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The Origin of The Save

FANTASY BASEBALL’S MOST IMPORTANT STAT

There is little argument that saves are the most important statistic in fantasy baseball. Jim Konstanty would have made a great fantasy baseball reliever.  In 1950, he had 22 saves and 16 wins! In a 4 x 4 or 5 x 5 league, you can win an entire category just for having a consistent duo or trio of closers. But, the statistic of saves is a relatively new one and star closers of yesterdays long gone by like Lindy McDaniel, Jim Konstanty, and ElRoy Face sure wish that The Sporting News would have come up with the statistic while they were still active.

by Jerome Holtzman, The Sporting News

I HAVE BEEN TOLD THAT BY CREATING the pitching save, which I did 42 years ago, I have helped relief pitchers earn hundreds of millions of dollars. But I don’t want anyone feeling sorry for me.

I made some money, too.

When I presented the idea to J.G. Taylor Spink, the late publisher of The Sporting News, he gave me a $100 bonus. Maybe it was $200. I don’t remember the precise reward. But I do recall him telling me, “If you have any other ideas be sure to call me.”


I invented the first formula for saves in 1960, in my fourth season as a baseball beat writer. At that time there were only two stats to measure the effectiveness of a reliever: earned run average and the win-loss record. Neither was an appropriate measure of a reliever’s effectiveness.

The ERA wasn’t a good index because many of the runs scored off a reliever are charged to the previous pitcher; the reliever’s ERA should be at least one run less than a starter. The W-L record was equally meaningless; the reliever, particularly the closer, is supposed to protect a lead, not win the game.

For example, Elroy Face of the Pittsburgh Pirates was 18-1 in 1959, still the one-seasonElRoy face was 18-1 in relief for the Pirates in 1959. record for the most victories by a reliever. Face was immediately acclaimed as the best bullpen artist in all baseball history.

I knew better. He was much more effective the year before when he was 5-2.

In 10 of his 18 victories, Face coughed up the tying or lead run but got the win because the Pirates had a strong hitting team and rallied for the victory while he was the pitcher of record.

I was with the Cubs during that season. They had a righty-lefty bullpen tandem of Don Elston and Bill Henry, both of whom repeatedly protected leads but were comparatively obscure. They didn’t have eye-catching stats.

And so one day, during the following season, while waiting on the team bus outside the Chase Hotel in St. Louis, I worked up the first save rule. I remember showing it to the Hall of Famer Lou Boudreau, then a Cub broadcaster who was seated next to me.

Boudreau approved and so I brought it to the attention of The Sporting News. Mr. Spink also liked the idea and immediately decided to award annual Fireman Trophies to the top relievers in the National and American leagues.

To determine the winners, one point was given for a save and one point for a victory in relief. It was a mistake. Two points should have been given for a save. A save is twice as important. This was soon corrected.

The first winners were Lindy McDaniel of the Cardinals and Mike Fornieles of the Red Lindy McDanielSox. McDaniel had 22 saves and 12 wins for 34 points, Fornieles nine saves and 10 wins for 19 points, one more than Gerry Staley of the White Sox.

Initially, to earn a save, the reliever had to come in with the tying or winning run on base or at the plate and finish the game With the lead. The following season, the degree of difficulty lessened: a two-run lead was sufficient.

The Baseball Writers Association of America appointed me the chairman of a committee to approach the Official Scoring Rules Committee to make it an official rule and include it in the box scores.

I had kept the unofficial figures for nine years and during this period did a weekly story for The Sporting News along with a running list of the leaders. I bowed out in 1969 when the save was officially adopted and haven’t been involved since.

It was baseball’s first new major statistic since the run batted in was added in 1920. I knew it was a significant advance but never realized it would escalate to the current proportions. Also, it didn’t occur to me that the managers would twist the rule and summon only their best reliever in save situations.

Several years ago, when Johnny Oates was managing the Baltimore Orioles, he Bill Campbell won the first two firemen of the year awards in the AL for two different clubs.discovered I had originated the save.

“You changed the game,” Oates said. “You created the ninth-inning pitcher.”

I told him it was the managers who did it, not me. Instead of bringing in their best reliever when the game was on the line, in the seventh or eighth inning, which had been the practice in the past, they saved him for the ninth. The late Dick Howser and Tony LaRussa were mostly responsible for this change in strategy.

 

ROLAIDS RELIEF CHAMPIONS OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

NATIONAL LEAGUE

 

Year     Pitcher, Team                Svs     W1976     Rawley Eastwick, Reds        26     11

1977     Rollie Fingers, Padres       35      8

1978     Rollie Fingers, Padres       37      6

1979     Bruce Sutter, Cubs           37      6

1980     Rollie Fingers, Padres       23     11

1981     Bruce Sutter, Cardinals      25      3

1982     Bruce Sutter, Cardinals      36      9

1983     Al Holland, Phillies         25      8

1984     Bruce Sutter, Cardinals      45      5

1985     Jeff Reardon, Expos          41      2

1986     Todd Worrell, Cardinals      36      9

1987     Steve Bedrosian, Phillies    40      5

1988     John Franco, Reds            39      6

1989     Mark Davis, Padres           44      4

1990     John Franco, Mets            33      5

1991     Lee Smith, Cardinals         47      6

1992     Lee Smith, Cardinals         43      4

1993     Randy Myers, Cubs            53      2

1994     Rod Beck, Giants             28      2

1995     Tom Henke, Cardinals         36      1

1996     Jeff Brantley, Reds          44      1

1997     Jeff Shaw, Reds              42      4

1998     Trevor Hoffman, Padres       53      4

1999     Billy Wagner, Astros         39      4

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Year     Pitcher, Team                Svs     W1976     Bill Campbell, Twins         20     17

1977     Bill Campbell, Red Sox       31     13

1978     Goose Gossage, Yankees       27     10

1979     Jim Kern, Rangers            29     13

1980     Dan Quisenberry, Royals      33     12

1981     Rollie Fingers, Brewers      28      6

1982     Dan Quisenberry, Royals      35      9

1983     Dan Quisenberry, Royals      45      5

1984     Dan Quisenberry, Royals      44      6

1985     Dan Quisenberry, Royals      37      8

1986     Dave Righetti, Yankees       46      8

1987     Dave Righetti, Yankees       31      8

1988     Dennis Eckersley, A's        45      4

1989     Jeff Russell, Rangers        38      6

1990     Bobby Thigpen, White Sox     57      4

1991     Bryan Harvey, Angels         46      2

1992     Dennis Eckersley, A's        51      7

1993     Jeff Montgomery, Royals      45      7

1994     Lee Smith, Orioles           33      1

1995     Jose Mesa, Indians           46      3

1996     John Wetteland, Yankees      43      2

1997     Randy Myers, Orioles         45      2

1998     Tom Gordon, Red Sox          46      7

1999     Mariano Rivera, Yankees      45      4
Chicago's legendary sports writer Jerome Holtzman passed away on July 19, 2008 at age 81.
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