Tom Henke 1988 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for April 16, 2017

IMG_9783In 2001, Tom Henke got six Hall of Fame votes for 1.2 percent of the ballots, far short of the five percent needed. And while his final career numbers fell short of Cooperstown, how he left the game sparked an intriguing “what if?” about his Hall of Fame prospects.

Hall voters have been remarkably slow to embrace the relief pitcher. It took eight ballots to get Hoyt Wilhelm in. Rollie Fingers wasn’t in on the first ballot. It took 13 turns to get Bruce Sutter in. Goose Gossage, the biggest no-brainer other than Fingers, inexplicably took nine ballots before getting in.

So when the undeniable greats had trouble getting voted in, a borderline candidate like Henke has little to no chance.

But take a close look at Henke’s career. His Baseball Reference page lists his similar pitchers as the likes of Robb Nen, John Wetteland, Todd Worrell, Dave Smith, Rod Beck and Troy Percival. That seems about right. Each one of those pitchers were dominant pitchers for a stretch before injuries caught up with their careers.

Armando Benitez is also listed as a similar pitcher, which is a slap in all of their faces. Flush all of his stats down the drain. Being compared to Benitez as a reliever is like comparing a singer to Alfafa from the Little Rascals.

Henke broke into the majors with the Rangers and went to Toronto in the compensation draft. For those of you who have no idea what the compensation draft is, it is the answer to the question “Why was there a strike in 1981?”

When Henke’s career turned a corner as a 27-year-old middle reliever for the 1985 Division Champion Blue Jays, he looked like a late bloomer. But in 1986, Henke no longer fought for saves with Bill Caudill and Jim Acker and became the closer by himself. The result was he became one of the most feared relievers in the game.

Partially fear because of his imposing height, his big glasses couldn’t have made batters feel any more comfortable. “He throws that hard and can’t see? Maybe I shouldn’t dig in.”

He struck out 9.8 batters over nine innings over 14 seasons in the bigs. His individual season save total wasn’t as gaudy as some of his contemporaries (like his fellow Hall of Fame ballot rejects Dave Righetti and Steve Bedrosian who racked up some eye popping regular seasons.) But by the late 1980s, Henke was saving games along side Duane Ward and being part of a devastatingly deep Toronto bullpen.

In 1989, when the Blue Jays returned to the playoffs, Henke saved only 20 games. But he finished 56, struck out 116 batters in only 89 innings and pitched to a 1.92 ERA. Over the next three seasons, the Blue Jays made the post season two more times with Henke leading the deep pen, instead of being a compiler, while keeping up around a four-to-one strikeout to walk ratio.

In 1992, when future Hall of Famer and saves compiler Dennis Eckersley couldn’t contain Roberto Alomar and the Blue Jays, Henke clinched the pennant in Toronto. He lacked that great career highlight moment, as he blew the save in the ninth inning of Game Six of the World Series against Atlanta. The Jays would win the game in extra innings and it was Mike Timlin who closed out the series.

But Henke saved two games in the series and outshone his Atlanta counterpart, Jeff Reardon, who was roughed up in Games Two and three.

The Blue Jays decided to stick with Duane Ward as their closer after the World Series, and Henke went back to Texas. There he saved 40 games for the first time in his career. Then after the 1994 strike, he landed in St. Louis. The result was one of his best seasons. He saved 36 of the Cardinals 62 wins, pitched to a 1.82 ERA and made the All-Star team. At the end of the season, he was the 1995 National League Rolaids Relief Award winner. He had never received that honor in all of those years pitching in Toronto.

In 1995, after years of piling up substantive seasons of leading the bullpen and being one of the most respected—but not one of the most celebrated—closers in the game, he seemed poised to start to pile up the stats and pad his Cooperstown resume. Sure he was 37 years old, but he wasn’t logging 200 innings a season. He could start climbing up the saves leader chart and maybe pick up another Rolaids Award.

Maybe he would join a playoff-bound team and get another shot at a ring (and a chance to close it out himself.) And when all was said and done, writers would look at his career and say “Wow, he just might be a Hall of Famer!”

So what did he do?

He retired.

That’s right. He was declared the league’s top reliever and hung up his spikes. Maybe he wanted to go out on top.

Maybe he knew that piling up saves wasn’t going to make a compelling Cooperstown case. (It sure never helped Lee Smith, Reardon and John Franco.) Maybe he saw the late Dan Quisenberry, who has an argument for election, be dropped after the first ballot.

Or maybe the Hall of Fame never entered his mind, and he was a humble family man who was content with 14 big league seasons, multiple All Star appearances, a World Series ring, millions of dollars in the bank, love and respect from a fan base and walking away on top.

If only he were greedier. He might be in the Hall of Fame.


(An earlier edition of this post was written for The Hardball Times in 2011.)

MIKE TIMLIN – Sully Baseball Unsung Post Season Hero of October 24

(CP PHOTO/Hans Deryk)

(CP PHOTO/Hans Deryk)

OCTOBER 24, 1992 – World Series Game 6

To explain why this entry in the Unsung Post Season Hero series is so special to me, I need to flash back to my front yard in the early 1980s. As a 10 or 11 year old, I would play out a scenario while throwing a whiffle ball.

In a potential clinching game of the World Series, my team is in extra innings and on the road. We have the lead but the home team is rallying. Out of pitchers, the manager had no choice to go to an unknown young pitcher named Sully to come out and clinch it. With the winning run at the plate and the crowd going crazy, I strikeout the last batter and clinch the World Series.

Everyone mobs the little known pitcher who was the unlikely pitcher who clinched it all.

The memory of that play acting was brought to light about 10 years later with Mike Timlin.

The Blue Jays and the Braves squared off in a thrilling World Series in 1992. The two teams split the first two games in Atlanta before the Blue Jays took a pair of one run games and established a 3-1 lead with 1991 World Series hero Jack Morris taking the mound for Game 5. The Braves beat Morris and sent the series back to the South.

Game 6 was a classic game. The hero of Game 3, Candy Maldonado, homered in the 4th to give the Blue Jays a 2-1 lead. The game turned into a bullpen game as a galaxy of pitching stars threw for Toronto. David Cone, Todd Stottlemyre, David Wells and Duane Ward held the lead.

In the 9th, the Blue Jays handed the ball to star closer Tom Henke who looked to clinch the series and give Canada their first World Series title. In the bullpen, Mark Eichhorn and Mike Timlin, two middle relievers further down the depth chart, figured out how they would celebrate the final pitch.

But the Braves, like they did against the Pirates in the NLCS, rallied. With 2 outs and 2 strikes on Otis Nixon, the Blue Jays were a pitch from the title. Otis Nixon singled home the tying run and suddenly the Blue Jays found themselves in extra innings and had already burned through their best relievers.

In the 10th, Toronto manager Cito Gaston turned to game 4 starter Jimmy Key, who kept the Braves off of the board. In the 11th with 2 outs, Dave Winfield redeemed his previous post season failures with a 2 out, 2 run double and put the Blue Jays back on top.

Key came out to clinch the World Series but got in trouble early. He allowed a lead off single and the next batter reached on an error. The never say die Braves had the winning run at the plate.

Key got a pair of outs but let up a run in the process. Now it was a one run lead and clearly a call to the bullpen was needed. But with their best relievers already used, Gaston turned to Mike Timlin.

The 26 year old Texan had played in the post season the year before but let up a go ahead homer to Minnesota’s Mike Pagliarulo. He had been reduced to a mop up role in the World Series.

Now Timlin found himself in the game. As I watched the game from my dorm room at NYU, I started going crazy. Timlin was enacting my scenario. The Blue Jays had run out of their better known pitchers. Timlin was relatively anonymous. Atlanta Fulton County Stadium was going bananas.
Otis Nixon, who had tied the game in the 9th was at the plate. The tying run, in the form of pinch runner John Smoltz was at third. It was Timlin’s game to save.
On the first pitch, the speedy Nixon dropped a bunt. A perfectly placed bunt with tie the game and put Nixon on as the potential winning run.
Timlin pounced on the ball and threw to first baseman Joe Carter. It was a close play but Timlin got him. My scenario was played to perfection. The unlikely Mike Timlin saved the game and the Blue Jays were World Champions.
But there was a problem in the celebration. The team poured out and mobbed… Joe Carter.
Mike Timlin was on the outside looking in for the scrum. He celebrated to be sure, but he wasn’t the focus on the celebration. Even the photos of the final out focused on Carter jumping up and down and not Timlin. (And to think, it would not even be Carter’s most famous jump at the conclusion of the World Series as a year later his homer would make the Jays back to back champs.)
I always felt for Timlin, or maybe I felt badly for myself. The perfect ending to my scenario was to have the team mob ME. And I felt a connection to Timlin and wanted his reality to match my fantasy.
In the end, Timlin won 4 rings all together. He was part of the 1992 and 1993 Blue Jays and the 2004 and 2007 Red Sox. As a Sox fan, I was thrilled when he joined my team. I had been rooting for him for years.
It was the great final out that should be Mike Timlin’s calling card of greatness and glory. That’s why I declare him the Unsung Post Season Hero of October 24.

Teams with multiple pitchers with post season saves since 1969

(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

The Rangers have played two game in the post season and have two saves from two different pitchers. And neither of those pitchers are named Shawn Tolleson who led the team with 35 saves.

It is refreshing when managers make decisions based on the situation rather than just drag the closer out in the 9th as a default. (Sam Dyson pitched the 9th in Game 1 instead of Tolleson. Manager Jeff Banister used Tolleson in Game 2 when it was NOT a save situation.)

The save became an official stat in 1969. Teams in the post season initially played to the situation instead of using the closer in all close 9th innings. But as saves began to pile up (especially after Tony LaRussa began using Dennis Eckersley one inning at time) and the prices of an innings closers sky rocketed, managers seemed to manage by the book and stick the closer in no matter what.

Every once in a while, a team will have multiple pitchers record a save in a post season. It does not happen often, but they pop up. Just last year, the Giants had 3 different pitchers credited with a save. If Tolleson saves a game, then the Rangers will match that total.

So here are all the teams to use more than one pitcher to save a game since 1969.

Teams with multiple pitchers with post season saves since 1969
1969 New York Mets – Ron Taylor (WS), Nolan Ryan (WS)
1970 Baltimore Orioles – Pete Richert (WS), Dick Hall (WS)
1970 Cincinnati Reds – Clay Carroll (NLCS), Don Gullett (NLCS)
1972 Oakland A’s – Vida Blue (ALCS), Rollie Fingers (WS)
1972 Cincinnati Reds – Clay Carroll (WS), Jack Billingham (WS), Tom Hall (WS)
1973 New York Mets – Tug McGraw (NLCS, WS), George Stone (WS), Ray Sadecki (WS)
1973 Oakland A’s – Rollie Fingers (ALCS, WS), Darold Knowles (WS)
1974 Oakland A’s – Rollie Fingers (ALCS, WS), Catfish Hunter (WS)
1975 Cincinnati Reds – Pedro Borbon (NLCS), Rawly Eastwick (WS), Will McEnaney (WS)
1976 Cincinnati Reds – Pedro Borbon (NLCS), Will McEnaney (WS)
1978 New York Yankees – Ken Clay (ALCS), Rich Gossage (ALCS)
1979 Pittsburgh Pirates – Don Robinson (NLCS), Kent Tekulve (WS)
1980 Philadelphia Phillies – Tug McGraw (NLCS, WS), Ron Reed (WS)
1981 Los Angeles Dodgers – Bob Welch (NLCS), Steve Howe (WS)
1982 Milwaukee Brewers – Pete Ladd (ALCS), Jim Slaton (ALCS), Bob McClure (WS)
1983 Baltimore Orioles – Sammy Stewart (ALCS), Tippy Martinez (WS)
1984 San Diego Padres – Rich Gossage (NLCS), Craig Lefferts (WS)
1985 St. Louis Cardinals – Ken Dayley (NLCS), Todd Worrell (WS), Jeff Lahti (WS)
1986 Boston Red Sox – Calvin Schraldi (ALCS, WS), Bob Stanley (WS)
1987 Minnesota Twins – Juan Berenguer (ALCS), Jeff Reardon (ALCS, WS)
1987 St. Louis Cardinals – Ken Dayley (NLCS, WS), Todd Worrell (NLCS, WS)
1988 Los Angeles Dodgers – Alejandro Pena (NLCS), Orel Hershiser (NLCS), Brian Holton (NLCS), Jay Howell (WS)
1990 Cincinnati Reds – Randy Myers (NLCS, WS), Rob Dibble (NLCS)
1990 Pittsburgh Pirates – Ted Power (NLCS), Bob Patterson (NLCS)
1990 Oakland Athletics – Dennis Eckersley (ALCS), Rick Honeycutt (ALCS)
1991 Pittsburgh Pirates – Bob Walk (NLCS), Roger Mason (NLCS)
1992 Toronto Blue Jays – Tom Henke (ALCS, WS), Mike Timlin (WS)
1992 Atlanta Braves – Jeff Reardon (NLCS), Mike Stanton (WS)
1993 Philadelphia Phillies – Mitch Williams (NLCS), Larry Andersen (NLCS)
1995 Atlanta Braves – Mark Wohlers (DS, NLCS, WS) Greg McMichael (NLCS), Pedro Borbon (WS)
1995 Seattle Mariners – Norm Charlton (DS, ALCS), Bill Risley (DS)
1996 Baltimore Orioles – Randy Myers (DS), Armando Benitez (ALCS)
1997 Cleveland Indians – Jose Mesa (DS, ALCS, WS), Brian Anderson (WS)
1998 San Diego Padres – Trevor Hoffman (DS, NLCS), Donne Wall (NLCS)
1999 Atlanta Braves – Kevin Millwood (DS), John Rocker (DS, NLCS), John Smoltz (NLCS)
1999 New York Yankees – Mariano Rivera (DS, ALCS, WS), Ramiro Mendoza (ALCS)
2000 New York Mets – John Franco (DS), Armando Benitez (NLCS, WS)
2003 Florida Marlins – Ugueth Urbina (DS, NLCS, WS), Braden Looper (NLCS)
2003 Chicago Cubs – Joe Borowski (DS), Mike Remlinger (NLCS)
2003 Boston Red Sox – Derek Lowe (DS), Scott Williamson (ALCS)
2005 Chicago White Sox – Bobby Jenks (DS, WS), Mark Buehrle (WS)
2007 Colorado Rockies – Manny Corpas (DS, NLCS), Ryan Speier (NLCS)
2008 Tampa Bay Rays – Dan Wheeler (DS), David Price (ALCS)
2009 Philadelphia Phillies – Brad Lidge (DS, NLCS), Ryan Madson (WS)
2010 Texas Rangers – Darren Oliver (ALCS), Neftali Feliz (WS)
2011 Detroit Tigers – Jose Valverde (DS, ALCS), Phil Coke (ALCS)
2012 Detroit Tigers – Jose Valverde (DS), Phil Coke (ALCS)
2014 San Francisco Giants – Santiago Castilla (DS, NLCS, WS), Hunter Strickland (DS), Madison Bumgarner (WS)
2015 Texas Rangers – Sam Dyson (DS), Ross Ohlendorf (DS)