(Photo: Chicago Tribune)

1946-1968: The Emergence of the Bullpen Specialist

In Part One of our seven-part series on the history of relief pitching, we chronicled how a significant percentage of the relief appearances in Major League Baseball were made by starting pitchers, coming out of the bullpen in between their starts. In the first 75 years of recorded baseball history, only 40 pitchers are credited with having at least 30 saves in their career (since a significant majority of all starts ended in complete games for the starter).

In the first 45 years of the 21st century, there were very few pitchers who could be accurately described as relief pitching specialists. Doc Crandall, Dave Danforth, Firpo Marberry, Wilcy Moore, Ace Adams and Johnny Murphy were some of the moderate number of pitchers of significance who were used out of the bullpen in the majority of their appearances. None of these pitchers came remotely close to earning a plaque in the Hall of Fame. Marberry came “closest”, getting one vote (one total) on the 1938 ballot. No relief pitcher was ever in the running for a MVP trophy.

That changed in the years after World War II. In 1950, the first pure relief pitcher (Jim Konstanty) won the MVP. In 1952, a 29-year-old knuckleballer (Hoyt Wilhelm) began his career, a distinguished one after which (in 1985) he would become the first Cooperstown inductee who was primarily a relief pitcher.

In the first chart below, you can see how rare it was for any pitcher to pile up lots of appearances as a relief specialist in the first two decades of the 20th century. As each decade passes, more relief pitchers get used.

  • % G as CG = the percentage of all games started that ended in a complete game
  • % G as RP = the percentage of total games pitched that were in relief (for the decade)
  • GR 50+ = the number of pitchers with at least 50 games pitched in relief for the decade
  • GR 100+ = the number of pitchers with at least 100 games pitched in relief for the decade
  • All ERA = the collective ERA for all pitchers on all teams for the decade

Note: the percentage of games that ended in a complete game and percentage of games in which somebody appeared as a relief pitcher do not add up to 100 because more than one relief pitcher can pitch in a game (although you’ll notice that they came close to adding up to 100% in the 1900’s because using a third pitcher or more was exceedingly rare until the 1910’s)

Totals among all pitchers per decade
Decade% G as CG% G as RPGR 50+GR 100+All ERA
1900-190979.0%19.4%1402.84
1910-191956.9%36.7%10962.94
1920-192949.6%44.3%138374.04
1930-193944.6%47.5%169504.28
1940-194942.6%50.1%170503.76
1950-195933.5%56.5%220973.97
1960-196925.2%60.8%2781513.57
Courtesy: Baseball Reference

Now, the raw numbers in the 1960’s partially went up because of the multiple expansions as the league went from 16 to 18 teams in 1960 and to 20 teams in 1961. Still, even though the 1960’s was, in totality, the most pitching-friendly era since the Deadball Era of the 1900’s and 1910’s, the percentage of starts that ended in complete games fell to 25%.

 

I’d like to repeat a quick note from Part One about the statistic known as the “Save.” This is a stat that all baseball fans know about today but it did not exist until 1960, when it was coined by Jerome Holtzman of the Chicago Sun-Times. Although the statistic never existed for the first 90 years of recorded baseball, Baseball Reference has applied saves retroactively to all of its player profiles. The “Save” was an unofficial statistic from 1960 to 1968, becoming official in 1969.

I’ll get into this more in Parts Six and Seven but it should be acknowledged that the save is a highly imperfect measurement for the overall value of a relief pitcher. Members of the sabermetric community are working on refining the ultimate relief pitcher metrics but, for the time being, to go through the history of the game, we’ll use the save. Please note: the retroactively applied saves applied by Baseball Reference are based on the earliest version of the rule (from 1969).

The 1969 rule stated that a relief pitcher earned a save when he entered the game with his team in the lead and held the lead for the remainder of the game, provided that he was not credited with the victory. The current rule, which requires that the pitcher enter with a lead of three runs or less or the tying run in the on deck circle, did not apply in 1969. In essence, saves were easier to attain with the old rule. But you can’t compare relievers from the 1960’s to relievers from the 1990’s based on save totals anyway. Since the 1969 rule is applied to all pitchers prior to that year, you can fairly compare pitchers who pitched at the same time in history.

 

Because, in the first half of the 20th century, starting pitchers were completing a high percentage of starts, there simply weren’t a lot of save situations available for relief pitchers. A significant part of relief appearances came in mop-up roles when a starter didn’t complete the game because they got shelled.

From 1871-1945, there are only 40 pitchers that Baseball Reference credits with 30 or more saves for the entirety of their careers. 11 of those 40 pitchers are in the Hall of Fame because of their exploits on the mound as starting pitchers. The names are Lefty Grove, Waite Hoyt, Three Finger Brown, Herb Pennock, Ed Walsh, Walter Johnson, Chief Bender, Carl Hubbell, Pete Alexander, Dizzy Dean and Christy Mathewson.

Imagine if you made a list of leaders in saves from 1969 to the present and you saw the names Palmer, Seaver, Niekro, Blyleven, Maddux and Glavine on the list. That’s what the pre-1945 list is like.

But the use of starting pitchers out of the bullpen started to disappear in the late ’40’s and 1950’s. There is not one Hall of Fame starting pitcher who debuted in 1946 or later who logged 30 saves or more in their career with the exception of John Smoltz, who saved 154 games in four seasons when he was exclusively used as a closer.

For the record, here is the career saves list through the 1945 season (remembering again that nobody knew what a “save” was in 1945):

Most saves through 1945 season (applied retroactively by Baseball Reference)
RankMost Saves through 1945Saves
1Firpo Marberry99
2Johnny Murphy97
3Joe Heving65
4Clint Brown64
5Jack Quinn56
6*Lefty Grove54
7*Waite Hoyt53
T-8*Three Finger Brown49
T-8Wilcy Moore49
T-8Ace Adams49
*Hall of Famer as Starting Pitcher

 

With this as a backdrop, let’s look now at some of the significant relievers in the post-World War II era, years in which quality bullpen aces gained more respect than ever before. As it was in Part One, this is a bit of a tangent from the principal focus of this website, the “Cooperstown Cred” of Hall of Fame caliber players. Consider the stories of some of these relievers as the links in the chain that eventually led to the famous Hall of Fame stoppers like Hoyt Wilhelm and Rollie Fingers.

Joe Page:

From 1934-43, a right-hander for the New York Yankees named Johnny Murphy became the game’s first legitimate star as a relief pitcher. Because he plied his trade in the Bronx, Fordham Johnny had the opportunity to appear in multiple World Series. In six different Fall Classics (all won by the Yankees), Murphy earned either a win or a save, pitching exclusively out of the bullpen. Yankees manager Joe McCarthy relied on Murphy in eight World Series games overall. In those games (almost all in high leverage situations), Murphy went 2-0 with 4 saves and a 1.10 ERA.

Bronx Baseball Daily

The heir to Murphy in the Bronx was Joe Page, who debuted with the Yankees in 1944 (while Murphy was serving in the military) and took over the stopper role in 1947. After a slow start that nearly saw him demoted to the minors, Page had a season so good that he was wound up fourth in the A.L. MVP voting. Page went 14-8 with 17 saves and a 2.48 ERA in 141.1 innings in ’47.

After an average 1948 campaign, Page rebounded with a superb 1949 in which he went 13-8, posted a 2.59 ERA (an adjusted 156 ERA+), saved 27 games (the most ever in MLB to that point) and finished 3rd in the MVP vote. ERA+ compares pitchers across eras; 100 is average. For more details, please see the Glossary

Page’s role in the history of relief pitching is noteworthy in that he was the first relief pitcher who was considered important enough (by the baseball writers) to earn a significant amount of MVP votes. Prior to Page in 1947, no relief specialist had even come close to the top 5 in any MVP vote.

Page became fast friends with another Joe on the Yankees, some guy named DiMaggio, who dubbed him “The Gay Reliever,” which means he was “carefree,” not what that nickname would imply today. Also known as “Fireman Joe,” Page played a crucial role in the Yankees World Series titles of 1947 and 1949 over the Brooklyn Dodgers.

In ’47, after a disastrous turn in Game 6 (in which he gave up four runs in the 6th inning and was the losing pitcher), he was the hero in Game 7. With the Yankees up by just a run, Page came into the game in the 5th inning and proceeded to pitch five innings of scoreless, one hit ball to win the game (and the series) for the Yankees.

In ’49, he pitched the last 5.2 innings of Game 3 to earn a 4-3 win and, in the decisive Game 5, pitched the final 2.1 innings to nail down the save, earning a headline in The New York Times “Joe Page is Hero Again.” There were no World Series MVP awards yet but, in January 1950, the New York Chapter of the BBWAA conferred, upon Page, the Babe Ruth Memorial Award as the outstanding player of the ’49 World Series.

Using Bill James’ Similarity Scores (see the Glossary for an explanation), the two pitchers you might know (from the 1970’s and 1980’s) who had careers most statistically similar to Page’s are Sid Monge and Tippy Martinez. Clearly, we’re not talking about a Hall of Famer here. Consider Joe Page part of the chain of relief pitchers who had a significant impact on the game as the importance of bullpen aces began to grow.

Jim Konstanty:

mlb.com

With Joe Page leading the way, the new-found respect for relief aces continued in 1950, when Jim Konstanty of the 1950 Philadelphia Phillies actually won the N.L. MVP. Konstanty went 16-7 with a 2.66 ERA (a park-adjusted 151 ERA+) and saved 22 contests. Looking back, either Stan Musial (hit .346 with 28 home runs) or Eddie Stanky (hit .300 with a .460 on-base%) would have been better MVP choices but why quibble 67 years later?

Casimir James Konstanty made his major league debut at the age of 27 in 1944 with the Cincinnati Reds. He pitched in 20 games, starting 12 of the them while posting a 2.80 ERA in 112.2 innings pitched. After serving in the Navy in 1945, Konstanty came back to Cincinnati in 1946 but was traded just before the season started to the Boston Braves. He only pitched 10 times in Boston and was sold to Toronto in the International League. Pitching in Toronto for the rest of 1946, all of 1947 and most of 1948, Konstanty learned how to throw a slider and a palmball. Konstanty emerged as a full-time reliever in Philadelphia in 1949 before his historic 1950 campaign.

After his MVP-caliber regular season campaign as a reliever, Konstanty was tabbed as the Phillies’ starting pitcher in Game 1 of the World Series against the Yankees because ace Robin Roberts had started the day before in the final game of the regular season. He pitched 8 innings of one-run ball but was the hard-luck loser in a 1-0 Yankees win (the Phillies ultimately were swept in four games).

Konstanty was never able to replicate that magical season, pitching six more years (mostly in relief) for the Phillies, Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals. He was a member of the 1955 World champion Yankees but didn’t pitched in the World Series that year. Again, using Bill James’ Similarity Scores, two “similar” pitchers (statistically) you might have heard of are Rick Camp and Pedro Borbon.

Ellis Kinder:

espn.com

In 1951, it was the turn of Ellis Kinder to be recognized for relief pitching excellence. The Boston Red Sox’ right-hander had gone 23-6 as (mostly) a starter in 1949 (earning the Sporting News “pitcher of the year honors”) and, after some injuries in 1950, was moved to the bullpen. At the age of 36 (in ’51), he won 11 games, saved 16, all with a 2.55 ERA and finished 7th in the A.L. voting. Kinder’s best season was in 1953: he won 10 games, saved 27 (tying for the most ever) and posted a 1.85 ERA. Nicknamed “Old Folks” because he didn’t start his MLB career until he was 30 years old, Kinder retired after the 1957 season with 104 saves, 2nd best in history at the time to Johnny Murphy.

Statistically, Kinder’s career was similar those of Phil Regan, Al Brazle Dick Hall, Dave Giusti and Murphy, according to the Similarity Scores section of his Baseball Reference profile.

Allie Reynolds:

Among the top relief pitchers in the early 1950’s, special mention needs to be given to a hurler who was primarily a starting pitcher, the New York Yankees’ Allie Reynolds. The right-hander from Oklahoma, nicknamed Superchief (he was three-sixteenths Creek Indian) spent his first five major league seasons (1942-46) with, ironically, the Cleveland Indians. After the ’46 season, he was traded to the Yankees for future Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Gordon. Reynolds instantly became the ace of the ’47 Yankees and helped them to yet another World Series appearance, their first in four years. The Yankees won in 7 games over the Brooklyn Dodgers with Reynolds winning Game 2 in a complete game effort.

www.historyoftheyankees.com

Reynolds and the Yankees returned to the Fall Classic in 1949 and proceeded to win the championship for five years in a row. Reynolds was a significant contributor to those five titles, in particular the championships of ’49, 1950 and 1952. What’s notable and germane to this piece is that manager Casey Stengel used Superchief as both a starter and reliever in four of those five title runs.

1949: after tossing a 1-0 complete game shutout in Game 1 (against the Dodgers), Reynolds relieved Eddie Lopat in the 6th inning of Game 4 with runners on the corners and a two-run lead. Reynolds struck out Spider Jorgensen and then proceeded to toss three perfect innings to get the save and secure the 6-4 win, which gave the Yankees a 3-1 series lead (the Yanks would go on to win Game 5).

1950: the Yankees were matched up against the Philadelphia Phillies. Reynolds pitched a gem in Game 1 (a 10-inning complete game for a 2-1 victory). In the decisive Game 4, Stengel turned to to the strong armed Chief to get the final out when reliever Whitey Ford (a 21-year old rookie) had allowed the tying run to come to the plate.

1951: after a poor outing in Game 1 (a 5-1 loss to the New York Giants), Reynolds threw 9 innings of 2-run ball in the Yankees 6-2 Game 4 victory.

1952: again matching up with the Dodgers, Reynolds started Games 1 and 4 (losing the first while authoring a 2-0 shutout in Game 4). In Game 6 (with the Yankees down 3 games to 2), starter Vic Raschi was nursing a 3-1 lead in the 8th before allowing a solo home run by Duke Snider and a double by George Shuba, putting the tying run in scoring position. Stengel summoned Reynolds from the pen and he responded by striking out Roy Campanella. Reynolds then finished the game in the 9th, preserving a 3-2 victory and sending the Yanks to a decisive Game 7.

Reynolds was originally supposed to be the Game 7 starter but, since he had been used in Game 6, Stengel turned to Eddie Lopat instead. However, trailing 1-0 in the fourth inning, Lopat loaded the bases with no outs. Stengel had seen enough and summoned his ace to put out the fire. Gil Hodges brought in one run with a sacrifice fly to left field but Reynolds retired the next two batters to limit the damage. After the Bombers took the lead in the top of the 5th (a solo home run by Gene Woodling), Reynolds gave up the tying run in the bottom of the frame. Superchief had some super teammates, including Mickey Mantle, who homered in the top of the 6th. Reynolds got a 1-2-3 inning in the bottom of the 6th before being removed for a pinch hitter and relieved by Vic Raschi in the 7th.

Game 7 of that 1952 series is one of the most famous from the Fall Classic’s first 50 years. Raschi, who had started Game 6, loaded the bases with one out in the top of the 7th so Stengel turned to lefty Bob Kuzava. After getting a popout by Duke Snider, Jackie Robinson hit another popup, one that first baseman Joe Collins lost in the sun. 2nd baseman Billy Martin made the catch, a famous play when he lunged to snag the ball as it moved towards the plate in the wind. Ultimately, Reynolds was the winning pitcher out of the bullpen in that Game 7, 4-2 win.

1953: Although his overall performance didn’t have the impact of the previous years, Reynolds did notch a win and save in the Yankees fifth straight title in 1953.

All in all, in six World Championships, over an era that spanned the end of Joe DiMaggio’s career and the beginning of Mantle’s, Allie Reynolds was, pound for pound, the Yankees most valuable player during that seven year run. He finished his post-season career with a 7-2 record, 4 saves and a 2.79 ERA.

Amazing stat: even though he was primarily a starting pitcher, Allie Reynolds is tied for the third most saves in World Series history (behind Mariano Rivera and Rollie Fingers and tied with Johnny Murphy, Robb Nen and John Wetteland).

Not as amazing but still noteworthy stats:

  • Reynolds is tied for 2nd place (behind Whitey Ford) in all-time wins for a World Series pitcher with 7 (he’s tied with Bob Gibson and another Yankee, Red Ruffing).
  • Reynolds 62 World Series strikeouts is the third most ever (to Ford and Gibson).

It’s easy to dismiss Reynolds’ ranks on these counting stats (like wins and strikeouts) based on the fact that, because he was pitching on a dynasty, he got to participate in six Fall Classics. But he’s 2nd in wins and 3rd in strikeouts despite being in just 9th place with 77.1 innings pitched.

Even though he only won 180 games in his 13-year career (which ended after the 1954 season), Reynolds got quite a bit of respect from the writers when it came time to vote for the Hall of Fame, peaking with 34% of the vote on the 1968 ballot. Incidentally, the “most similar” pitchers according to the Bill James system were Lefty Gomez and Bob Lemon, both of whom are in the Hall of Fame.

Here’s a side by side of Reynolds and Gomez:

PlayerYearsWLSVIPSOERAERA+ASGWS Rings
Lefty Gomez1930-4318910210250314683.3412575
Allie Reynolds1942-54182107482492.114233.3010956

On the surface, not much difference, eh? Gomez went 6-0 with a 2.86 ERA in 7 World Series starts; Reynolds was 7-2 with a 2.79 ERA and also 4 saves. Advanced metrics such as ERA+ and WAR are more favorable to Gomez and many consider him a borderline Hall of Famer anyway. Still, because of his enormous impact on multiple World Series titles both as a starter and reliever, consider Allie Reynolds in the category of the “Hall of Almost.”

 

Hoyt Wilhelm:

The first full-time relief pitcher who had the greatness and longevity to eventually be recognized by the Hall of Fame voters was Hoyt Wilhelm, who had one of the most unlikely paths to Cooperstown. James Hoyt Wilhelm, nicknamed “Old Sarge,” was never considered much of a prospect. He wasn’t even a part of a major league organization until after the 1947 season, when he landed with the New York Giants at the age of 25. Wilhelm had spent the previous six years either pitching in the North Carolina State League or serving his country in the Army. He pitched his entire major league career with shrapnel lodged in his back from a German artillery blast.

Cooperstown Cred: Hoyt Wilhelm (inducted to Hall of Fame in 1985)

  • Career: 143 wins, 122 losses, 228 saves, 2.52 ERA
  • 228 career saves was most in MLB history until 1980
  • Career: Adjusted ERA+ of 147 (best for all pitchers between 1950-1974)
  • Led his league in ERA twice (1952 and 1959)
  • 5 seasons as an All-Star
  • 4th in N.L. MVP voting in rookie season
  • Pitched for 9 different teams from 1952-1972
Baseball Hall of Fame

Wilhelm’s signature pitch was a knuckleball. Like many others featuring that mysterious pitch, Old Sarge took awhile to find his stride and didn’t debut in the majors until he was 29 years old. He did so with the Giants, in 1952, and he made an immediate impact. Manager Leo Durocher didn’t feel that Wilhelm’s stuff was good enough to go 9 innings so, instead, inserted him into the bullpen. Wilhelm responded to the opportunity by going 15-3 with a league-leading 2.43 ERA, pitching 159.1 innings in 71 games. Continuing the trend reliever respect by the writers, Wilhelm finished 4th in the N.L. MVP voting. Ironically, Wilhelm’s 4th place finish was just another older rookie relief pitcher, the Dodgers’ Joe Black, a former Negro Leagues pitcher who was 28 years of age when he got his first shot in the major leagues.

In his third season (1954), Wilhelm got his first and only taste of post-season baseball when the Giants swept the Cleveland Indians in four games for the World Series title. In Game 3, he pitched the last 1.2 innings to secure the Giants’ 6-2 win. In Game 4, he entered the game with a 7-4 lead in the bottom of the 7th and the tying run at bat promptly got out of the inning. In the 8th, after Wilhelm had allowed runners on first and third (one of them due to his own fielding error), he was relieved by Game 2 starter Johnny Antonelli, who finished the game for the save. Antonelli was the ace on the ’54 Giants, going 21-7, 2.30 ERA while finishing 3rd in the MVP voting and the era of managers using their best starting pitchers out of the pen in the Fall Classic was still in effect.

Wilhelm spent five seasons in New York before being dealt, in February 1957, to the St. Louis Cardinals. He was released twice in 1957 and ’58 before being picked up by the Baltimore Orioles in August 1958.  After having spent virtually his entire career in the bullpen, Orioles manager Paul Richards put Wilhelm in the starting rotation and, in his second to last start of the season, he pitched a no-hitter, a 1-0 win over the New York Yankees. Old Sarge remained in the rotation in 1959 and had by far the best season of his career, sporting a 2.19 ERA while winning 15 games in 226 innings.

Wilhelm got off to a slow start in 1960 and was moved back to the bullpen in June. For the final 12 years of his career, he only made four starts while appearing in 593 games in relief. And he did it at a high level, all the way until his age 49 season. For those last 12 years (1961-1972), he posted a 2.17 ERA (adjusted 160 ERA+) over 1,083.2 innings. During those years, he also sported a WHIP (walks + hits per 9 innings) of 1.014, which is really impressive for a knuckleball pitcher.

In January 1963, the 40-year old Wilhelm was traded to the Chicago White Sox in a deal that sent fellow future Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio to the Orioles. He spent five highly productive seasons in Chicago before bouncing around to five different teams for the last four years of his career.

As we can see, when it comes to 40-something pitching, nobody outranks Old Sarge.

Statistics for relievers in their Age 40 and above seasons (ranked by saves)
Age 40 and aboveAgesIPSavesERAERA+WHIP
Hoyt Wilhelm40-498811302.181560.989
Mariano Rivera40-43193.21261.952160.929
Dennis Eckersley40-43203964.121051.212
Trevor Hoffman40-42146.2773.741071.118
Doug Jones40-43343613.521311.227
Courtesy Baseball Reference

With a minimum of 200 innings pitched, Wilhelm’s 156 ERA+ is the best for any pitcher in their 40’s in the history of baseball, better than Roger Clemens, better than Cy Young, better than Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson and the other knuckleballers who were able to pitch late into their 40’s as he did (Phil and Joe Niekro, Charlie Hough, Tim Wakefield). Hoyt debuted on the Hall of Fame ballot in 1978 and earned 42% of the vote. After a slight 2nd year dip, Wilhelm’s voting support steadily increased until he earned his Cooperstown plaque in 1985 with 84% of the vote.

Roy Face:

What makes Hoyt Wilhelm such a unique character of the 1950’s and 1960’s is that he (mostly) worked out of the bullpen for a long period of time and did it well for a long period of time. During the decade of the 1950’s, he was only 5th best on the overall saves list (behind Kinder, Clem Labine, Konstanty and Ray Narleski). 9th on the list was a pitcher named Roy Face. Born Elroy Leon Face, the 5’8″ right-hander debuted as a reliever and spot starter with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1953 at the age of 25 and was not good at all, posting a brutal 6.58 ERA. Face went back to the minors in 1954 and learned how to throw a forkball, a pitch that would revitalize his career.

sabr.org

Face returned to the Pirates in 1955 and became a full-time reliever in ’56. In 1959, Face had one of the most famous seasons for a relief pitcher in the history of the game: he went 18-1 with 10 saves and a 2.70 ERA. His 18-1 win-loss record (.947) remains the best winning percentage for any pitcher who won at least 15 games in MLB history. Of course, today we intuitively know that something’s a little fishy about that record. In the same year, Face had 19 save opportunities and blew 9 of them so the term “vulture win” comes to mind. During that campaign, he allowed 19 out of 36 inherited runners to score (53%), which is a really bad number. Still, his achievement was recognized by the MVP voters with a 7th place finish.

Incidentally, the “vulture” factor wasn’t lost on Jerome Holtzman and he invented the “Save” statistic in part because he felt that Face’s 18-1 record over-stated his value to the team that season.

Anyway, mostly because of that unique 1959 campaign, it was Face, not Wilhelm, who was considered the “face” of relief specialists from the late 1950’s to the early 1960’s. As of the end of the 1963 season, he was the all-time saves leader before Wilhelm surpassed him in ’64 (although this was a leader board that wasn’t counted at the time). Face finished his career in 1969 with the expansion Montreal Expos. All in all, he finished with a 104-95 record, 191 saves and a 3.48 ERA (adjusted to 109 for ERA+).

Face’s record (and, in particular, that 1959 season) was good enough to earn him a few Hall of Fame votes. He hit the ballot in 1976 and earned just under 6% of the vote. He had enough respect among the members of the BBWAA to stay on the ballot for a full fifteen years but never got above 19%.

The top five pitchers “most similar” statistically to Roy Face (according to the Bill James “Similarity Scores”) are Gene Garber, Mike Marshall, Kent Tekulve, Steve Bedrosian and Tug McGraw, all solid relievers from the generation after Face’s.

 

Other notable relief pitchers from the late 1950’s and 1960’s include Lindy McDaniel, Ron Perranoski, Stu Miller, Dick Radatz and Larry Sherry, who was the MVP of the 1959 World Series. Pitching exclusively in relief for the Los Angeles Dodgers in that Fall Classic, Sherry (a 24-year old rookie) saved Games 2 and 3 and was the winner out of the bullpen for Games 4 and 6. In the clinching sixth game, he replaced starter Johnny Podres in the 4th inning and went the rest of the way.

 

For the record, here is the list of relief pitchers from 1946-1968 who finished in the top 5 of their league’s MVP voting. This is significant because the MVP vote is a snapshot at what the writers who cover the game determine to be valuable. Although it was (and often still is) mostly true that relief pitchers are failed starters, there was a growing realization that these pitchers were filling a vital role on their teams.

Top 5 in MVP voting for pitchers with more than 50% of all games pitched in relief
YearLgMVP RankFrom 1946-1968TeamIPW-LSVERA
1947AL4Joe PageNYY141.114-8172.48
1949AL3Joe PageNYY135.113-8272.59
1950NL1Jim KonstantyPHL15216-7222.66
1952NL3Joe BlackBRO142.115-4152.15
1952NL4Hoyt WilhelmNYG159.115-3112.43
1960NL5Lindy McDanielSTL116.112-4272.09
1963AL5Dick RadatzBOS132.115-6231.97
1963NL4Ron PerranoskiLAD12916-3211.67
1965AL4Eddie FisherCHW165.115-7242.40
Courtesy: Baseball Reference

Remember that, except in the brain of Jerome Holtzman, the MVP voters did not have a concept of what a “save” was; the number is shown here for interest in hindsight. All of the seasons listed here were solid but it’s clear that the reliever’s Won-Loss record weighed heavily in the MVP voters’ analysis of the value of that pitcher’s season. Today, many MVP voting writers don’t even consider Wins and Losses for starting pitchers when voting on awards but the writers did in fact stop caring about Wins and Losses for relief pitchers once they had a juicy new statistic to chew on, the Save.

So, here is the list of career saves leaders through the 1968 season:

Most saves through 1968 season (applied retroactively by Baseball Reference)
RankMost Saves through 1968Saves
1Hoyt Wilhelm197
2Roy Face186
3Stu Miller153
4Lindy McDaniel124
5Dick Radatz117
6Al Worthington108
7Johnny Murphy107
8Ron Perranoski106
9Don McMahon105
T-10Ted Abernathy104
T-10Ellis Kinder104

As we’ll see in Part Three of this series on the history of relief pitching, the landscape of relief pitching changed dramatically in the 1970’s and 1980’s as the Save became a highly scrutinized number when looking at the value of a relief pitcher.

Click Here to Read Part Three

Leave Your Thoughts, Comments or Snide Remarks