Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Congrats to Goose Gossage

He becomes the 7th relief pitcher to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

I got turned on to baseball back in the 1970s, which was a great decade for pitching. Among starters there were flame throwers such as Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton. Blyleven was no slouch, come to think of it. The Niekro brothers - especially Phil - proved to be durable players who demonstrated that making a productive late career throwing knuckleballs was quite doable. Then there was Tommy John, who came back from what should have been a career-ending injury in order to put together what were arguably the best seasons of his career, pitching reasonably well even into his mid-40s. Relief pitchers were just beginning to get the respect they deserved. Gossage came into his own in the late 1970s, Bruce Sutter was an ace reliever for the Cubs and Cardinals, and of course Rollie Fingers dominated the game with the Oakland A's and later the San Diego Padres. Those were the years when the 300 career victory and 3,000 strikeouts clubs expanded exponentially, and in which the seeds were planted for a 300 career saves club.

The last couple decades have not been good ones for pitching, although there are some folks who will definitely be Hall of Fame contenders for their longevity and exceptional performances - Randy Johnson comes to mind. Former starter-turned relief ace Dennis Eckersley is in the Hall of Fame already. In other words, it's not that there are no talented pitchers out there, but rather they seem too few and far between and largely ignored in an era dominated by the long ball.

I'm a bit unusual perhaps as baseball fans go - the home runs are okay, but I really prefer a good pitchers' duel. The 1970s and early 1980s were a sort of golden age for pitching, and I wouldn't mind seeing a pitching renaissance - and not just the power pitchers; let's give the cats who throw with finesse or who tame the knuckler their due as well. That might not be the cure-all for ending the steroids era in baseball, but the change in emphasis could certainly help.

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