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. 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-season 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 Sox. 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 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
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
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.