Goose Gossage entered the Hall of Fame this past weekend recognized as a pioneering relief pitcher, one of the archetypal modern bullpen firemen. But in reviews of Gossage's career from 1972 to 1994 (pitching for nine teams), an important distinction has been made between him and the star closers who have followed.
Gossage's outings were, on average, for far more outs and innings than latter-day relief pitchers. For instance, while Gossage has 310 saves over 22 seasons compared with Mariano Rivera's 469 in 13-plus seasons, Gossage worked more than two innings 52 times in getting those saves. Rivera has done that just once.
Obviously, that is a reason Gossage is third all time in relief wins (115) and relief innings pitched (1,556).
But think about what Gossage's performances meant to his club in a practical sense. It meant shorter bridges between the starters and a quality pitcher and obviously fewer innings pitched by less-talented players. And it actually might have meant saving a roster spot for a position player.
Then stretch that thinking about what Gossage was able to do relative to the current-day Orioles' pitching situation, just as a "for instance"(and the Orioles are no different from any other team).
Now, this is no knock on Orioles closer George Sherrill, because he has done his job almost flawlessly in the context of what a closer is asked to do in 2008, but manager Dave Trembley has to manage a pitching staff that, on the best of nights, needs three decent outings from three different pitchers.
Consider Sunday's 5-2 win over the Los Angeles Angels. The Orioles trotted out four pitchers: Garrett Olson, Chad Bradford, Jim Johnson and Sherrill to stitch together nine innings of two-run, eight-hit ball.
While most other teams are in the same predicament, you have to wonder about the long-range sustainability of such a strategy, especially when your starters are falling apart after four or five innings and you get hit by the occasional injury to your more productive pitchers (the Orioles' Matt Albers, for example).
But getting back to Gossage, he helped reduce the need for so many links in getting from the first inning to the last. For much of Gossage's career, a manager needed just two strong outings - seven innings from the starter and two from the star relief pitcher. Maybe one in between from a setup man.
Now, I realize there's another angle to all of this. Because of the innings that Gossage was asked to pitch, he made fewer appearances than current closers. For instance, Gossage appeared in 1,002 games (including 37 starts) in 22 years. Rivera has been in 829 in 14 years. Obviously, Rivera is on pace for far more appearances. And it's also true Gossage and his managers benefited from the fact that starters threw more innings and there were a lot more complete games.
But that doesn't mean one can't still admire the combination of intensity and sturdiness with which Gossage worked for more than two decades. Even if - from an Orioles fan's point of view - it was, for many of his best years, as a New York Yankee.