Year Inducted: 1992 (BBWAA, ballot #2, 349/430)
Andrew Miller is making a lot of news lately, as is his manager Terry Francona. Not just because he is an awesome pitcher, but because Francona is deploying his best arm in the biggest situations and not saving him for the 9th inning. There have been several times in the last few seasons, especially in the postseason, where managers have either stuck with starters too long or gone to less effective relievers because they want to save their best arm for the ninth to get the save. Believe it or not, like was mentioned in the Bruce Sutter entry, this wasn’t always the case. Great bullpen arms were brought in as early as the 6th inning at times to preserve the victory. There have been many of these arms throughout history, but the first greatly effective one was Rollie Fingers.
Fingers was the premier reliever in baseball for most of his 17-year career, mostly with the A’s. Fingers pitched over 1700 innings in his great career, winning 114 games while losing 118 and saving 341. Fingers was the first relief pitcher to win the MVP award, doing so in 1981 while winning the Cy Young Award that same year. Fingers struck out almost 1300 batters in his career and only walked 492.
Fingers was the first pitcher ever to be credited with 300 saves, doing so while a member of the Brewers in 1982. And, while data isn’t available for all of his seasons prior to 1974, he still successfully convert 320 shut downs in his career (meaning he likely had about 400 counting his earlier seasons). He truly was the first great closer.
Upon his retirement, Fingers ranked 1st all-time in saves, 6th in ERA, and second in fWAR among relievers. The BBWAA, an entity that is slow to adapt to changes in baseball, accepted his greatness as well as he was voted in on his second ballot, one of two relievers to ever be in at that time.
Fingers, easily, was the first great closer. However, there are many that come after him that were slightly better. Goose Gossage was slightly more dominant, as was Dennis Eckersley and of course Mariano Rivera. But, that shouldn’t take away from the fact that Fingers was the pioneer in the field and always will be.
Stay tuned for the next update.
On deck 10/20/16, this was the first pitcher to win the Cy Young Award in both leagues.