’88 Record Breaker Doug Jones 1989 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for November 15, 2017

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Baseball is filled with stories of people who display strength and perseverance. Former Cleveland Indians closer Doug Jones is one such story.

A draft pick by Milwaukee in 1978, he toiled through the minor leagues for years save for one quick cameo with the 1982 Milwaukee club.

In the mid 1980’s he found himself in the Cleveland Indians organization but not impressing manager Pat Corrales. The team was filled with young hitting stars like Julio Franco, Joe Carter, Brett Butler, Pat Tabler, Mel Hall and Tony Bernazard. But they lacked pitching depth and certainly anything resembling an anchor in the bullpen.

Jones was a 29 year old career minor leaguer who threw in the 80’s. Corrales wanted none of that. He wanted flame throwers on the team and Jones appeared in only 11 games.

In 1987, the expectations for the Indians were through the roof. Sports Illustrated famously picked them to win the American League pennant.

Their pitching staff was a catastrophe and closers Ernie Camacho and Scott Bailes just could not do their jobs. Manager Pat Corrales was fired and new manager Doc Edwards came in.

Edwards was not necessarily thrilled that they had a soft tossing reliever in their pen, but he was a better option than everyone else and he wound up getting 8 saves to lead the team.

For spring training 1988, Edwards told Jones that the front office would rather have a young flame thrower than a 30 year old soft tosser. Jones was told that he would have to win his spot by outpitching everyone else otherwise he would be out of a job.

Jones, now sporting a choice 1980’s mustache, had to fight preconceptions about age, velocity and experience and he had no good will in the bank to cash in. That spring training, he did indeed win the spot in the bullpen.

Edwards began to use him as the closer. Instead of a fireballer coming out in the 9th, Jones’ slow stuff kept everyone off balance. He converted 4 of 5 save chances in April.

On May 11, he pitched 4 shutout innings to get the 4-3 win in 13 innings over the Angels. 2 days later, he threw 1 1/3 innings for a save. Nobody knew it, but he was beginning a record breaking streak.

By May 24th, he had 9 saves, one more than his team lead was for the entire 1987 season.

In June, he made 7 appearances and got saves in every single one. Three of those saves were ones where he entered in the 7th inning. The last one, on June 24th, was the 14th straight appearance with a save, one more than the record set by Steve Bedrosian the year before.

On July 2, he recorded his 19th save and the 15th straight appearance. On the 4th of July, he came into the game in a tie situation, breaking the streak. But a few weeks later, he was named to his first All Star Game.

He finished the season with 7 straight appearances with a save and 37 for the year. His ERA was a solid 2.27 and he struck out 72 while only giving out 13 unintentional walks.

Doug Jones, who was offered a coaching job instead of a spring training invite in 1987, would be named to the 1988, 1989, 1990, 1992 and 1993 All Star Teams.

He pitched for the Astros and Phillies before rejoining Cleveland in time to pitch in the 1998 post season. His final game was in the 2000 Division Series as a member of the Oakland A’s.

Besides playing in 3 different decades, he became a millionaire many times over as well.

If he had listened to what everyone was saying about him, he would have quit in the mid 1980’s instead of playing to 2000 at age 43.

We can all learn a little something from his strength.

MLB Leading Firemen 1978 Card – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for November 12, 2017

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It is harder to get more old school in terms of praising bullpen closers than this “Leading Firemen” card from 1978.

You have a pair of classic relievers, now both in the Hall of Fame, and both quick to point out today what is wrong with closers who only throw one inning for the save.

It is odd to see a clean shaven Gossage, who famously grew out a big mustache to the point where it is mentioned on his Hall of Fame plaque.

Fingers, still sporting his stache he grew for bonuses in Oakland, is seen during his run with San Diego.

It is funny how they are perceived as old school and “the way things should be done” now. In the 1970’s they both represented what, in many people’s eyes, was what was wrong WITH KIDS TODAY!

Besides being dominating closers, what is one thing that both Rich Gossage and Rollie Fingers had in common? They were both early participants in free agency.

Gossage cut his teeth for many years with the White Sox. He spent one year in Pittsburgh before cashing in and signing a multi million dollar contract to join the Yankees. The Yankees already had a bullpen closer, Cy Young winner Sparky Lyle. But he was looked on as a mercenary, chasing the big bucks.

As for Fingers, who was part of the great A’s teams that won 3 straight World Series titles, he also cashed in. He left the team that developed him and made him a star to become a millionaire playing for San Diego, a team that had no chance.

Free agency, supposedly, was going to kill the sport and make sure only the rich teams won and bankrupt small teams. Of course the opposite happened. The 1980’s saw parity like never before in baseball and big market teams were often on the outside looking in.

But think of another element of these two players that would have upset the previous generations. Pitchers were supposed to go nine innings. Relievers were the scrubs not good enough to be starters. These guys were becoming millionaires, making more money than Sandy Koufax, Juan Marichal or Whitey Ford ever made, and they were just throwing 2 innings a game.

Wasn’t this the softness of the new generation out for everyone to see? In MYYYYYYY day, you didn’t even WANT to be a reliever. But these kids today like Gossage and Fingers, they don’t care. Just throw 2 innings a game and get millions. Soft kids. They would never have survived in MYYYYY day.

Now they are the old men.

Of course this was in the infancy of judging relievers. The save stat had only been official for about a decade and people were still trying to figure out how to judge the value of a reliever.

Take a look at the back of the card.

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You see they had essentially the first draft of a formula. Saves plus Relief Wins equal total points. Of course a reliever can get a relief win when they pitch poorly. A save can be a sloppy performance.

Blown saves and losses were not taken into account. Neither were inherited runners scored. But it was an attempt and this sort of statistical analysis was all brand new.

Everything new becomes old eventually. And even two players who may have represented everything WRONG about baseball for one generation could become the beacon of the good old days for another.

1990 Record Breaker Bobby Thigpen 1991 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for November 4, 2017

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In many ways, the save stat is a first draft at solving a problem. For years, relief pitchers had been marginalized as failed starters. Their value was unclear in terms of measuring their metrics.

Wins were coveted as starters and relievers often didn’t get wins. Many times they didn’t even pitch when their team had a lead.

Relievers tended to get wins when they let up the lead but then the team scored later. Those were “vulture wins.”

A few attempts were made to award saves but writer Jerome Holtzman came up with the first draft. Pitchers were awarded saves if they finished the game and protected a tight lead.

It became an official stat in 1969 and suddenly a measurement came about to compare relievers.

Pitchers had to protect either a 3 run lead with 3 outs to go, protect a lead where the tying run is on the on deck circle or protect a lead by pitching the final 3 innings of the game, regardless the score.

Not bad. A reliever didn’t have to worry about picking up wins to get anyone’s attention. At first it didn’t seem to affect how managers used their bullpen. They went with the best pitchers available, regardless of their save total.

Five different pitchers recorded saves in the 1973 World Series between the A’s and Mets.

The star relief pitcher emerged from this new stat. Rollie Fingers, Sparky Lyle and Bruce Sutter all earned Cy Young Awards between 1977 and 1981. So would Willie Hernandez, Steve Bedrosian and eventually Dennis Eckersley and Eric Gagne. Fingers, Hernandez and Eckersley would win the MVP as well, an unheard of possibility before the gaudy save totals impressed voters.

Between 1969 and 1988, a 20 or 30 save total was considered elite. Pitchers tended to go more than one inning for the save and they were considered to be “Firemen” more than “Closers.” They had to snuff out rallies instead of simply slam the door in the 9th.

Dave Righetti of the Yankees saved 46 games, averaging more than 4 outs per save, setting the single season record in 1986.

Then in 1988, manager Tony LaRussa figured something out. If he took his best relievers and gave them defined roles, he could get more games out of them, if not more innings. He would use Dennis Eckersley just for the 9th, Rick Honeycutt just for the 8th and Gene Nelson just for the 7th.

This made sense for the A’s, who turned their factory style bullpen into a well oiled machine.

What that also did was make the save a much less reliable metric. If a good solid pitcher pitches the 9th with a 3 run lead and DOESN’T let up 3 runs, then guess what? They get the save.

With the one inning and out save now the norm, all Save totals exploded. The top 20 All Time save leaders have some Hall of Famers like Eckersley and Fingers in there. There are also pitchers like Todd Jones, Jose Mesa, Troy Percival and Francisco Cordero on there. Nothing against them, but they basically compiled saves and would never be Hall of Fame candidates.

Top 20 all time in any positive category should at least get some consideration for the Hall. Will Francisco Rodriguez, who currently is 4th all time on the list, even get on a second ballot? His 62 saves in 2008 remain the highest all time mark. This impressed the Angels so much that they let him walk in the off season.

Of the 50 highest single season save totals, only Righetti’s 46 in 1986 took place before 1988.

Bobby Thigpen’s 57 saves was a classic save compiling from a fine pitcher who never came close to that total before or afterwards.

The Mississippi State grad would get his 30 some odd saves with a mid 3 ERA every year between 1988 and 1991 with the exception of 1990. That year he averaged roughly 3 outs per appearance and finished the game 73 of his 77 appearances. He kept his ERA down to 1.83 and piled up the 57 saves. He made the All Star team and the White Sox were surprise contenders for much of the season.

Despite the saves, Dennis Eckersley was still considered to be the best closer in the game. Thigpen finished 4th in the AL Cy Young vote.

After 1990, he went back to 30 save seasons with ERAs in the 3’s. By 1993, he was on the Phillies. When Mitch Williams, the save compiler for the team, was scuffling in the post season, the idea of calling on the single season saves champion to take over did not seem to even cross anyone’s mind.

His career was over by 1994.

The save rule needs to be altered to make it tougher to record one. Perhaps make it so the pitcher has to face the tying run. Or maybe some a sliding scale of difficulty in what a save is worth.

I don’t know. It is worth figuring out. The save was a good first draft. But it needs revisions.