Monday, November 22, 2010

Thursday, November 18, 2010

This Week in Blogstralia: Rickshaw Season

It's been a while since we gave a new feature a go here on the House of Georges, and I'll go ahead and tell you something you already know: It's never a good idea when we give a new feature a go. So, there. Now that that healthy dose of confidence has been splashed into your late-morning coffee, let's examine just what our angle is:

You've met the Internets. You've flirted with them, perhaps even developed a relationship. I'd gander that some of you have even let the Internets see you naked a time or two. Okay, fine. All of you have done that. We don't aim to get personal with this new feature. We simply want to peer into a few living room windows and see who's out there blogging, and just what, assuming the content is decipherable, goes on within the confines of their URLs.

For the inaugural installment of this feature, we bring you...
...Rickshaw Season.

If you look up "rickshaw" in the dictionary, it will refer you to "jinrikisha," which will then inform you that the word signifies a two-wheeled passenger vehicle pulled by one person, formerly used in China and Japan. And if you're like most, you probably tuned out about 25 syllables ago, wondering what this ancient form of transportation could possibly have to do with the YouTubed 4G (Four Gs! It's got four Gs!) Networks of the modern era. Well, I'll tell you.

There was a time, some 16 years ago, when I was a glassy-eyed freshman matriculating at Pittsburg State University. No, there's not supposed to be an 'h' on the end of that. We're talking about a four-year school in the rural, southern stretches of The Sunflower State, and it was in that year, and in that institution, that I met the proprietor of Rickshaw Season. He was an interesting fellow, one who turned me on to, among other things, rooting for the Vancouver Canucks to continue the New York Rangers' drought of Stanley Cup championships, jokes about bestiality, and drinking beer cheaper than the really cheap beer I drank at the time. He is also the only human being I have ever known to actually wear one of these.

But all of that's beside the point. The point, need I remind you, is rickshaws, or rickshawalas, if you will. You may wonder why one would shawal a rick, and this blogger will confidently answer that question for you here, and if you're really interested, you can read his "about" page here.

Anyway, Rickshaw Season. It's archived, albeit backdated, through the past five years, and you, are of course, at liberty to peruse the site, the archives, the photos, and even the StubTube clips that have been posted.

Why, you might ask, would Rickshaw Season be the first selection for this new feature? The answer is simple: You and I aren't gonna get out there and pedal other people around by bicycle. This guy, however, will. And he'll, from time to time, blog about it.
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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Friday Formations: The Tradition, 2010. This Time, It's Durango

Okay, so it's not really snowing like that, but it's chilly, and it did snow on us coming over Wolf Creek Pass. And though we have already logged our token time trolling up and down Main Street, spending money we don't have, we're not here for the merch', we're not here for the weather, and we sure as hell didn't drive for two days for the company.

No, folks. Believe it or not, we're currently staying 15 hours from Kansas City, where there's no NFL game this week, and six hours from Denver, where there is. That's right, it's Chiefs-Broncos Week I of the 2010 football season, and it's the 10-year anniversary of what we've come to know as The Tradition, here on the House of Georges.

If you're unfamiliar with this globally popular notion, it's a pair of annual pilgrimages in which Old No. 7 and Cecil load up the BroncoWagon and truck out to Arrowhead, and I load up the grocery getter for a haul out to InVesCo. We drink, we smoke meat, drink some more, and then we tailgate. And then we rep our road teams in the unfriendly confines of opposing home venues. Over the course of the past 10 years, we've managed to adapt life's curve balls. Wives came into the mix, we created the boys' game/wives' game annual rotation. Other travels plans arise, we flip one year's travel plans for a flop the following season.

It would seem, however, that the one thing that will trump Tradition, is offspring. Last spring, Old No. 7 and his lovely wife gave birth to their first. It was a fantastic experience for the parents, and a timely event that afforded them the flexibility of leaving the newborn with his grandparents when the Broncos traveled to Kansas City that December, and Old No. 7 was available to shake away for the game in Denver as well.

This year, however, things are different. Swiss Family Cecil has extensive travel plans on the horizon, the Sevens are expecting their second/dealing with new work-force details, and we our expecting our first as well. What does it all mean?

Well, it means that, with a mid-November game, followed by an early-December contest, that toddlers and expecting wives can't, and shouldn't, hit the confines of any professional football stadium. So, the short and the sweet of it all is that we're watching the game on television, in Durango, as a happy little HoG unit.

It's good times, and, for the first time since the inception of this blog, the Kansas City Chiefs appear to be a team on the rise, and the Denver Broncos are, well, not. So, anyway, that was easily the most pointless since, well, the last post published in here, but it had to be done. It would've been very unHoG of us to let a Tradition come and go, and not have anything to say about it.

Last I heard, Kansas City was favored by two and-a-half, and the Broncos had zero going for them in terms of running the football, or preventing other teams from doing so. As an added bonus, the Chiefs have the best running attack in the pros, so I and the wife are looking forward to a fantastic afternoon of football.

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thursday ThumbTube: The Kid's Good

Taking a page out of my own warm-up regiment, Sidney Crosby, ladies and gentlemen. Sidney Crosby.

(clip courtesy of the hockey networks)
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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The HoG25: The 25 Best Relief Pitchers of the Last 25 Years, Part II

(Editor's Note: For reasons I still cannot figure out, the image-upload feature is not working at the moment, so we will update when this technical error has been corrected.)

We're back for the sequel to relievers, and if you're just tuning in, there're two important things to catch you up to speed. The first is Old No. 7's reliever dissertation, which I implore you to both read, and filter out the parts in which he's right, or at least pretends to be. The second is part one to this installment, which, I promise, makes for decent reading material when consumed in between aforementioned dissertation, and the post-leap sequel.

In this series, prior to relief pitchers, we've covered NFL quarterbacks, American cinema, baseball hitters, readin' books, starting pitchers, television shows, wide receivers. Join us with a click, for the top 10.

10. Roberto Hernandez

bankmeister: I’d like to say that being only one of 11 guys in Major League Baseball history to appear in 1000 games warrants one’s place on a list like this one. I’d also like to say that I’m hung like a Clydesdale, that you should just take my word for it, but that isn’t gonna sell any papers. This fine Puerto Rican specimen debuted in the Majors as a September call-up in the 1991 season, and he didn’t do much then, but he did enough of something to earn himself a roster spot for the Chicago White Sox the following year, and it was in that season that Roberto Hernandez won seven games, earned a dozen saves, and did so with a 1.65 E.R.A., which, I’d imagine, earned some scout a bonus. He also struck out 68 dudes and surrendered a mere four home runs.

He turned into quite a work horse for the Sox after that, earning himself his first of two All-Star appearances, and leading the league in games finished for three straight seasons. Hernandez turned in pretty solid save numbers for more than half a decade, but then he turned into something else: a bit of a whore.

That’s right. After leaving the Windy City, Roberto Hernandez became a sort of pre-Lima Time Jose Lima, if you will, minus, of course the big-chested wife, and the raging case of Herpes. After his impressive stint on the South Side, Hernandez tossed baseballs for the San Francisco Giants for a minute, then signed with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, where his career saw a nice resurgence, and then, in 2001, Hernandez was part of a three-team trade. There are many aspects to the trade, but those worth mentioning involve the Kansas City Royals sending Johnny Damon to the Oakland A’s, the Oakland A’s sending Angel Berroa to the Kansas City Royals, and the Rays sending Hernandez to Kansas City. Hernandez would later become a Brave, a Phillie, a Met, a Pirate, a Met, and Indian, and alas, a Dodger.

Ultimately, I, as a Royals fan, should want to murder him for his affiliation with the Berroa-to-K.C. leg of that trade, but for the purposes of this feature, I must mention that he retired with 326 career saves, just under 1000 Ks, and an impressive 7.9 strikeouts-per-nine-innings-pitched ratio. Roberto Hernandez: colossal reliever, major asshole.

9. Tom Henke

Cecil: Tom Henke was an excellent closer. He powered the bullpen for the great Blue Jays teams of the mid-to-late ‘80s (remember them? No one in Canada does, either), striking out nearly 10 batters per 9 innings over the course of his career -- of course, he did that in small chunks, not 9 inning stretches, because he was a relief pitcher and all, so, uh, yeah -- and walked away from the game after a hell of a year with the Cardinals. But I remember him chiefly for his oversized novelty eyewear.

Alright, so, maybe he actually needed them to see, but still. Those things looked like the BCGs that Charlie Sheen’s character in Major League ended up wearing, like the goggles on one of those caricatures of Harry Caray. Was this some sort of bizarre intimidation technique? I’m thinking so. Major league hitters dug in against Henke and thought, fuck, not only does this guy throw pure cheese BUT THOSE GLASSES AAAAAHH. Ol’ Specs Henke* had the battle half won before he ever threw a pitch.

It clearly worked. Dude was a two-time All Star, won the Most Important Award Any Relief Pitcher Can Ever Win, Ever (Rolaids, bitches!) and played an integral role in bringing World Series glory to Toronto: his career postseason ERA is under 2, and he saved a pair of games in the ’92 classic. All, we’re sure, because of those terrifying cheaters.

*This is a nickname I just gave him.

8. John Franco

Cecil: Let’s get to brass tacks, here: John Franco was a hell of a pitcher, and one of the best closers of his generation, but what really stood out about his career was not any particular defining moment of brilliance, but rather the fact that he pitched until he was 89 years old and died on the mound in a night game against the Phillies, upon which sad event his withered, greasy corpse was buried under home plate at the old Shea Stadium (Note: this might be a blatant untruth.)

Before that, though, he was practically the definition of a workhorse, if you conveniently throw out all of the definitions involving actual horses doing physical labor. He played for the Mets for longer than any single human being should, from 1989 to 2004. No prima donna, the son of a New York Sanitation worker (thanks, internet!) wore an orange Sanitation Department t-shirt under his game uniform to honor his blue-collar roots and didn’t fuss when asked to switch to the set-up role he played for the last several years of his career.

Also: Saves, lots of them, R-O-L-A-I-D-S, World Series, All Stars, more than 1,000 games pitched, rinse, lather, repeat. If your last name isn’t Fingers, Gossage, Rivera, Sutter or Hoffman, your place on this list is largely irrelevant. Of note, however: I always figured that the dude wore a shark’s tooth necklace and wayyyyy too much Drakkar Noir.

7. Lee Smith

Cecil: First things first: I'm a fan of the Chicago Cubs baseball team. When I was a kid, my two favorite players were Ryne Sandberg and Lee Smith.

It may be hard to justify the fandom (I WAS BORN THERE YOU ASSHOLES AND THEY DIDN'T HAVE MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL IN COLORADO WHEN I WAS A LAD), but it's still there, even if it ebbs and flows these days, what with my thousand mile remove from the epicenter of Cubbery. I like the Rockies fine, and if I hadn't held on to those golden memories of youth and vitality so stubbornly I might count them as #1; but I did, and so I don't. And some of the goldenest of said memories are the ones featuring a glowering, Jheri-curled Lee Smith blowing 98 mph heat past humiliated batters.

I've heard people say that Lee belongs in the Hall--and despite my fandom, my initial reaction to that was always, I dunno, really? But then I looked at the numbers: Smith had 478 saves, good for third all-time (and I believe he was first when he retired), led the league in that category on four occasions, was a seven-time All-Star, finished in the top 5 of Cy Young voting three times and led in games finished thrice. Those are beyond solid--they're Gossage-esque. Certainly beyond any lame-ass Bruce Sutter territory. How'd that fucking guy get in, anyway?

Lee Smith was undoubtedly one of the very few best closers of the last 25 seasons. And yet, somehow, he was still traded for Calvin Schiraldi and Al Nipper. I hate you, Chicago Cubs.

(Editor's Note: It should be mentioned that our dear Cecil was so excited to write about Mr. Smith, that he did so twice.)

When I was a kid, my two favorite players were Ryne Sandberg and Lee Smith.

Given the fact that I've spent the majority of my life far, far away from the epicenter of Cubbery, I occasionally find it hard to justify the fandom to others (I WAS BORN THERE YOU ASSHOLES AND THEY DIDN'T HAVE MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL IN COLORADO WHEN I WAS A LAD). Yet it exists, even if it ebbs and flows these days, what with the Lou Piniella and the Carlos Zambrano and the century of crushing ineptitude. When I find myself growling in the corner over yet another failed campaign, I can always flip the memory dial back to 1987.

1987 was, like pretty much every year in Cubsville, sucky. I'm old now, and can't summon he suck-particulars the way I could have once, but you can go ahead and believe me. I think Don Zimmer was the manager. Or maybe he got fired before season's end? Can't remember. What I do remember: Andre Dawson's MVP season for a last-place team, the usual smooth criminal act at 2nd from Ryno and yet another dominant season for fireballing closer Lee Smith.

Smith was one of those guys that had the glower, the JuJu. And while he's got the stats, to be sure -- he held the all-time Saves record from '93 until 2006, when Trevor Hoffman passed him, led the NL twice and the AL once in that stat and, at the time of his retirement, owned the Major League career record for Games Finished -- the thing that this disillusioned former child recalls most is that ineffable Gossage-esque sense of menace. He stood 6'6", and with those big-ass sideburns and overflowing jheri curl, seemed to have walked through a door from the A's squads of the early '70s. His presence meant finality, a humiliating strikeout and, necessarily, a rare Cubs win. Naturally, he was traded soon after for Al Nipper and Calvin Schiraldi.

It's no accident that his greatest career successes came elsewhere. Pitching for the Cubs will do that to you. The fact that he's made this list at all is reflective of the mental toughness needed to shake off a tenure, particularly one as lengthy as Smith's, spent pitching in the House of Fail. For that yeoman's work we salute you, Mr. Smith. Even though you did give up that homer to Steve Garvey in the '84 NLCS. Asshole.

6. Dan Quisenberry

Cecil: You know what I love? Sidearmers. Submariners. Dudes who, for lack of a better term, get loowwww. Goofy-ass Kent Tekulve, for instance, in his meaty goggles, right arm nearly scraping the mound. Walter Johnson, the Big Train himself, had a little sidearm in him, as did Dennis Eckersley. Shunsuke Watanabe, Japan's "Mr. Sub-Marine," wears gloves to avoid bloodying his knuckles on the dirt. Of 'em all, though, no one ever captured my imagination like Dan Quisenberry.

Quis just looked goofy -- he and Tekulve both went way down south, much more so than most of their fellows, and there's pretty much no way you can make that severe of a pitching motion look pretty -- and always appeared to be diving sideways off the mound. But that unnatural effort, and the bucketsful of grounders that it produced, led to some impressive results.

For the first part of the '80s, Quis was arguably the best reliever in the bigs. He led the AL in saves five out of six years, from '80-'85, with a high of 45 in '83, which was also best in the Majors. He led both circuits in games finished four times, and topped the junior thrice in games pitched. He was durable, he was reliable, and he threw a funky, slow-moving ball that tied hitters into half-hitches.

As a kid in the backyard I used to practice throwing sidearm, far down as I could go, because even a sprat like myself could see the value in such unorthodoxy. Dan Quisenberry rode that funny-looking delivery all the way from the University of La Verne (!?!) to a World Series Championship and 244 career saves; my guess is he didn't really care how silly it looked.

5. Billy Wagner

bankmeister: As we move into the upper echelon of reliever artistry, it’s important to note that I don’t know the first thing about Billy Wagner. That is, I drafted him solely for his numbers, and am learning most everything about him just prior to writing it. That said, he played 14 of his 15 professional seasons in the National League, and debuted the season I pretty much quit paying attention to baseball for most of six years. But he’s due his honors, so here goes:

Wagner was a first-round pick by the Houston Astros, and he actually played for the team that drafted him, so winner-winner, chicken dinner. I like the guy already. Three hundred eighty-five saves? Criminy. That’s impressive. Wagner made six All-Star Games and was twice in the close running for a Cy Young Award. If you pitch in Major League Baseball and do so for 15 years, tally 833 innings of work, log nearly 1100 Ks, and keep your career earned-run average under 2.40, you deserve to be in the Hall-of-Fame discussions. One of the most impressive stats for Wagner, however, is his strikeouts-per-nine-innings pitched. Most dudes are around the high sevens and low eights. Wagner’s career average for this category lands at a swollen 11.8, which is nothing shy of tremendous. Hell, it’s Ken Tremendous. Add to that his home runs-per-nine-innings pitched, which is 0.8, and you’ve got yourself one heck of a pitcher.

After his stint with Houston, Wagner drifted in and out of the Phillies, Mets, and Red Sox organizations before finally winding up with the Atlanta Braves. His numbers are down, and hey – the kid’s been pitching professionally for a decade and-a-half. He’s nearly three years older than me, which is old, I tell ya’. Just ask Old No. 7 about being old; that dude’s like 49. Anyway, of course careers are going to taper, but for a small-framed guy that taught himself to throw South Paw when his natural style was righty, I like the guy. Billy Wagner: Future Cooperstown inductee.

4. Rich "Goose" Gossage

Cecil: There are a ton of historical factors that need to be weighed as part of any argument about the efficacy of closers -- saves didn't exist as an official stat until 1969, to begin with, and the firemen of previous eras were frequently asked to work two and three innings. Comparisons about who was best when are thus difficult and subject to the inclusion of (as you'll soon discover) personal favorites. So, when people tell me that Mariano Rivera is the greatest closer of all time, I only have two words for them: Goose Gossage.

Please don't cite me any of Rivera's stats. I've seen them. I'm no stat-suspicious baseball Luddite, either, so don't go all FJM on me. I have really only one cogent point, here, and even though I've already made it in my first graph, I'm about to do again because I think it's important and I need to take up some real estate in this post: Gossage was the most dominant closer in an era when closers had to do more. Rivera has made an entire career out of getting three -- and often, fewer -- outs. Sure, he's been great at it, but how good would Goose's numbers look if he'd spent his looooong career with that kinda workload?

Yes, yes, that's projection, and we must deal instead with cold, unforgiving reality. Fair enough. Goose's numbers by themselves are good enough to keep him in this argument: he led his league in saves three times (the majors, twice) but more impressively, the guy didn't finish with an ERA over 3 from 1977 through 1985, including a surreal 0.77 in '81. In '77, he struck out 151 batters in 133 innings. He won more games in relief than anyone not named Hoyt Wilhelm -- who, it should be mentioned, is one of the old school dudes who never benefited from the save, so his win totals are pretty high -- and finished his career second in career saves to Rollie Fingers. He recorded the out to clinch a division, league or Series title seven times. Until Rivera broke it, he held the record for most All-Star appearances as a reliever.

And he did it all pitching three, sometimes four times as long as the guy everyone anoints as the best evs. I call bullshit. You want Greatest, you go Goose.

3. Dennis Eckersley

bankmeister: I am still partially in shock that Old No. 7 is the proud son-in-law of that jersey-tuckin’ s.o.b. Dennis Eckersley, but I guess smaller things’ve surprised me. Eckersley is another one of those dudes that I associate with nationally televised (especially post-season) baseball, coming in out of the bullpen, and taking care of business. Dude never looked pretty, and his work wasn’t shiny, but boy did he, and it, deliver.

Having tried to tap into the well of memory, I’ve come up with two things: The first is that I was confused when, several years into my baseball-viewing life, Dennis Eckersley was suddenly coming out of the bullpen instead of starting games. As Dave Chapelle once never said, I didn’t know dudes could do that. The second thing was that I, for most of the 1980s, simply could not keep track of Dennis Eckersley. When I first saw his greezy self take the hill, he was a Red Sock. And then he seemed to disappear. I mean, I know he was still around; I simply lost him. But then, there he was again, appearing in Major League games, this time in an Oakland uniform. Then he was gone. And then he was a Red Sock again.

Couldn’t keep track. It’s worth mentioning that in those periods, he also logged time with the Cubs and the Cardinals, was originally an Indian, and, in fact, closed his career out in Boston. And some career it was. Though we’re focusing on relief efforts, it’s certainly noteworthy that, as a starter, Old No. 7’s father-in-law earned himself two All-Star-Game appearances, some Cy Young consideration, as well as some MVP chatter. He also won 197 games before making the transition, which, I might add, he was successful at to the tune of 390 career saves, good for sixth all-time if you’re keepin’ score at home.

As a closer, he earned himself four more All-Star appearances, and upped the frequency of Cy Young/MVP conversations, ultimately earning both in 1992. Eckersley struck out 2400 guys in his career, and that’s no small hill of beans. For the purposes of discussions of great pitchers, Dennis Eckersley definitely earned his place in the conversation. He may have demonstrated the strongest balance of starter/closer dominance of anyone in the game. He gets props for going the distance early, and points for closing contests out with fury in the second half of his career. For the purposes of this specific entry, he’s certainly top-three worthy. His stats might not be the prettiest out there, but that’s just fine, ‘cause across the board, I don’t think Dennis Eckersley was ever campaigning for style points.

2. Trevor Hoffman

Old No. 7: Like many, I lament the loss of the bullpen car. When I was a little kid watching NBC’s Game Of The Week, relievers were ferried from the bullpen to the mound in funny little cars shaped like baseballs, ballcaps or mascots. That bit of whimsy is long gone, and we now have to wait interminably while fat closers trudge in.

The upside is that closers now come on to a song, and they try to make it a badass one. At least they did try, until douchebags like Brian Wilson and Ryan Franklin forced us to listen to Nickelback. The best closer song, of course, is heard when Mariano Rivera comes into a game and “Enter Sandman” is played over the PA. It’s ominous, creepy and makes you want your blanky and nightlight.

Trevor Hoffman uses “Hell’s Bells,” which is pretty good. Nothing wrong with getting some AC/DC up in here. But it’s a blatant ripoff of Rivera, which is fitting, since playing second fiddle to Rivera is basically Hoffman’s lot in life.

Hoffman recorded his 600th save in 2010, and will almost certainly retire this offseason with 601, the all-time record. But Rivera has 559, and he’ll eclipse Hoffman in either 2011 or 2012. Anything Hoffman can do, Rivera can do better, which is far from the worst thing you can say about a guy. Shannon Sharpe is the second-best tight end to ever play the game, which means he wasn’t quite as good as Tony Gonzalez but still towers over everyone else at the position. And Hoffman’s career has simply been outrageously successful. Other than 2003, when he missed most of the year following two operations, he saved 30 or more games for the Padres from 1995 through 2008. He did it again for the Brewers in 2009. His last hurrah in Milwaukee was ugly, as he lost his job to John Axford and was given token appearances solely to get to 600. Then again, most great players’ careers do not end gracefully…(cough) Brett Favre.

Hoffman came into professional baseball as an infielder who had a good arm but couldn’t hit. He’s hardly the first guy with a story like this -- Troy Percival, Carlos Marmol and Keith Foulke were converted from catcher, Tim Wakefield was once a prospect at third base, and Rafael Soriano gave it a try in the outfield before sticking as a big league reliever. It seems like many of the converted position players who go on to pitch end up in the bullpen. Some have funky deliveries, weird pitches or a limited repertoire, and exposing them to a lineup only once per game is the best approach.

(Editor's Note: Having brought you from 25 on down to two, I'd guess that you've guessed who gets the one spot.)

1. Mariano Rivera

Old No. 7: I don’t know how else to say it: Mariano Rivera is simply the best relief pitcher of all time. By any measure, he is. If you want to go by bulk saves, he’s second to Trevor Hoffman and will certainly pass him in the next eight to 14 months. If you want to go by post-season success, Rivera is so far ahead of his competition it’s embarrassing to even point it out. He’s won five World Series, one as a setup man and four as a closer. His playoff numbers are disgusting: In 139 innings over 94 innings, he has a 0.71 ERA, 109 strikeouts against 21 walks, and he’s allowed two home runs.

By all of the traditional measures, he is the best. And if you dig on the sabermetrics even a tiny, weensy little bit, Rivera’s dominance is shocking. ERA+ is a terrific stat that encapsulates all aspects of a pitcher’s efficiency and weighs it against his league, historical era, and ballpark. Pedro Martinez has the second-highest in history at 154 (league average is set at 100, everyone over 100 is above average, everyone below is below), as Pedro put up fantastic numbers in hitters’ parks during an overwhelmingly offensive era. A few other Hall of Fame-level arms in the top 20 of ERA+ are Lefty Grove (148), Walter Johnson (147), Roger Clemens (143), Cy Young (138) and Roy Halladay (136).

Mariano Rivera’s ERA+ is 205, which is so much better than any other pitcher to have ever played the game, starter or reliever, that it looks stupid on the printed page.

You may not know or care about ERA+, and you may be skeptical about advanced metrics like it. That’s fine, I once was as well. But just look at the season-by-season destruction that Rivera has delivered to batters, good batters in a good division in a good league, for 15 years. Against baseball’s finest, throwing one pitch, he simply doesn’t allow anyone to make solid contact. He baffles and breaks bats, and he records out after out after out with greater efficiency than anyone who’s ever pitched.

And yet still, there are those who choose to disregard the greatness of Rivera and name someone else as the greatest of all time. Specifically, the two other writers on this blog prefer Goose Gossage. Now I’m not here to disparage these men, they’re my friends and I love them and doing that would make me a major dick. I do question their reasoning here, though, because they’d like you to believe that Goose was better than Rivera because his saves came while pitching multiple innings. Meanwhile Rivera (and every closer in this day and age) starts work only in the ninth, and only with the bases free of hostile combatants.

It’s true that Gossage and Rivera have operated under different working conditions. Closers in Goose’s day were asked to get more than three outs (although Goose had plenty of saves that were three outs or less), and closers today are almost never asked the same, except in the playoffs and must-win games (although Rivera is the modern exception, he notched five saves of more than three outs in 2010 while no other closer had more than one).

To my comrades, this difference in expectations makes Goose tougher and therefore better. I’m not sure if I buy “tougher,” but for the sake of argument I’ll concede it. As he’s reminded us in every single public appearance for the last 20 years, a campaign that finally led to Goose’s enshrinement in Cooperstown, Goose was one tough son-of-a-bitch. Look at the game log from his 1975 season with the White Sox. Goose threw 141 innings, which is double what closers throw today. He’d come in to games in the third and fourth inning and close them out. Of his 26 saves that year, only seven met the modern condition of recording three outs or less, while 12 required seven outs or more. This is truly epic, laudable, and it started the legend of Goose Gossage.

The problem is, for all Goose’s toughness, he simply wasn’t as good a pitcher as Rivera. His ERA was three-quarters of a run higher, his WHIP far higher (1.23 to 1.00), his K/9 rate lower (7.5 to 8.2), his K/BB rate lower as well (2.05 to 3.94). By every measure you can find, every tangible statistic, Rivera is superior.

Which is where Goose’s mythical toughness is inserted into the argument, as an intangible trump card of subjectivity. Rivera’s numbers were created in a vacuum, he couldn’t handle the crucible in which Goose thrived. Goose would have pitched just as well as Rivera throwing one inning at a time, if not better. And Rivera would have wilted if asked to pitch like Goose did. This is the argument.

The problem with this is that it just doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. Look at Goose’s numbers again. As his career went on, he was asked to go more than two innings less and less -- BECAUSE HE WAS FAR LESS EFFECTIVE WHEN HE DID. Tough as he was, Goose still got tired and wore down, and having him throw multiple innings each outing was simply bad for business.

Goose’s last year as a top closer was 1986, when he played for the Padres. He saved 21 games that year, and in only nine did he record three or fewer outs. Same old tough Goose. But what’s telling is that he was not asked to get more than six outs once. His manager knew that doing so hurt the team, and that the less Goose threw the better he was. Goose had proven his toughness, but he was dramatically less effective at the limits of his endurance, as we all are.

Beyond that, saying that modern players can not be compared to their forefathers on the grounds of toughness means that the old-time players can never be topped. Forget the luxury of only pitching the ninth -- that’s nothing compared to air travel in chartered jets, advanced medical science, state-of-the-art stadiums and clubhouses, and how easy it is to score pussy on the road with cell phones, the Internet and Twitter. Of course today’s players have it easier and aren’t as tough, that doesn’t mean a great player today is automatically inferior to a great player from yesteryear. You can indeed compare Albert Pujols to Stan Musial, no matter how soft you think Pujols is in relation to Stan The Man. Aaron, Mays, and Gibson had it made compared to black players in the '20s and '30s (as they were allowed to play in the bigs), we don’t downgrade their greatness due to the comparative ease in which they lived.

And there you have it, boys and girls. The 25 best relief pitchers of the last 25 years. Or so say we anyway. We've got three categories left in this installment. No tellin' when we'll get 'em up, but by Jove, we'll get 'em up.

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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The HoG25: The Best 25 Relief Pitchers of the Last 25 Years

(Editor's Note: For reasons I cannot figure out, the image-upload feature is not working at the moment, so we will update when this technical error has been corrected.)

Don't soil your drawers. This ain't no indication of a regular re-appearance of those features you used to not read here on these pages. It is simply, our effort to finish up this series we started a handful of months ago. And make no mistake, it's a tricky one. The idea has been best summarized here by Old No. 7, and as he pointed out, we've touched on various other topics in this feature. Few have come easy; none have come so difficult. Important keys to remember are that the definition of the role of relief pitcher has changed over the years. Today, we don't even have "relief pitchers," as it were. What was once a single role of sorts for one hurler on a squad now falls under the relief umbrella that includes your middle relievers, setup guys, and closers.

What's also tricky is defining the point in time in which said definition of role began changing, or changed, or became accepted, acknowledged. It's a fluid concept, if you will, and that makes pinning down a window of 25, or any other number of, years even sketchier. Perhaps you will agree with our list. There's a chance that you don't like it. Or, maybe, we should've substituted a more concrete category. Either way, it's here, the pitchers are ranked, so we invite you to peruse.

25. Brian Fuentes

Old No. 7: It’s down in this region of our Top 25 that you realize we probably should have made it a Top 10. Not that Brian Fuentes is a bad pitcher, he’s not. It’s just that he has been, in my opinion, miscast for most of his career. He looks like a garden variety lefty specialist -- his semi-sidearm delivery seems tailor-made to sling sliders at dangerous southpaw sluggers and not much else.

Thing is, he’s done quite a bit more than just serve as a lefty specialist. Fuentes closed for the Rockies from 2005-2008, registering more than 20 saves each season. He moved to Los Anaheim in 2009, and he led all of baseball with 48 saves for a playoff team. This is one instance where the save stat fails us -- by looking at the traditional measure of a closer, Fuentes had a terrific year. But look at how Fuentes arrived at those 48 saves, and you’ll conclude it was nothing less than a miracle, a mirage. He struck out only 7.5 batters per nine innings pitched, the worst rate of his career. His ERA+ (112) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (1.92) were his worst since becoming a full-time closer.

But the Angels under Mike Scoscia play a very particular brand of baseball. They don’t score a gaudy amount of runs, but they scrap and claw and fight for every run available. They run the bases with aggressiveness and efficiency. Their starting pitching is always solid if not spectacular, and most of their games are close. Most important, Scoscia is more rigid with his bullpen hierarchy than any manager in the game. He names a guy for the seventh, a guy for the eighth, and a guy for the ninth, and he never wavers from that list. This is why Francisco Rodriguez saved an MLB-record 62 games for Scoscia in 2008 despite his worst strikeout-to-walk and WHIP rates. Just as pitcher wins can be deceiving if you don’t take into account context and opportunity, looking only at saves to measure relievers can leave you with the wrong ideas.

Fuentes lost his job as closer to Fernando Rodney this year, and after the Angels fell out of it he was traded to the Twins. Minnesota didn’t need a closer, so Fuentes adopted the role of lefty specialist, and he did a good job. Time will tell if he ever gets the opportunity to pitch in the spotlight of the ninth inning again, but he’s acquitted himself well there in his career.

24. Ugueth Urbina

Old No. 7: Among the many qualities we look for in a great closer is intimidation. We have an archetype of a big ol’ badass trotting out of the pen, preferably with impressive facial hair and poor hygiene, and mowing down his helpless opposition with nothing but high heat. Not to pick on Goose Gossage even more (because Goose was a great pitcher), but part of why Goose is so beloved is because he matches the archetype. He played the role to perfection.

Now intimidation can come in many forms. You can act like a lunatic, raving and screaming and huffing and puffing before and after each pitch, strikeout or save. These are your Jonathan Papelbons, your Joba Chamberlains, your Fernando Rodneys, your Dennis Eckersleys, your Brian Wilsons. You can look meek and frail, yet shut motherfuckers down for decades with lethal efficiency. This would be the Mariano Rivera model of intimidation.

Or you could go the route of Ugueth Urbina, who combined hard, wicked stuff, a fearsome scowl and genuinely nasty disposition, and an urge to kill people. I’m not even joking about that last part. Urbina is from Venezuela and has a bunch of land there. In 2005 he accused a group of dudes of stealing a firearm. The men were rounded up, hacked with machetes and doused with gasoline. Urbina is currently serving a 14-year term in prison for attempted murder. Combine that with his 237 saves (33rd all-time) and a record of striking out more than one batter per inning, and you can conclude that Ugueth Urbina had the intimidation thing down.

23. Rick Aguilera

bankmeister: Rick Aguilera spent significant time on the Minnesota Twins roster. Unlike few other Twins in our selection, however, he also did time in New York, Boston, and Chicago. Before landing a full-time gig in the bullpen, Aguilera got the nod for nearly 100 big-league starts. Actually, a small chunk of those were right in the middle of his career when he made a rotation curtain call in Minnesota, but it his work late in games that we’ll have a glimpse of today.

Aguilera’s a tough case, namely because there are probably two dozen other guys you could make just as strong a case for, but the thing I like about a guy like Rick Aguilera was that he was a nobody’s-man kind of reliever. That is, he did spend a lot of time with the Twins, but he also spent considerable time relieving in other cities, too, so he isn’t your face-of-the-franchise kinda guy. He doesn’t have dazzling numbers, and in fact, a hefty majority of them are quite pedestrian. What’s more is that his availability was about as consistent as spring weather. But there’s an aspect to his character that’s important not to overlook, and that is that he always made the grade. He was never a guy that would be forever DFA’d and forgotten; his 16 Major League seasons, 732 appearances testify to that.

Since we’ve moved into the numbers, though, it’s important to recognize that the guy had 317 career saves, over 1000 Ks, made three straight trips to the All-Star Game, and was pretty darn impressive in the strikeouts-per-innings-pitched category. So the guy wasn’t your top-three-rotation sort of hurler, and he was never going to pull out the smoke and mirrors, but a guy like Aguilera gives a general manager, a skipper, and a dugout the necessary confidence when it comes time to turn things over the closer. Rick Aguilera. He’s no Kyra Sedgwick, but he gets a spot on our list.

22. Jeff Reardon

Cecil: Jeff Reardon was a good relief pitcher with the Expos who, upon being traded to the Minnesota Twins in 1987, helped that team win a World Series against the heavily favored Saint Louis Cardinals. There you have it: Jeff Reardon’s baseball career in full.

Not really, of course, but I’m eternally suspicious of anything related to the Minnesota Twins. That’s because the very first pack of baseball cards I ever bought had like three of one Twin, name lost to history and a decade or two of hard drug abuse, who sucked, and sucked hard. He stood, bat at ready, glaring balefully at the camera -— look at him on the field like he someone who can play professional baseball. But he couldn’t. No, he couldn’t. Whatever his name was.

Kirby Puckett was an apple-shaped fraud machine who ate live mice. Kent Hrbek suffered from a lack of vowels. Gary Gaetti, well, he smelled like garlic and had sinister, European Socialistic leanings. Dan Gladden was the lead singer of White Lion. There’s always something suspicious going on up north.

So while Jeff Reardon briefly held the Major League Saves record —- along with, at one point, seemingly everyone else on our list -- and while he managed to stick around professional baseball for 16 years, the thing we should remember about Jeff Reardon is that he was arrested a few years back for Armed Robbery but found not guilty by reason of insanity.

21. Antonia Alfonseca

Old No. 7: Is Antonio Alfonseca on this list solely because he has six fingers on each hand? Maybe. If this exercise has proven anything, it’s that you need more than one stat to measure a great relief pitcher. You can’t hang your hat on raw saves alone, or ERA or winning percentage or championships won. Sometimes you need to think outside the box, and the digits that matter most are the ones dangling from your knuckles.

Alfonseca has a condition called polydactyly, which means he has six phalanges on each appendage where you and I only have five. Now extra fingers could come in handy for a lot of tasks -— for instance, if I had 12 fingers with which to type instead of ten, I might have met the original deadline for the essay you’re reading instead of being a year late.

Pitchers use their fingers even more than fat, lazy bloggers. They use them to grip various pitches, and if five fingers can create the drag needed for a nasty big-league changeup, what can six fingers do? THESE PROJECTIONS ARE INCALCULABLE.

Alfonseca was drafted by the Yankees, who wanted to immediately amputate his extra sausages so he’d conform to their bland corporate sameness. Luckily the suits were outvoted by wise baseball men, who saw Alfonseca’s forests of phalanges as little laboratories for new and unseen pitches. All of a sudden, the possibility existed for fastballs that travelled at the speed of sound, curveballs that broke backwards, sliders that could slice concrete to ribbons and cure cancer. And thus, El Pulpo (The Octopus) was born.

Unfortunately, Alfonseca wasn’t much of a pitcher. He grew a prodigious spare tire and gave up a lot of hits, although he did lead the NL in saves with 45 in 2000. Although he never reached the full potential his awesome genetic gift promised us, he did pave the way for future polydactyls to play major league baseball. He’s like Jackie Robinson, only for the millipede race. Some day, another Antonio Alfonseca will have a chance to play ball, give me six and hang 12 because of the bravery and courage of El Pulpo. It is you close-minded, five-fingered bigots who are the true freaks.

I’ve also been told there’s a used custom baseball glove for sale on the eBays.

20. John Smoltz

Old No. 7: Welcome, folks, to the only athlete to appear on not one but two HoG25 lists. John Smoltz was our No. 5 starting pitcher, and that’s the role he’s most associated with. But following a series of injuries and Tommy John surgery that made it difficult for him to stay in the Braves’ rotation for a full season, Smoltz took over for John Rocker as Atlanta’s closer in 2001.

He was not good in that role, but great. He set the NL record with 55 saves in 2002, and added another 91 saves combined in 2003 and 2004. After that, he returned to the starting rotation, where he ended his career last year. Smoltz and Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley are the only two pitchers to have recorded both a 20-win season and a 50-save season. If you know me, you know I’m pretty disdainful of judging pitchers by only tallying wins or saves, and especially by creating magic numbers like 20 wins to signify greatness. But that’s still pretty cool.

In a way, though, Smoltz’s foray into the bullpen signifies how random the numbers attached to elite closers are. Smoltz was a great starter who couldn’t stay healthy, so he spent four years closing and was dominant -— easily the best in his league and among the two or three best in baseball. Curt Schilling did the same for the Red Sox in 2005, taking over for Keith Foulke and serving as a fairly unhittable relief stopper. The fact that great starters transition so easily to the bullpen, yet great closers almost never become great starters, says something about the skill it takes to close games out. It’s not nothing, it is a valuable talent, but closers are often overvalued.

19. Keith Foulke

Old No. 7: Some might wonder why Keith Foulke is listed ahead of others who seem more deserving. It’s simple: I’m a Red Sox fan, I’m incredibly biased, and I like Foulke because he was the closer for the 2004 team that won the World Series. It’s my choice, not yours, and if you disagree with it you’re stupid.

If you want “facts and data” to support this pick, they’re all there. Foulke saved 30 or more games four times for the White Sox, A’s and Red Sox, and in 2003 he led the league with 43. He never walked anyone -— Foulke had a season WHIP under 1.00 four times in his career, which is remarkable even with the relatively low number of innings (and thus small sample sizes) thrown by closers these days. His career WHIP is 1.07. He simply threw strikes and got outs.

In the magical playoff run for the ’04 Sox, Foulke was called on to throw every single night, often when a single mistake would have ended Boston’s season. He hurled six innings in the ALCS against the Yankees, including a harrowing 2 2/3-inning stint in Game Four.

But what’s most important about Keith Foulke is that I was asked my opinion of the 25 top relief pitchers from the last 25 years, and my opinion is he belongs. To this point, no one has belittled that opinion or pointed out other opinions that are contrary to mine. It would be very easy for me to point out how the opinions of others differ from mine, and how others enjoy movies, TV shows or ballplayers that I think are horrible. But out of respect for my friends, I don’t do that. Because I’m not a fucking asshole (Editor's Note: Unsubstantiated). Keith Foulke rules.

18. Francisco Rodriguez

bankmeister: You could say that it’s hard not to like K-Rod. But not for me. I don’t particularly care for K-Rod, but that’s largely attributable to the fact that he molests little Venezuelan boys in the off-season. It’s either that or I don’t like his dumb glasses and his fist pumps and his heavenly finger-pointing, I can’t remember. But I suppose if I were a non-jaded fan of a team that didn’t struggle to not lose 100 games nearly every season, I might have a different perspective. K-Rod, be he a Met or an Angel, is kind of an arbitrary figure. He’s a guy you’d like to have on your team, but since you don’t, he’s always toying with tooldom. Sorry, bro. Facts are facts.

But if you just take a moment at look at his accomplishments, it’s hard not to appreciate what he’s done as a closer in his already-impressive eight seasons in baseball. In eight seasons, Rodriguez has earned himself four All-Star appearances: check. In eight seasons, Rodriguez has been among the conversations for Cy Young considerations, and tallied a new single-season record for saves (62): check. In eight seasons, Rodriguez has saved 40 or more games: check. And in eight seasons, Rodriguez has toyed with tripling his strikeout-versus-walk number, kept his E.R.A. around a cool 2.53, and averaged 74 innings worth of labor per season: check, check, and check.

Need we go on? Fine. His post-season numbers: Francisco Rodriguez has a .556 winning percentage in playoff baseball. He has finished eight games, saved three, struck out 41 while walking only 14, and yes, he does have a ring. In the World Series in which he won that ring, his strikeouts-per-nine-innings number was 13.5. So, there. Ask yourself if he belongs on this list. If you answered no, you’re probably a Canadian.

(Update: It's been a minute since I wrote this, and, as it turns out, opposing batters aren't the only thing that fall victim to Rodriguez's punchouts. Apparently, his father-in-law does, too.

17. Joe Nathan

bankmeister: There are two things that I don’t like about Joe Nathan: 1) He’s a Texan. 2) He pitches for the Minnesota Twins. The irony therein is that I like the Minnesota Twins, but for reasons I’ve never really been able to grasp, they always seem to have the edge on the Royals. The counters to those obviously personal takes are simple: 1) Not every person born in The Lone Star State is a dweezil (see: Lamar, Clark Hunt). 2) The Twins have, for better or for worse, run a pretty darn good organization for a long time. So let’s just dig into the dude’s performance.

Nathan barely squeezes into the top 30 in career saves, but he’s eighth among actives, and also in good company in the form of a multi-player tie for single season. He spent his first four MLB seasons as a San Francisco Giant and he was in the rotation for the first two of those four, going 12-8 over 29 starts. Since moving to the bullpen, though, he’s been super-reliable in terms of availability missing significant time in only 2003, and he averages about 83 innings a season, which is solid. He’s thrown 718 strikeouts to only 262 walks, and, barring any setbacks this spring, he’ll continue to give up a jack only once every 10 outings.

With four All-Star appearances and a handful of close calls in both league MVP and Cy Young races, Nathan’s portfolio warrants inclusion on our list. Add to the fact that he is a perennial front-runner in the games-finished category, and I’d love having Nathan on my team.

(Update: It's been a minute since I wrote this, and, it turns out, there were some setbacks in the spring.)

16. John Wetteland

Cecil: There are going to be a few entries on this list that don't blow your skirt up, and that's fine -- not everyone is Mariano Rivera or Dennis Eckersley. Such is the case with one John Wetteland.

Wetteland didn't amass stunning numbers of saves, didn't experience a long period of dominance and didn't make hitters' knees quake in fear the way some of our other Top 25 guys did, but he did do one thing that most of them didn't: win a World Series MVP award, and for the Yankees no less. One truly great season with the most famous sports franchise in the world (this could be quibbled with, I suppose, but we're jingoists here, so Manchester United and Real Madrid can suck on it) is, as it turns out, enough to gain recognition --at least from three dudes in flyover country -- as one of the Best Closers in Recent Memory.

To be fair, it was a pretty dadgummed good season: 43 saves, Rolaids Relief Man Award, four saves in four games in the Series and seven overall in the playoffs. And the guy did manage to find his way onto three All-Star teams. So, I guess, that makes him better than, say, Steve Bedrosian, but not as good as Bobby Thigpen or Tom Henke. There's worse company to be in.

Also, his current job is with the Mariners as the bullpen coach. It rains a lot in Seattle. So, Wetteland in a wet land, amirite? No? Never mind.

15. Bruce Sutter

Cecil: I’m no fan of the Saint Louis Cardinals. Such is my disdain that I purposefully spell out “St.” when writing about them, on the off chance that a Cardinals fan might see it and get peeved. Yes, Jethro, feel my disdain.

I probably shouldn’t, though, Cubs fandom aside. I grew up far away from the heat of the team’s traditional rivalries, as I’ve mentioned (or maybe I haven’t mentioned it yet? Well, wait until the Lee Smith bit, you’ll see), and my own dear dad was something of a closet Cardinal fan, if by “closet” you mean “team he actually liked more than any other growing up in 1920s and ‘30s California.” Pepper Martin, Ducky Medwick, Dizzy and Daffy-who-wasn’t Dean. Those were his guys. Stan Musial. Ernie Lombardi. I thrilled to tales of their baseballing derring -- do in an era where everyone’s pants seemed a size or two too large.

And yet, for some reason, his appreciation for the Gashouse Gang and the Musial-powered machine that followed eventually left me cold. Thinking back on it, I’m pretty sure I can blame Whitey Hertzog’s powerhouse Cards squads of the 1980s, staffed with guys like Vince Coleman, Jack Clark, Tommy Herr (YOU WERE NO SANDBERG MR. HERR) and Bruce Sutter.

Bruce Sutter was replaced later in the decade by the equally hate-able but unequally bearded Todd Worrell, but still, fuck Bruce Sutter. He’d been a Cub, and was a great Cub, but they traded him for Leon Durham and another dude who wasn’t Keith Moreland. That right there would be reason enough to despise the guy -— thanks for fielding that fucking grounder against the Padres, Durham, you begoggled coke snarfer -— but he didn’t even have the decency to fade into obscurity when he left Chicago. Rather, he continued to be what he was: baseball’s most dominant reliever.

Sutter led the NL in Saves every year but one from 1979 until 1984, and topped the majors in that category three times during that span. I’m not nearly as conversant with advanced stats as Ol’ No. 7 -— thus my meatheaded insistence on claiming Goose Gossage as the toughest goddamn fireman of all the histories, fancy numbers be damned -— but Sutter’s ERA + in 1984, the year he set a then Major League single season record with 45 saves, was 229. I’m pretty sure that’s good. He won the Cy Young in ’79. He made six All Star teams. In 1977 he struck out Gary Carter, Ellis Valentine and Larry Parrish on 9 pitches, and was at the time only the 19th pitcher in baseball history to accomplish such a feat. He also popularized the split-finger fastball, which is probably his biggest legacy, seeing as his Save records have fallen by the wayside.

He’s in the Hall of Fame, and I can grudgingly accept, after many minutes of rumination, that he deserves to be. And yet. Fuck him, fuck his chin curtain and fuck the Cardinals of Saint Louis.

14. Bobby Thigpen

bankmeister: Bobby Thigpen makes for a tough case. For a lot of players – position and pitcher alike – it’s tough to look at a guy that didn’t contribute 12, 13-plus seasons to the Bigs, and say, “That dude was awesome.” Now, you look at a guy like Thigpen, who debuted in 1986, which was right in the thick of when the actual reliever role was no longer defined as the guy that came in to spell the starter and hopefully finish the game. It was no longer a cloudy sort of role, wherein guys would sometimes come in to close. No, by 1986, teams were using starters, middle relievers, and closers. It’s not quite like today where you have a bunch of middle relievers, a setup guy, and a closer, but still: Thigpen’s role was clear. He started zero games as a professional baseball player. His job was to bring ‘er home, if you will. So you look at his career save total, which is 201, which ain’t bad, but it’s also 38th on the all-time list.

So the next thing you might look at would be innings pitched. Thigpen delivered 568.2 total through nine seasons. That’s an average of 31 innings a season, which tells me two things: 1) You’d better’ve dealt with some injuries, and 2) You’d better’ve closed some dang games. Luckily for Yancy Tyler Bobby Thigpen, he did both. Thigpen had some incredible years. Like 1990, where, as a 26-year-old, he saved 57 games. Fifty-seven! Now, Francisco Rodriguez took that mark two years ago when he saved 62, so he holds the number-one spot now in the single-season-save-total category. But the Anaheim teams for which Rodriguez played were far superior to anything happening in the South Side in the early ‘90s. Sure, the White Sox won 94 games that season. They were good. But they weren’t perennial contenders like these Angels clubs are.

More importantly: Mariano Rivera saved 53 contests six years ago. He’ll never touch Thigpen or Rodriguez, or Eric Gagne, or John Smoltz for that matter. Eat some steaming pig feces, Mariano Rivera. For the rough purposes of this particular entry, you blow.

Anyway, Thigpen averaged 31 saves a year over his nine years, and that’s including a total of two saves over his final four seasons, so the point is: For one quick, impressive flash in the pan that was about five years long, Bobby Thigpen was one of the best 25 relievers of the past 25 years. It has been said.

13. Dave Righetti

bankmeister: Dave “The Big Ragu” Righetti is a name that I will always associate with baseball play-by-play announcers of the 1980s. I don’t know why but I always admired the guy. Righetti was taken in the first round of the ’77 draft by the Texas Rangers, but for whatever reason, he debuted in the bigs as a Yankee. Rightfully so, Righetti won the A.L. Rookie of the Year award in 1980 when he started 15 games, logged 100-plus innings, and registered a 2.05 E.R.A. From there it was just a matter of time before Righetti would become one of the best relievers of the decade, earning back-to-back All-Star bids, along with MVP and Cy Young considerations in 1986.

It was in that fantastic season when the southpaw logged eight wins, finished 68 games, and earned 47 saves in the process. He did so with a 2.45 E.R.A., 83 strikeouts, and only 35 BBs. Throughout his career, however, Righetti averaged just over 100 innings of service per season, and just shy of 100 strikeouts per campaign, which basically identifies why the dude was as solid as he was: He got guys out with noteworthy consistency over a long period of time. Though he never won himself a ring, he did go 3-0 in post-season appearances, tallying 18 fans to seven free bases.

Dave Righetti is also the proud owner of one of my all-time favorite stats: He, until Dennis Eckersley joined him, was the only pitcher in baseball history to pitch a shutout and lead the league in saves in his career. That right there’s impressive. I don’t care who you are. Dave Righetti and Meatballs: worthy of HoG25 inclusion.

12. Troy Percival

Old No. 7: Right around here is where the quality of closers takes a serious upswing. If Percival was a hitter, he might be Steve Garvey -— not quite a Hall of Famer but a big name who put up good numbers for a long time.

Most closers flame out. They dominate for a short time, and then either their arm blows up or they simply can’t get the job done anymore. Eric Gagne, Bobby Thigpen, Mitch Williams and David Aardsma all had a huge year or two, but the rest of their careers were completely pedestrian. Look at the list of closers for the 30 MLB teams coming out of spring training, and then look at it in September. In an average year, half of the list turns over. Half. Guys either get hurt or get fired, and it’s not just rookies and journeymen. Jonathan Broxton began 2009 as arguably baseball’s best closer and the top pick at the position in fantasy baseball. The Dodgers finished the year allowing Hong-Chih Kuo and Kenley Jansen to finish games, while a healthy Broxton, in his prime at 26, filled a mop-up role. It comes and it goes in this game.

That’s what separates one-hit wonders from truly exceptional closers like Troy Percival. Percy nailed it down for nine full seasons in Los Anaheim, averaging almost 35 saves a year while the Angels transitioned from also-rans to contenders and finally 2002 World Series champs under Mike Scoscia. Percival answered the bell every time for almost a decade, which doesn’t seem like much until you measure him against his peers. Percival was a rock.

11. Rollie Fingers

bankmeister: Roland Glen Fingers is one of those bubble athletes that appear in each of these selections that flirts with our pre-determined window of time. Most of Fingers’ impressive career happened before our window opened, and I’ve no problem admitting that. I’ll own my selection, and I’ll state that some of my desire to select him was the ‘stache. You’d be a fool not to give that waxed piece of history its due props. It was the complete pitcher that threw me for a loop, though, every time he took the hill. I saw Fingers pitch quite a few times as a youngster and I was old enough to know that people just don’t come out of the womb looking like that, so I imagine that a part of me wondered if a person could invest time and energy into a look and still be an effective game-time performer. Turns out, a person can.

Funny thing about Fingers, though, was that he was, in my pea brain, a Milwaukee Brewer, pure and simple. It was a time when, to me, athletes simply logged a career in one uniform, and to be fair to myself, a lot of guys did. But imagine my shattered understanding of professional sports when I later learned that the mustachioed one had served nearly a decade with the A’s, another handful of years with San Diego, and only, at the end of his career, did he become a Brewer.

The numbers on Fingers are lovable, however, even if he hung up the spikes near the beginning of our segment. He won, as an A, three consecutive World Series, earned eight All-Star-Game appearances, and one Cy Young Award. Over 1700 innings of service, he netted 341 saves (good for Top 10 all time), tallied a career 2.90 E.R.A, and 1300 strikeouts. There are two kinds of people in this world: those who love and respect Rollie Fingers, and those that get stabbed in the appendix. Unless of course, you had your appendix removed before you had an opinion on the man.

That's 25-11, kids. If you remember the drill, we'll be back tomorrow for the remaining 10. Hope you enjoyed.
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Friday, November 5, 2010

How Do You Spell Relief? By Firing Up The HoG25 Again, That's How

Last year we took on a project called the HoG25. Loyal readers will remember this fondly, assuming we ever had readers. If we did, I’d bet dollars to doughnuts they were damn loyal. As loyal as blind, diabetic Irish Setters. This project entailed us three intrepid scribes discarding our normal neutral objectivity and rendering opinions on the finest selections among many diverse categories. We ranked the 25 best quarterbacks of the past quarter century, and we were ripped by a contingent of Eagles fans for excluding Donovan McNabb—history has vindicated us, now that Mike Shanahan exposed McNabb as a fat lazy imbecile. We did the same with wide receivers, books, movies, and a bunch of other stuff I’m far too lazy to look up. You have a brain, a mouse and access to the Googles, knock yourself out.

We also took a swing at the game of baseball, distilling hitters and starting pitchers into neat little columns of alleged greatness. Along the way, however, we were tripped up by a few semantic barriers. Are we ranking “hitter” by its most basic literal definition: one who strikes ball with wooden bat? Or is a “hitter” a catch-all description of a complete offensive player: one who has an eye for the strike zone, runs the bases, and gets himself and others across home plate via a variety of athletic skills? There’s really not a right answer (actually, there is, it’s the latter), but it made for interesting discussion.

Similarly, we’ve been stymied by our next topic, the misunderstood modern relief pitcher. Actually, I’ve been stymied. Bank and Cecil knocked their picks out months ago, but I’ve been stuck at the starting line. This is mostly due to my previously detailed sloth, but I also have a philosophical hangup with how to quantify the “greatest” closers and setup men. This is because all of them are failures as ballplayers, and their very existence also signifies a large and growing failure within the game of baseball.

I'll explain: I’m not talking about “failure” as it is lovingly embraced by baseball fans—cue the old saw that this is the only sport in which you can fail seven times out of ten and they put you in the Hall of Fame. Of course every player fails in his duties. He fails to get the batter out. He fails to get a hit. He fails to cleanly field a ball that he should have. This is part of why baseball is so elegant and definitive to a romantic fan like myself, and why baseball statistics are a special language to us. Our stats display the fine line between success and failure, and the minute increments of these stats delineate the line separating mere competence and greatness. It’s subjective, of course, but we can make these arguments much more definitively in baseball than in other sports.

At least I thought we could, until we arrived at relievers. Because all those guys you see languishing in the bullpen are representative of failure. They only appear in games if and when the starting pitcher fails to record the 27 outs necessary to complete a game. And as individual pitchers, each has failed to some extent in his career. Organizations only make a pitcher a reliever if they are convinced he can’t hack it as a starter, and this is simple math. If a pitcher is effective at getting hitters out, you want that pitcher to throw to as many batters as possible while remaining healthy. A top starter throws over 200 innings a season, while the same level of closer tallies between 60 and 80.

When you identify your best hitters, you don’t leave them on the bench, save them to pinch-hit in certain situations, or bat them at the bottom of the order. You get them to the plate as often as you can, because that’s what gives you the best chance to score the most runs and win. It’s the same with pitching, you want your best arms throwing the most innings, because that’s what will yield the fewest runs and, again, give you the best chance to win.

Look, I’m not dumb. I know relief pitchers matter and are important. It’s just that I don’t know HOW important they are and how vital they are to winning baseball in this day and age. Amid that uncertainty, can they truly be considered “great?”

I’ll tell you one thing that rankles me just a little bit about the entire process of comparing relievers from the past 25 years—the mythical idea of toughness. This isn’t limited to just pitching or just baseball, of course, we’re constantly reminded that football players once wore leather helmets, that rugby players wear no helmets, that olde tyme hockey goaltenders played maskless and that pioneer women delivered children while plowing fields AND NEVER STOPPED OR COMPLAINED. I get it, kids to today are punks. Sissified. So quick to pick up a gun, scared to take an ass-whoopin.

But what you call sissification, I’ll call progress. I like a lot of modern things. I like not having to rewind videocassettes, and not dying from smallpox and shit. And what we’ve seen with pitcher usage should be looked at as progress instead of the spread of limp-wristed babying in our national pastime.

Allow me to create a hypothetical to emphasize my point. We don’t really play pickup baseball in this country anymore, but pretend for a moment we do. You and eight of your buddies from your neighborhood are going to play a nine-inning game every afternoon against the guys from down the street. This game is important, there’s something valuable on the line, and whichever team wins the most games over the course of one year gets the prize. Your team has to divvy up positions, and you will all play that same position for every game for the entire year. Let’s say you end up pitching, and you have to throw all nine innings every day.

How much are you going to put into every pitch?

I know this seems a bit ridiculous, but this was how baseball was played 100 years ago. Just as position players took the field for each and every complete game, pitchers threw every single game. They weren’t called “starters,” just pitchers. And they threw and threw and threw. Then one day a bright manager decided to use two pitchers, giving each a day of rest between starts. The rotation was born, and the average quality of each pitch thrown increased.

As time has gone by, of course, rotations have grown to the current five-man staff, with four days rest standard. In theory, this allows each pitcher to have his best stuff/velocity each time out. This same theory led to the beginning of the modern bullpen. First, some bright manager decided to bring a relief ace in to finish off the opposing team when his starter got tired. Then, more bright managers added more and more relief pitchers to fill more and more specialized roles. We currently see teams employing specific arms to handle the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth innings, pitchers whose job it is to retire only righties or lefties, pitchers whose one key skill is inducing a double-play ground ball.

The net effect of all this maneuvering is this: the quality of the average pitch in Major League Baseball is better right now than at any point in history. It simply is. Pitchers are fresher, scouting and strategy expose hitters’ weaknesses, and matchups are maximized.

The question of whether this has made for better baseball is wholly separate. I personally disdain the endless pitching changes that take place at the end of ballgames these days, they totally disrupt the flow. And I do have mad respect for the tough guys of yore, guys who threw a ton of complete games and refused to come out of games.

What I don’t buy is the argument my brethren will make here, that closers from the 70s and 80s (particularly Goose Gossage) were BETTER than closers from the 90s and 00s (particularly Mariano Rivera) because they threw more innings per appearance and were inherently “tougher.” I can’t buy this logic, because again the very existence of Goose Gossage’s career as a relief pitcher came from two failures—his own failure to hack it as a starter and the failure of human evolution to throw nine innings of maximum velocity daily. Goose Gossage was a reaction to a trend in baseball, and Mariano Rivera is a reaction to the reaction. Goose was asked to throw multiple innings to get a save quite often, because his managers had no visible alternative. Rivera throws one inning for one reason: it works. His managers aren’t in the business of proving how tough he is, they’re in the business of locking down wins.

And in 10 or 30 years, this will all be irrelevant. Some bright manager will come up with a new way to deploy the arms at his disposal and get the 27 outs he needs to win, and today’s pitcher usage patterns will be obsolete. Then bloggers (or whatever they’re called in the future) will point to whatever whippersnapper is top dog in 2040 and say he’s not as tough as Mo Rivera was back in the day.
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Friday Foolin': Talkin' 'Bout My 'Broneration!

Normally, I be like F**k the NBA, but this is too good to pass up.

(clip courtesy of The Big Lead)
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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Thursday ThumbTubes: Awesome Sports Personalities Talk Awesome Sport

I dunno if I could hand pick two better sports personalities to talk one of my favorite subjects. Granted, they're talking Blackhawks, which is totally lame...

...but what can you do.

(clip courtesy of the social networks)
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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tuesday Tidbits: Slap Shot, Inception-Style

Pretty clever, largely silly, entirely for shits and giggles.

(clip courtesy of the Sports Guy)
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Tuesday Tidbits: This is Just to Say

So far, 2010 has been nothing shy of an interesting sports season. Of course it all began with a month of NFL playoffs that wrapped up with a New Orleans Saints Super Bowl Victory. In February, we were graced with a splendid round of U.S. Olympic hockey. There was, of course, March Madness that trickled into April, which, naturally, led to the kickoff of baseball season. Usually, the MLB summer seems an endless one, but for some reason, this one seems to have moved quite quickly. To add to that, we had one heck of a World Cup soccer tournament, and a great NHL Stanely Cup Finals to keep things fresh.

Now, August is winding down, and we'll soon be looking at which clubs will be playing October baseball. Meanwhile, in the NFL, training camps have broken, and the pre-season is halfway over. In just a blink, NHL teams will be reporting for their training camps. Most of these events happen every year, but this was one of those extra-special years thanks to the World Cup and the Olympics, but there is one, more-recent event that has made 2010 a monumental year.

That's right. It's everybody's favorite quarterback of all time: Brett "Old No. 4" Favre. And trust me: When I say "everybody's," I mean everybody's. Every single person I've ever spoken to, Tweeted, e-mailed, or been a pen pal with has admitted that the ol' Gun Slinger, he's their fave. Not me, of course. I'm still holding my breath for the second coming of Elvis Grbac, but that's another story. You can get the tidbits of this story, though, over at Chatting up Sports, a new blog to enter the circuits as of June this summer. So check them out from time to time, and if you're one of those whacky, social-networking types, they've even got a Facebook page. Shuh-zam! Read more

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Most Pointless Post in HoGstory Grows Wheels, Becomes a Story, Except for Not Really

On Tuesday, I had this bug, an itch to write a post about Kansas City Royals shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt, and how meaningless his home runs in 2010 have been. So I did. When I started looking into the thing, I expected to see losses in most, if not all, of the 10 games this season in which Betancourt had homered. In the end, I was a little surprised that Kansas City has actually won four of the contests in which he'd gone yard. But, it didn't bother me. And I kind of forgot about the thing for a minute.

And then, in the fifth inning of that evening's contest, Betancourt came up to the plate against Cleveland's Jeanmar Gomez, who, at the time, was 2-0 in his career. And I'll be damned if he didn't hit a solo shot out of the park to tie the game at one.

I thought two things: 1) A 1-1 game. Anything can happen. Naturally I want the Royals to win, but it would be a little ironic if Betancourt homered in this game and then the Royals won. Not a lot ironic. Just a little. And then, two innings later, noted terrible baseball player Wilson Betemit came up to the plate and put a solo shot over the fence as well, giving the Royals the one-run edge that they'd hold onto for the win. I tweeted about it, decided I'd take interest in his at-bats the next evening, and went to bed.

So Wednesday rolled around, and it's game two of three against the Tribe. By the time I tuned in, I'd kind of forgotten about the previous day's small slice of irony. And then the sixth inning came around, Yuni came up to the plate, and cracked another solo homer. And this got my eye, especially considering that the Royals went on to win 9-7. Betancourt, by the way, went 2-4 with three RsBI in the contest, pulling the Royals to an even 6-6 in games in which he hits a jack. This also put him into the team lead for round-trippers on the season, at least for guys still on the roster. (Editor's Note: Jose Guillen left town with 16 under his belt.)

For the final game of the series against the Indians on Thursday, the Royals took a 3-0 lead, then squandered everything under the sun, losing 7-3, and Betancourt went 0-4, so, ha-ha. That was fun while it lasted.

Friday night, the White Sox were in town, and the game got postponed due to some serious rain, and some wicked-crazy lightning, which meant a double-header for Saturday. In some kind of FOXSports broadcasting conundrum, the first contest was a 6:10 Central pitch, and the Royals found themselves down 5-1 in the seventh. Guess who comes to plate with every bag occupied? Yup. The Kansas City Royals shortstop, who, I think, surprised everyone by clubbing a grand slam, his third of the year, no less. And if that wasn't enough, he hit a walk-off single in the 11th for the game-winning RBI.

My interest was again piqued. Betancourt had gone 3-5 with 5 RsBI. The second contest got underway a few minutes after 10:00 p.m., and it too went into extra innings. In this tilt, our hero of the week went a mere 1-4, but he did have an RBI, and it just so happened to be a game-tier in the bottom of the ninth. Alas, Chicago went on to win by a run in the 10th, but Yuniesky Betancourt had the Twittersphere buzzing.

And in the finale of this series, today, Betancourt was again held hitless, but it should be noted that, Betemit, in his continuing fit of terribleness, homered again today, as well as in the first of the two contests yesterday. And, strangely, this game also went to extra innings.

I suspect that Yuni will revert to sub-mediocrity in the week ahead as the Royals will face Detroit and Cleveland again, both series on the road. The coincidence of examining Betancourt blasts in comparison with Royals wins, proved to be a fascinating exercise, and Kansas City is now a cool 7-6 in games in which there's a Yunibomb sighting. And no, silly, I don't mean Ted Kaczynski. But like I said, folks were a-buzzin' about this overpaid shortstop Dayton Moore acquired from Seattle last season, if only for a few days. Hey, even the big guns had stuff to say today.

(photo courtesy of John Sleezer of The Kansas City Star)
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Sunday Sermon: The New, Improved Reggie Bush

I gave up on arguing about Reggie Bush nearly three years ago, and it's a hobby that, quite frankly, I'm not interested in picking up again, though I have had a couple more recent conversations with Saints fans regarding his running style. I've always thought two things about him: 1) He's a phenomenal talent with great speed, intelligence, and ability, and 2) He's not a running back in the traditional sense. I say that having watched very little New Orleans Saints football, but in the little bit I have seen, I've observed a young man that jukes and dances, and mostly, runs to the outside to try and beat defenders to the corner. I cannot recall ever seeing any footage of the guy where he squares his shoulders, lowers his head, and runs like a man, between the tackles.

But enough about what a bunch of dudes think. I imagine it's time we hear from the ladies on this one:

Introducing Ladies All About Football. This new-to-the-blogosphere site is still being swaddled and nursed as it was just born this month, and I'm going to go out on a limb and say that there's a slight preference at this URL for the professional football club that resides in Louisiana. Don't believe me? Peep their newest post, wherein the Saints victory over the Houston Texans is relished. Yes, it's only the midway point of the 2010 pre-season, but check out this angle on the New Orleans tailback:

"Showing his speed and some raw toughness, the back bulldozed his way into the endzone, looking more like the power runner everyone hoped he'd be, running up the middle and between the tackles. It was good to see him exhibit his tougness just as well as his speed."

I don't know about you, but if I was a Saints fan, I'd be stoked about said toughness, power running, and gap hitting. Anyway, the defending champs travel to Whale's Vagina on Friday, then to Tennessee on Thursday, September 2. So, if you're so inclined, stop by LAAF for your football updates throughout the season from the ladies' point of view. As an added bonus, leave a comment for a chance to win some junk from Victoria's Secret. Sexy!
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Saturday, August 21, 2010

A Saturday Studmuffins/Fatlock Follies Sandwich; or A Token Response to "The Explanation"

Conflicted is the word to start this post. Conflicted is how I feel regarding Jason Whitlock leaving The Kansas City Star after some 16 years of sports-column contributions. Conflicted is how I feel about the upcoming Kansas City Chiefs football season that will, for the first time in my adult life, lack a Monday morning Whitlock take on Sunday's Chiefs performance. Conflict has been a notion that, in some form or another, has shadowed Whitlock's places of employment since the sporting world, and its publications, took note of who this writer is and how he carries himself. And his Star denouement has been ensconced by -- you guessed it -- conflict.

Whitlock's last column to appear in the Star was published almost three months ago. Four days ago, the Star ran this bit saying the newspaper and the columnist was "leaving the paper to pursue other interests." Earlier in the week, Whitlock, via his Twitter page, announced to the world that he would be appearing on KCSP 610 AM yesterday to proffer what he dubbed The Explanation.

If you're not interested in listening to the podcast (Editor's Note: One friend called it "radio gold" and mentioned that the interview was temporarily cut off "after he said (the) Star editor got drunk in River Market and was kissing on another male employee's neck in front of staff." Naturally, these portions are not in the podcast), hosted by What's Wrong with Ding Dong, Kansas City SB Nation put together a handy summary of the broadcast, and before we go any further, it's worth noting that Whitlock has been given a healthy raise as a FOXSports columnist.

But back to this notion of conflict. Big Matt from Arrowhead Addict touches on a small segment of what I'm saying regarding the columnist/persona paradox that is Jason Whitlock. And I say paradox because Whitlock's role in the sports world has never, in my observations, been single-fold. What I mean by that is this: If you're a columnist, being paid for your printed words and opinions of the sports world, then those words should do your talking for you. When you become a persona, be it attached or removed from your paid-for services, you begin, in varying degrees to dilute the product of your craft. That is, when you, as an artist, forge a relationship with your audience, you are, in my estimation, permanently challenged to uphold a multitude of expectations.

Your fans want the product delivered with consistency and greatness, and to quote the old Speed Stick commercials, "anything less would be uncivilized." With zero interest in bashing -- in at least this very moment -- either Whitlock the journalist or Whitlock the person, I'll go out on a limb and say that, often, he fell short in both criteria. Now, before you send smoke signals out to the lynch mob, understand that I, on many, many occasions, have had tremendous respect and admiration for the work that Whitlock has done and the message(s) he has attempted to convey.

My family has subsribed to the Star for as long as I can remember, and I have had my own subscription since the week I moved back to town 10 years ago. I have, on exactly zero occasions, looked forward to a piece of the paper with more fervor than Whitlock's Monday morning Chiefs column. This, of course, has come with heavy doses of conflict for me the subscriber, reader, and admirer of great writing. I make no secrets of my admiration for former Star sports columnist Joe Posnanski. For the duration in which Pos' and Whit' both penned sports for the Star, the former was always my favorite. He finds the hook in a story and threads it effortlessly into the gills of the reader, and for that, he will always be one of my literary heroes. He also, were it by design or not, assumed the role of the good guy in the Posnanski/Whitlock good guy/bad guy dichotomy. In movies, stories, and even on the TVs, I always root for the good guy. It's just how I'm wired.

My issue with Posnanski, though, was that he seldom covered the Chiefs. That was Whitlock's bag, and that's what I wanted in my paper. So I read him.

As a sports fan, and more specifically, a sports fan in a town where the professional baseball and football teams appear, over periods of time, destined to achieve new and inventive plateaus of terrible, a fan such as myself does not, for the most part, take well to criticisms of the organizations. At least I didn't used to. More plainly, the feeling was always a mix of "It's easy to be an armchair GM/You're not playing/Give them a break -- They're trying/Quit being Mr. Negative." So my appreciation for Whitlock's angles, for some time, was under-developed to say the least.

As his interesting relationship with former Chiefs GM Carl Peterson became something of a soap-opera affair, I began to appreciate it more, and when Peterson hired Herman Edwards, I began to grasp the reality that embodied the idea of the game having passed by Carl Peterson. With nary a slice of ironicality, I began to understand and appreciate the watchdog type of job that Whitlock does, and had been doing all along.

Perhaps at the height of my recognition for his work covering my favorite football club, Mr. Whitlock branched out from the Star and was hired for other endeavors. Having already tried the SportsTalkRadios (fail), he took a post as a Page 2 columnist for (fired), which may or may not have been handcuffed to his, for lack of a better word, removal from ESPN's "The Sports Reporter," and then he signed on with FOXSports. I don't include those parentheticals because I want to highlight shortcomings, but it's important to note that, from an outsider's perspective, beefs appeared to have been brewing in each of those sports kitchens. It's also important to identify that some of these beefs appear to have been for good reason, be they motivated by self-interest, a national sense of civic duty, or a combination of the two.

I commend him for, regardless of intention, marketing himself well enough to have the multiple outlets and to of course, get paid. This era of outsourcing and raises, however, seems to have gone hand in hand with ego inflation and the spawning of this persona that I mentioned.

Which brings us back to conflict. Jason Whitlock used to irritate the hell out of me because he would, so it seemed, always play the race card. For example, he, back in the day, would say things, and I paraphrase, like: Jacksonville Jaguars Head Coach Jack Del Rio makes it a point to have African-Americans as his second- and third-string quarterbacks because it's imperative that the racist fans of Jacksonville must support Byron Leftwich. If they're not going to support him because he's black, they need to know that those that come in to replace him due to injury, will be black as well, so get used to it.

I don't know if this was true. I mean, David Garrard and Quinn Gray are black. This I know. There's a significant part of me, though, that doubts that those two guys were acquired by the franchise, perhaps even over more qualified quarterbacks, solely for support clauses for Byron Leftwich. It's also hard for me to imagine that the Jacksonville Jaguar fan base that has become a poster child for atrocious attendance, even with a white quarterback backing up a black one, can be pegged in their majority as bigot fans. I just didn't see the point in that then, or even more recently when Whitlock posited that (Note: I believe this was in a 05/01/08 FOXSports column regarding Ben Roethlisberger, but his archives don't date back far enough.) that a guy like Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger would've been crucified for the (initial) rape allegations against him were he black.

More recent still is his latest FOXSports column regarding Minnesota Vikings QB Brett Favre, wherein Whitlock dismisses the notion that Old No. 4 would be under heavier scrutiny were he African-American. Quoth Whitlock: "...the felonious charge of a racial double standard as it relates to the future Hall of Famer was unworthy of my court. I dismissed the case.

That was my mindset two years ago. Things have changed."

Here's where things get a little tricky. We expect those whom we respect to evolve, to maybe have a change of opinion over time. With Whitlock, though, it's like he's completing changing hands every three to five years. Ten years ago, black athletes, in Whitlock's book, couldn't catch a break: There were double standards everywhere. Five years ago, he was knee-deep in his anti-bojangling campaign, wherein he was calling out guys like Scoop Jackson for supporting, in some sense, that there are/were not enough positive black, male role models for the youth of today to admire. The hip-hop culture, as I'm certain he's referenced it on numerous occasions, that embodies today's youth only sees adult black males in the NBA, the NFL, and in rap-music videos.

This, I was on board with. This, I felt, wrong or right as my intuition might've been, was a platform in which he had the most potential. For a guy that reaches as wide an audience as he does, he could really pull some strings, or at least get the wheels of cognition spinning for this effort, if, and that's a big if, this was something he was passionate about. Now, today, I'm not certain what he's passionate about, and I find myself thinking with some frequency that he's not certain either. Thus the motif of conflict.

In comes the notion of ego. I used to be a leading complainer in the argument for less of Whitlock's ego in his column. The presence of it, I felt, could only be identified as wasted column-inch space. For example, he'd start off a column about a road Chiefs game by mentioning that he was seated in the press box. Or, in his column about the NBA All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas a couple years ago -- the one in which the infamous Adam Jones make-it-rain weekend happened -- he started off the column, I think, saying something to the effect of his courtside presence. Or more generally speaking, the many KC Star columns over the years in which he simply wrote about himself using an obviously phony visit to he shrink as the vehicle that drives the column, stopping by several sports-story-idea rest stops along the way.

The former situations were insults to the readers' intelligence in that he's stating the already-known, or to paint it in a less-attractive light, pimping himself. The latter always said two things to me: 1) I have only a smattering of ideas for a column today, so this is what you get, and 2) frankly, I like writing about myself.

So, conflict. Who is Jason Whitlock, I find myself asking after all these years. In the excerpts made available in that podcast, he frequently references "those that know me" as the ones certified to stake a claim against his body of work, or pass judgment on whether or not what he's doing has merit, value, and substance. My guess -- and I of course could be way, way off -- is that not that many people do actually know him. And this is why I think it's tricky, in a role like his, to develop, and even push, a persona because it's going to, whether you like it or not, clash with the product that has gotten you credit, respect, and notoriety since entering the world of sports journalism.

I won't claim to know Whitlock. I've certainly never met him, and I definitely haven't read everything the guy's ever published. I still think that the article he wrote for (or published in, however you want to say it) Playboy is the best piece of journalism he's ever produced. I very much looked forward to the issue coming out because I had a hunch it would be top notch, and hey -- free excuse to buy a copy of Playboy...jackpot! Just before it came out, however, he wrote a column in the Star about the issue coming out, and, surprise, the controversy surrounding it. I wrote about it here, and one reader even created a fake Jason Whitlock profile name so that s/he could comment. Basically, though, that column said this: I'm taking this opportunity to write my column about me writing a magazine article.

Then the issue came out, and without going back to read my actual work, I think I did a fairly decent job summarizing it. I do recall three things standing way out with that piece though: 1) It was well-approached, well-researched, crisp, lucid, and well-written; 2) The controversy associated with the headline the magazine gave the piece -- "The Black KKK" -- was largely, if not entirely diminished by the incredible content of the article itself and; 3) This should be this guy's niche. He should be doing investigative, literary journalism on a full-time basis.

I still feel that way about his abilities, talents, and potential for outreach, but that's one person's opinion, and it likely means squat to anyone that reads this. In "The Explanation," Whitlock talks about sports being the concept that brings people together, and he also talks about many of his critics wanting to be him. I won't argue with the first part of that. That's a huge portion of the beauty of sports: By its own existence, it creates a bond, even with rivals and enemies. There's also merit to the latter part, in that, sure -- professionally speaking, I would love to have or have had any of his written-word journalism positions. And of course I would happily accept the compensation package attached to them.

But to say that, outright, people want to actually be him, is another ball of wax too sticky for me to adhere. I don't want to be Jason Whitlock for the same reasons of theme I've been attempting to decode: conflict. Right now, in my adult life, I have zero audience, and zero responsibility for thought conveyance. I don't have a channel for streaming, a frequency for broadcasting, or column inches to fill. And I'm conflicted enough as it is just trying to lead my ordinary, run-of-the-mill routine. Should I skip today's workout? Did I tell the wife I love her enough times this week? Is one more beer too many?

Hell, it's a struggle day in and day out to just attempt to balance happiness, responsibility, and sanity. If I had a massive national presence added to the mix, I'm not certain that I would successfully balance my craft and keep my persona at bay. There's no way I could develop a platform loaded with observation, opinion, and criticism and, in addition, manage those two key elements of consistency and greatness. I mean, I'd certainly try, but how would I react to my critics? Would I have as many as I would fans? Would I really be that different of a personality than the one I've invented for Jason Whitlock?

Difficult to say.

What I do know is this: If there's one blessing about Kansas City, it's that its newspaper, for many years, has hired and retained some talented writers, many of whom have gone on to bigger positions with bigger publications in bigger cities, all of which I imagine are totems of success. In the sports department alone I can think of half a dozen off the top of my head: Jeff Passan, Liz Merrill, Mechelle Voepel, Jason King, Ivan Carter, Posnanski, and now Whitlock. All of their contributions to my paper have been excellent, and obviously, none have had more controversy than Mr. Whitlock's.

And that's really, to me, what "The Explanation" is about. For Whitlock it was, like it often is, about self-promotion and self-preservation. The Star, apparently unbeknownst to him, ran that Whitlock's-leaving piece without informing him, so he's entitled to address his audience of a decade and-a-half however he sees fit. certainly isn't the place to do it, and for someone that calls himself Big Sexy, a couple of tweets certainly weren't going to suffice. But at the end of the day, this LeBron James-modeled bit of satirically titled seriousness wasn't about the Star's editor(s) consuming intoxicants, or kissing in public, and it really wasn't about those editors not seeing eye to eye with his vision for his role in the paper, either.

It was a sendoff. It was the epilogue in a chaptered story. It was, the final frontier of the Whitlock era in Kansas City sports writing. It was a reminder of the fact that, conflict and controversy aside, this town has been graced with some excellent sports columns in the last 16 years. It'll be interesting to see how the Star, struggling financially along with all of its industry counterparts fills this large void. Will another young Sam Mellinger step into the vacated columnist shoes? Will the Star, now free of payroll obligations to Whitlock, rest its accounting heads with more ease each night? We, the readers and subscribers will have to wait and see.

One thing's for certain: My Monday morning routine is going to need some serious adjustment.
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