During the years he pitched for the Reds, Borbon was part of one of modern baseball’s longest and most successful experiments with the closer by committee approach to bullpen management. Sparky Anderson, who managed the Reds during those years, demonstrated that closer by committee never works, except of course when it does. In each of the seven years during which Borbon was a major part of the Red bullpen, the Reds had at least three players who finished at least ten games. In five of those years they had four players finish at least ten games. In 1973, they also had two players with more than ten saves and nobody with more than 14. Two years later they had a similar situation, but their save leader had 22. This was during a period when good firemen, as they were known then, regularly saved 30 or more games.
The current Oakland Athletics, based upon a cycle of constantly trading players for prospects while explaining that behavior away by noting their small market size, appear to be at a turning point. It is possible that they will be allowed to move to the San Jose area, thus potentially expanding their market size, while competing with the San Francisco Giants in an area that has long been populated largely by Giants fans. This might catapult the A’s into a larger market. Similarly, they might be able to build a new stadium as their current ballpark feels like Candlestick Park without the charm, but neither of these strategies will work in the short or medium term unless the Athletics can put a better, and better presented, product on the field.
If I had a vote for the Hall of Fame, I would drop Walker from my ballot, but would not add Murphy, so the returning players who would get my vote are Bagwell, Larkin, Martinez, McGriff, Raines and Trammell, as well as first time candidate Bernie Williams.
The question of whether or not Posada is one of the twenty greatest Yankees will have to be left to future, and longer, subway rides, but his place in the top 25 is reasonably secure. The same ambiguity around Posada’s place in Yankee history will probably surround his Hall of Fame candidacy, but there is no ambiguity around his role in the last four Yankee championships. If game five of the LDS was indeed Posada’s last game, he will be missed by all Yankee fans, whether hunched over their computers looking at numbers or cursing A-Rod while semi-conscious on the subway.
When Mariano Rivera saved his 602nd game earlier this month, he solidified his position, although there should not have been any remaining doubt, as the greatest closer ever. One of the many interesting things about Rivera’s career is how he transitioned from a 25 year old with a 5.51 ERA in 19 games, including ten starts with 51 strikeouts and 30 walks over 67 innings in 1995, to becoming the best setup man in the game in 1996 and the best closer ever from 1997 to the present. Whoever decided to put Rivera in the bullpen full time made a very wise decision leading to one more Yankee Hall of Famer and contributing to five more Yankee championships. Interestingly, roughly a decade earlier, a similar decision was made with another Yankee pitcher which dramatically affected that pitcher’s career trajectory and contributed to the Yankees failing to make the post-season in the mid 1980s.
There are nineteen new players on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot: Carlos Baerga, Jeff Bagwell, Brett Boone, Kevin Brown, John Franco, Juan Gonzalez, Marquis Grissom, Lenny Harris, Bobby Higginson, Charles Johnson, Al Leiter, Tino Martinez, Raul Mondesi, John Olerud, Rafael Palmeiro, Kirk Reuter, Benito Santiago, B.J. Surhoff and Larry Walker. There are no new candidates this year that can be expected to easily get elected. The closest to this is Jeff Bagwell, who is deserving of the Hall of Fame, but is not viewed as a sure thing. There are, however, several players on the ballot who, while being good players, in some cases for many years, are clearly not Hall of Famers. This group includes Baerga, Boone, Grissom, Harris, Higginson, Johnson, Leiter, Martinez, Mondesi, Reuter, Santiago and Surhoff. That leaves a diverse group of seven players including Bagwell, Brown, Franco, Gonzalez, Olerud, Palmeiro and Walker whose candidacies should at least be seriously considered.
There are 14 players on the 2011 Hall of Fame ballot who are return candidates from 2010: Roberto Alomar, Harold Baines, Bert Blyleven, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Tim Raines, Lee Smith and Alan Trammell. This exceptionally strong group of returning players, particularly given the relatively weak pool of first time players on the ballot, suggests that at least some of them will be elected in 2011.
1982 was the year the wheels came off for the New York Yankees. Following a string of eight straight seasons of .500 or better which included four pennants and two World Championships, the Yankees lost more than half of their games and did not make it back to the post-season until 1996. This was the longest such period in Yankee history since they acquired Babe Ruth from the Red Sox. 2010 may turn out to be the year the wheels finally come off for the Red Sox.
Piniella is a baseball lifer who was a good, but not great player and a great, if controversial, manager, who has been associated with an impressive range of baseball moments and people. He played alongside Harvey Haddix a few years after his 12 inning perfect game loss, and Don Mattingly as he was becoming one of baseball’s top hitters. Piniella, who later earned a reputation for being a fiery and excitable manager himself, played for Billy Martin during his first three stints as Yankee manager. Sweet Lou made a cameo in one of the best baseball books ever written, Jim Bouton’s Ball Four, and made a game saving, of often overlooked, play in the outfield preserving a Yankee victory in one of the most famous baseball games ever played, the one game playoff between the Yankees and Red Sox in 1978. He played for two expansion teams in the same year, including one that does not exist anymore, and two World Series winners.
Sometimes players who would be expected to be borderline candidates get elected, such as Dawson this year or Jim Rice last year, but sometimes similar candidates get little consideration at all. One example of this type of player is Will Clark who got less than 5% of the vote the first time he appeared on a Hall of Fame ballot and was dropped from future ballots. Will Clark’s story is well known. He had a few great years with the Giants before moving to the AL where his career took a downturn, but had one last great run in 2000, the last season of his career as a late season pickup by the Cardinals where he filled in for the injured Mark McGwire down the stretch run.
Today roughly 26.7% of all teams make the post-season. This is a higher proportion than ever. For most of the 20th century only 12.5% of teams played in the post-season. During the first period of divisional play, 1969-1993, between 15-17% of teams appeared in the post-season. A league where more than one quarter of the teams makes the playoffs is very different than one where one out of six or eight teams do requiring teams to adjust their strategic thinking accordingly.