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.
On the surface, these three could not have been more different. Blue was an African American from Louisiana, Hunter a country boy from North Carolina, and Holtzman was from St. Louis and retired with more wins than any other Jewish pitcher in baseball history. It has been more than 25 years since any of these pitchers has thrown a pitch in the big leagues and their respective places in baseball history are now secure. Hunter became a Hall of Famer and a beloved figure in North Carolina before passing away in 1999 at the far too young age of 53. Holtzman’s name occasionally crops up in connection with his longtime friend and teammate Reggie Jackson and was briefly a manager in the Israeli baseball league, but is generally remembered as a solid and dependable pitcher, but not much more than that. Vida Blue is remembered as the guy who had all the talent in the world, but could never entirely get it together.
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.
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 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.
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.