January 25, 2018


It was announced that the Hall of Fame has elected four new members.

Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome and Trevor Hoffman compose the BBWAA's 2018 National Baseball Hall of Fame class.

The only person that had any real debate was Hoffman, a closer. Many HOF junkies still cannot grasp the fact that closers, with limited innings per year, are Hall of Fame worthy. Many think of closers as being the "NFL kickers" of baseball; a member of the ball club but mostly on the roster for "chip shot" points.

Previously, five pitchers are currently in the Hall, chiefly for their accomplishments as relief pitchers: Goose Gossage, Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter, and Dennis Eckersley.  Eckersley, who was considered the first modern closer pitching exclusively in ninth inning situations, also had a significant career as a starting pitcher and even threw a no-hitter in 1977. Another pitcher entered the Hall in 2015 was John Smoltz, who was primarily a starter, but spent four seasons as a dominant reliever for the Braves.

The history of baseball began with the starting pitcher pitching the entire game. It was expected when he took the mound in the first inning, he would be on the mound to the last out in the 9th. Early century teams had only a few pitchers on the rosters to begin with . . . a three man rotation was not out of the question. Lanky, rubber arm pitchers were the norm in the dead ball era.

Then in the 1920s and 1930s, the concept of a "fireman" came into the game. A relief pitcher would come into the game to "put out a fire" or rally by the opposing team. In the past, a starter was really only taken out if he had gotten injured or shelled beyond hope of recovery.

The lone fireman concept evolved slowly into the modern bullpen, where a manager has seven or eight relief pitchers on the roster to mix and match against hitters in every single game. From the modern bullpen concept, the 9th inning "closer" emerged as the most valuable reliever on a staff.

Closers are used when a team is ahead in the final inning by 3 runs or less. The "save" concept was created by the dean of baseball writers, Jerome Holtzman, as a way of trying to quantify the effect a relief pitcher has on the game's outcome. Many people have been critical of the "save" stat as being overblown to irrelevant. Purists believe that every inning has the same importance; getting three outs.

Others suggest that the "pressure" of closing a game is a special skill that not all pitchers can handle. One example of this was the Cubs 2016 mid-season trade for Aroldis Chapman, a dominant closer who helped the Cubs end their long championship drought.

Indians manager Terry Francona added the concept of a "stopper" in Andrew Miller to the bullpen mix. He used Miller in any inning, from the third to the 9th, to put out rallies or to keep the game within reach. The idea of a floating "closer" to be used throughout the game has increased the overall importance of the bullpen depth.

The Kansas City Royals, on their run to a championship, decided that an unstoppable bullpen was more valuable than a dominant starting five rotation (which is hard to find). By having a set of terminators for the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th innings, all the Royals asked their starters to do was to throw 5 quality innings.  It saves wear and tear on their starters, and gave the entire bullpen "ownership" of games and victories.

Whether Hoffman or any relief pitcher is worthy of a Hall of Fame plaque is one of those baseball discussions that fans and writers will have forever.