The Let's Play Archive

The Closer: Game of the Year Edition

by TheMcD

Part 7: Update V-II - Super Mega Character Limit Explosion Panic!

Update V-II - Super Mega Character Limit Explosion Panic!

Now, here's the stuff I wanted to add about those last few pitchers that were mentioned.

TheMcD's Baseball Stuff posted:

Pedro Martinez is one of the gods of modern pitching. Starting off with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1992-1993, he was primarily used in the bullpen because the Dodgers didn't think he had the size or strength to pitch deep into games due to him weighing less than 160 points. It was because of that that Martinez was then traded to the Montreal Expos, who started using him in the rotation, where he proved to be a solid pitcher until 1997, where at the age of 25, he set the National League ablaze with a 1.90 ERA, 13 complete games, four of them shutouts, and only allowing 5.9 hits per nine innings - a season which culminated with a Cy Young award. But with Martinez having only one year left on his contract, the Expos decided to get something for him while they still could, with him probably leaving for greener pastures after his contract was up, and traded him to the Boston Red Sox.

It was there that he really hit his stride. His 1999 and 2000 seasons were the most ridiculous out of the lot, and he won Cy Young awards for both. With a 1.90 ERA and allowing 6.0 hits per nine, he was basically repeating his 1997 season twice over, but what made it even more ridiculous was that he reduced his walks per nine from an already great 2.5 to a ridiculous 1.4 while raising his strikeouts per nine from 11.4 to 12.5 - which culminates in his strikeout per walk ratio going from 4.55 to 8.65. 8.65 is absolutely fucking nuts, and those two seasons rank 8th and 11th overall for greatest strikeout per walk ratio seasons all time.

Martinez would continue to dominate - if not as much as those two seasons - and capped off his Red Sox career by winning the first World Series the Red Sox won since 1918 in 2004. However, all careers must come to an end somehow, and Martinez's would be in sight in 2005, after he signed with the New York Mets. While he had a strong season there, injuries would keep him from ever pitching as well as he did, and after an unsuccessful stint with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2009, he hung it up for good. While he does have some stiff competition, there is little question that Martinez belongs in the pantheon of modern pitchers.

Jim Palmer isn't nearly as accomplished as Pedro, though much like Pedro, he spent some time being the greatest pitcher of the league. He very much struggled in the early part of his career, being called up to the majors of the Baltimore Orioles at 19 years of age in 1965. He did end up spinning a gem of a game in the 1966 World Series, throwing a complete game shutout against Sandy Koufax and the Los Angeles Dodgers. He would however then suffer from soreness in his pitching arm that eventually evolved into a torn rotator cuff, losing most of 1967 and all of 1968. He was made to pitch through it in the minor leagues and independent leagues, and eventually, the problems went away, leading to Palmer returning to the major leagues and dominating.

In 1970 he was part of another World Series winning Orioles team, and from 1973 to 1976 he had a stretch where he won three Cy Young awards. He would stick with the Orioles throughout his entire career, eventually winning another World Series with them in 1983, making him the only pitcher to win a World Series in three different decades. He would then retire after the 1984 season.

Trevor Hoffman has 601 career saves, making him number two overall behind only Mariano Rivera. Number three has 478, and the currently active player with the most has 333. Saves are a bad stat, but they do express how consistently solid Hoffman was. To add on to that, there are awards for the best reliever in the AL and the NL - the AL award is named after Rivera, the NL award after Hoffman. While Rivera was just that bit even greater than Hoffman, the two make a good pair as the innovators of what would become the modern closer - the guy that comes in in the ninth inning and just fucks your hitters' shit up. To this day, I think the two most iconic pitcher entrance tunes are Metallica's Enter Sandman, used by Rivera, and AC/DC's Hell's Bells, used by Hoffman.

Hoffman became a changeup artist due to injury - he injured his shoulder in 1994 and hurt his rotator cuff in 1995, causing him to lose his velocity on his fastball. Instead, he turned to his changeup as his specialty pitch, and it worked great for him. He would be a strong closer for the San Diego Padres until 2008, at which point he was 40 years old. He continued to have one good and one bad season with the Milwaukee Brewers after that, but then retired after 2010. Despite never getting the awards he deserved, since MLB at the time generally did not consider relief pitchers as valuable as they really were, Hoffman will always be at the top when it comes to relievers.

Finally, Satchel Paige. ...ugh. OK, so I thought I could avoid this for a bit, because this'll take a while, but I guess we need to go through it now. Let's talk about the Negro Leagues.

So, surprise, surprise, baseball used to be divided along color lines. Who knew, the USA was racist as fuck. Anyway, with MLB being whites only, this led to the formation of the Negro Leagues, which was for everybody else, be they African-American, Dominican, Cuban, and so on and so on. Cuba in particular has a very rich baseball history that is quite fascinating, but we'll be here all day if I go into that. Now, the Negro Leagues weren't exactly the most organized affair, especially when it comes to historical records. What I'm getting at is that a lot of the history of the Negro Leagues is kind of a mess to figure out.

To start, calling them the Negro Leagues, proper noun, is kind of misrepresenting it. There were a lot of leagues, but most of them weren't exactly working together the way the MLB conglomerate of leagues was. There were a fair amount of leagues before 1920, but they weren't really successful, and what you could call the "golden age" of the Negro Leagues started in the 1920s with the formation of the Negro National League and its governing body, the National Association of Colored Professional Base Ball Clubs. The Negro Southern League, which previously existed, also joined the Association, but there was also the Colored Eastern League, which was formed as a competitor to the Association, there was raiding of teams, league presidents getting committed into asylums, shit was crazy. And then everything went to hell because of the Great Depression. However, the Negro Leagues would bounce back and enter a second strong period, and while MLB got really messed up by WW2, the Negro Leagues flourished with black Americans working in war industries and having a lot of money to go to ball games with.

But then, in about 1944, things changed in MLB. While the previous commissioner was rabidly against integration, the new one was open to it. The main mover and shaker at that point was Branch Rickey, an executive with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He scouted all around, trying to find the perfect candidate to try to break the color barrier with, and settled on Jackie Robinson.

Branch and Robinson would have a meeting in August of 1945 in which Branch tested Robinson by berating him and shouting slurs at him, knowing that he would have to be able to take it, because that would certainly be what he would face when he joined a MLB team. Robinson was signed and officially announced to be joining a Dodgers minor league team in October of that year, and history was written. From then, the color barrier in MLB would slowly but surely disintegrate, as more and more teams signed Negro Leaguers, and eventually, the Negro Leagues collapsed, since their reason for existence basically became void. I mean, that's really fucking simplifying it, but look, I'm running out of characters here.

Now, back to Satchel Paige. Paige has room to claim to be the greatest pitcher of all time. He was a legend, having pitched in the Negro Leagues, in independent leagues, Latin America, Canada, the USA, everywhere. Given that recordkeeping in non-MLB leagues back then was quite spotty, Paige kept his own record, producing downright insane numbers. Over 2500 games, winning over 2000 of them, throwing 250 shutouts and 50 no-hitters. It seems impossible, but given the amount of places he pitched, it's not out of the realm of the possible, though Paige did have reason to fudge his own numbers to increase his mystique and popularity through reporters looking to get a scoop from his record book.

However, what was truly crazy and at the same time accurately recorded was his time in the major leagues. Paige joined the Cleveland Indians in 1948, at which point he was 41 years old. He was used as a reliever and was solid. And while he did take some time in the minors after two seasons with the Indians, he would then sign with the St. Louis Browns and continue to post strong pitching performances, being named to the all-star game twice in 1952 and 1953 - so when he was 45 and 46 years old! At that point, most pitchers are retired, not playing in all-star games! You don't get that far unless you're really good in some way. And while we don't really have the records for it, everything points towards that being what Paige was - really, really good.

As an aside, all four of these pitchers here were elected to the Hall of Fame.

Fucking hell, that was a lot. And that'll be where we cut this update. Next time, we really get into this game. I mean, this game. I mean, this game. Oh, whatever.