MLB Closers: Are They Super Heroes?

Cliff Eastham@RedsToTheBoneSenior Writer IIApril 20, 2009

I am sick unto death of relief pitching in general, but specifically I am sick of Closers.

They are treated as though they were God’s gift to baseball.  In fact, they are MLB’s answer to the NFL’s place kicker.

I am not pointing the finger directly at the Closer, rather at professional baseball itself.

Pitching has become scripted in the last couple of decades.  Get a good quality performance from your starter; say six or seven decent innings.  If you have the lead in the seventh, bring in the “set-up” man.  He is a specialist, don’t you see. 

It is his job to prevent the opponent from tying the game or taking the lead.  If he does that, he earns himself a “hold”.

That leaves it up to our superhero, Closer Man.  He enters the game with ice water coursing through his veins.  Closer Man is unshakable, nerves of steel, that guy. 

Closer Man is usually around at the end of the game (provided he did his job well) to take all the high fives, fist bumps and every other ritualistic symbol of victory.

Where does this leave the starting pitcher?

If all goes according to Hoyle, Starter Guy will pitch five to seven innings and give up three or less runs.  Let’s face it, in most instances if you do that you will put your team in a very cozy place.

It is a shame what New Age Pitching has done to my game.  Back when TV was run by gas, and rainbows were black and white, starters gave you a complete game, generally speaking.

Tom Cheney pitched 16 innings in one game for the Senators in 1962. He beat the Baltimore Orioles 2-1 that night. 

It took him four hours to do it, but he completed the game and didn’t even think about calling for Closer Man (if he was even in existence then). 

All Cheney did was pitch 16 innings, faced 62 batters, gave up 10 hits, 1 ER, walked four and struck out a Major League Record 21 batters. That record still stands. Wonder what his pitch count was?

That is what I call a stud, or a horse, if you will.  That is the stuff Roy Halladay is made of.  He is a throwback to the “golden age” if there is one pitching today.

In 2003 Roy threw nine complete games. Did you hear me? Excuse me, did you read me?Nine complete games. Aquilina Lopez, AKA Closer Man got an occasional night off when Roy started the game.

In 1968, Juan Marichal of the San Francisco Giants completed a league high 30 games.  He started 38, not a bad average, eh?

Back to Closer Man. About the only time he sees the mound is when his team is ahead by three runs or less. That’s because he wouldn’t be qualified to earn a save. The only time he will ever come in a game when his team is losing, is if he needs the work.

I have seen too many times when a starter is pitching a beautiful game, only to be taken out, and have the relief pitcher blow-up and not only lose his lead, but shackle him with a loss. That is no good.

The pitch count is another thing that drives me into melancholy.  “Joe Blow has 108 pitches here in the eighth inning.  We are ahead 2-0, but I believe we should play it safe and bring in Closer Man.”

Wake up, these are not little leaguers. They are multi-millionaires. Their throwing arm is their moneymaker. Use it while you can. Don’t hide it under a bushel, no. Let that man pitch. I don’t care what the pitch count is.

In the sixties I don’t know that anyone knew of a pitch count. Pitch count? Pitch count? Did you say pitch count? Pitch count?

Closer Man is a multi-millionaire for just working maybe 20 minutes, when he works at all.  Is that the life of Riley, or what?

At any rate, too much attention, too much adoration and way too much credit goes to Closer Man.  Shouldn’t Setup Boy be afforded the same accolades?  I mean, if he can’t hold them, there won’t be anything left for Closer Man to save.

Closer Man can be prone to kryptonite-type hardships. Look at Eric Gagne. In 2003 Gagne, AKA, Closer Man won the Cy Young Award in the National League while pitching for the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Imagine that, winning the Cy Young Award with a 2-3 record.  What’s going on?  Was he too big for the Rolaids Award?

In 2007, while with the Boston Red Sox, Gagne appeared in 20 games without a single save. His ERA had ballooned from 1.20 in 2003 to 6.75 in 2007.

If you are Closer Man and you can’t close, what can you do? 

Back in the medieval days (prior to the 70’s), a reliever came in because the starter was getting beaten from pillar to post.  Now he comes in to face a left-hander only because he is a southpaw.  If he gets him out, fine, if he don’t he comes out dither way.

In 2003, Roy Oswalt, Peter Munro, Kirk Saarloos, Brad Lidge, Octavio Dotel, and Billy Wagner of the Houston Astros combined to no hit the New York Yankees, winning 8-0.

Why didn't Oswalt pull a knife on the Skipper or something? Take me out of a no-hitter and see what you get.

Isn’t that a crock? Six pitchers to throw a no-hitter. That is the pinnacle of absurdity.

Question. How many relief pitchers does it take to throw a no-hitter? Five if your starter leaves the game with one.

Starter Guy = $15 Million, Setup Boy = $4 ½ Million, Closer Man = $13 Million

Six Pitchers’ Combined No-Hitter = Worthless

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