1980s, the role of the closer was much different than today. He wasn’t just a one-inning specialist, but often a 2-3 inning game ender. Guys like Reardon, Smith, and Franco came in and shut the door in the seventh or eighth inning and wouldn’t allow the offense to re-open it.

Do these guys belong in the Hall of Fame? Back in the good ol’ days, I divided my cards into categories – commons, stars, rookies, and Hall of Famers (current and future). All three of those names were in my HOF box, but I’m not sure I would still put them all there today.

How do you rank these relievers (listed alphabetically below)? And do they belong in Cooperstown? And are there others that I have forgotten that should also be considered?

Rollie Fingers (elected in 1992, second year on the ballot)
John Franco (will appear on ballot for first time this year)
Goose Gossage (elected in 2008, 9th year on ballot)
Tom Henke (received 1.2% of the vote in 2001, his only year on the ballot)
Dan Quisenberry (received 3.8% of the vote in 1996, his only year on the ballot)
Jeff Reardon (received 4.8% of the vote in 2000, his only year on the ballot)
Dave Righetti (received 0.4% of the vote in 2001, his only year on the ballot)
Lee Smith (received 47.3% of the vote in 2010, his 8th year on ballot, his best percentage to date)
Bruce Sutter (elected in 2006, 13th year on ballot, after only 23.9% in his first year)

Oh, and by the way, I spell relief T-U-M-S.

About JT

Christian. Husband. Dad. 911 dispatcher. Baseball fan. Horror nut. Music nerd. Bookworm. Time Magazine's 2006 Person of the Year.

Posted on September 9, 2010, in baseball and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I lean more towards a stricter HOF. Relief pitching is a tough call. Stats and usage have changed so much in just 40 years. Guys like Sutter, Gossage and Fingers defined the role. Then a bunch of guys came and piled up big stats as the rules changed and I am not sure where I rank them. Finally, guys like Eckersley and Rivera came along and dominated.
    It’s the middle guys who cause me problems. I’d say no to Henke and Righetti. Unsure on the others.

  2. OK, here’s how I rank these guys. I’m planning on writing more about Reardon and maybe Franco in the near future. Reardon was one-and-done, and I think that’s a shame. Even if he doesn’t deserve induction, I wish he would have gotten more than one look.

    Goose Gossage
    Lee Smith
    Bruce Sutter
    Rollie Fingers
    John Franco
    Jeff Reardon
    Dan Quisenberry
    Tom Henke
    Dave Righetti

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