Posted 08/25/2008 at 06:25 PM
Even though there has been a renaissance of reverence for the original MLB closers in recent years with Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage recently earning Hall of Fame enshrinement there seems to be a growing disenchantment with the save and with the value of closers in baseball among baseball fans and followers. In 1989 Dennis Eckersley was one of the most popular players in the game and there was little second thought about how he not only deserved the Cy Young award but that he could and eventually did win the MVP award in the American League. Eric Gagne’s tremendous Cy Young season in 2003 and his consecutive save streak captivated baseball as well.
This year Francisco Rodriguez has reached 50 saves faster than any player ever has and he is on pace to break the all-time single season save record yet there is little interest and attention given to that chase. Rodriguez reached save 50 in the 129th game for the Angels breaking Gagne’s mark of 143 games. It took record holder Bobby Thigpen 145 games to reach 50 so Rodriguez is well on track. Rodriguez had a little help from umpire Brian Gorman as he appeared eager to catch his next flight with several questionable ninth inning strike calls but perhaps he was just caught in the moment.
When Barry Bonds was about to break the home run record some conceded that their lack of interest was due to their dislike of Bonds. Rodriguez has done nothing to paint a negative image upon his character so the lack of interest may be due to the lack of respect for the save. Many can question the value of the big contracts given out to closers and the constant cycle of closers run in and out on many teams is frustrating as well. Another reason this record is not being concerned with as much as some other statistical milestones would be is that Bobby Thigpen is the record holder. No knock on Thigpen as he had a nice big league career but he does not command the legendary respect that many record-holders have. The fall from grace that some of the more prominent closers like Gagne and Trevor Hoffman have also endured also has hurt the appeal of closers and the value of the save.
Rodriguez has also not been that dominant this season so maybe the minimal interest is warranted. He has blown five save opportunities and his ERA and strikeout numbers are good but not great. Five blown saves is an average to pretty good figure for most closers in this day and age but puts him a notch below some of the more dominant closers of the season that have just had fewer opportunities such as Joe Nathan and Mariano Rivera. Rodriguez also plays for a team that has had one of the best records in baseball all season long so many can argue the record will be his just because he is in the right place and not because he has been doing anything that remarkable. Perhaps the attention or lack thereof fits Rodriguez perfectly as the Angels have been that type of story all season, dominating but typically an afterthought in a season dominated by Cubs coverage and the rise of the Rays.