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.
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.