Results tagged ‘ Willie Hernandez ’

Nov. 25, 1981: Rollie Fingers becomes first relief pitcher in AL history to win MVP

Bielefeld_90.jpgBy Bridget Bielefeld

When Oakland A’s manager Dick Williams sent Rollie Fingers to the bullpen in 1971 after several sub-par outings as a starter, Fingers thought his short major league run had come to an end.

“Williams threw me out to the bullpen and I thought: ‘Well that’s the end of that,’” Fingers said in an interview with the New York Post. “My baseball career was over. I figured the handwriting was on the wall.”

11-25-09-Bielefeld_Fingers.jpg“No kid ever dreams of being a reliever,” Fingers further explained. “Everybody wants to be a starter, and I was no different.”

However, the transition proved to be a blessing in disguise for Fingers – who, during his 17-year major league career with the A’s, Padres and Brewers, became one of the greatest relief pitchers the game has ever seen.

The pinnacle of his illustrious bullpen career came 28 years ago today when, on Nov. 25, 1981, just days after winning his first Cy Young Award, Fingers became only the second relief pitcher in major league history to win a Most Valuable Player Award and the first to do so in the American League.

In his 14th year in the majors, Fingers posted a 6-3 record, racked up an AL leading 28 saves and sported an infinitesimal 1.04 ERA. Utilizing his fastball and sharp slider, he struck out 61 men while walking only 13 in 78 innings pitched.

Fingers was especially dominant in the second half of the ’81 season. After the Brewers got off to a lackluster start, the club rallied, emerging as second half champions and climbing to first place in the AL East.

11-25-09-Bielefeld_Chart.jpg“He’s the type of pitcher who has command of all of his pitches,” said former Brewers skipper Rene Lachemann, who managed Fingers in 1984. “He knows he’s going to get [batters] out. He gives me a lot of confidence when he’s out there.”

While the 1981 Brewers would ultimately lose in the AL Division Series, Fingers was no stranger to October success. In his career, he pitched in 16 World Series games – winning three consecutive titles with the Athletics from 1972-74.

When Fingers retired in 1985, he was the all-time saves king with 341. Today, he is 10th on the all-time list.

Fingers, along with his famed handlebar mustache, was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1992. Shortly after his enshrinement in Cooperstown, the Brewers retired No. 34 – Fingers’ jersey number – to commemorate his four-year tenure with the team and his MVP accomplishment.

Bridget Bielefeld was the 2009 public relations intern at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Nov. 18, 1966: Koufax calls it quits

Lawrence_90.jpgBy Thomas Lawrence

When Sandy Koufax called it quits 43 years ago today — Nov. 18, 1966 — he ended a six-year run that scouts only dream about.

It was a six-year run good enough for a place in Cooperstown.

11-18-09-Lawrence_Koufax.jpgKoufax, who grew up in Brooklyn playing in the city’s “Ice Cream Leagues,” debuted with his hometown Dodgers in 1955. He posted five wins and a 3.02 ERA in his rookie year. The powerful lefty averaged only six wins per year for the first half of his career, but in 1961 Koufax began quite possibly the most impressive six-year span for a pitcher.

Koufax led the bigs in wins in 1963 (25), 1965 (26) and 1966 (27). His average ERA during his tyranny on National League hitters was an exceptional 1.99.

“I can see how he won 25 games,” said Hall of Famer Yogi Berra of Koufax’s 1963 season. “What I don’t understand is how he lost five.”

In 1963, Koufax also became just the second pitcher to ever take home an MVP and a Cy Young in the same season – after Don Newcombe did it with Brooklyn in the first year of the Cy Young award of 1956. Only six have earned that dual honor since (Vida Blue, Roger Clemens, Willie HernŠndez, Denny McLain and Hall of Famers Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers and Bob Gibson).

And it wasn’t just soft-hitting utility men that had trouble with the mighty southpaw. Try a Hall of Famer with 475 career home runs.

“Hitting against Sandy Koufax is like drinking coffee with a fork,” said Pirates’ slugger Willie Stargell.

11-18-09-Lawrence_KoufaxNoHitters.jpgHarry Hooper, a four-time champion with the early 20th century Red Sox, echoed Stargell’s sentiments.

“You name a better left-hander in the history of baseball and I’ll eat my hat,” he said, referring to Koufax.

Koufax also became the first pitcher to reach four career no-hitters on Sept. 25, 1965, surpassing Larry Corcoran, Cy Young and Bob Feller. He is also one of only six pitchers to toss a perfect game and a regular no-hitter, along with Young, Jim Bunning, Addie Joss, Randy Johnson and the newest member Mark Buehrle.

It was severe arthritis in the once-in-a-generation left arm of Koufax that led to the demise of his young career. In fact, in April of 1966 Koufax was told that he couldn’t go another season, but he did – winning a career high 27 games with a career-best 1.73 ERA.

“Sandy pitches in extreme pain that can only be overcome by his motivational urge,” said team physician Dr. Robert Kerlan, according to an article in the New York World-Telegram and Sun.

11-18-09-Lawrence_Chart.jpgAnd despite this mental resolve that allowed the vaunted ace to pitch through immense pain, he was a gentleman of the highest order.

“There is hardly a strong enough word for the way the other players feel about Koufax,” said Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post. “It almost goes beyond affection… for a man so gentle he seems misplaced in a jock shop.”

Koufax was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972, just the 10th player (at the time) to be inducted in his first year of eligibility.

Thomas Lawrence was the 2009 publications intern at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

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