Relievers have always been the red-headed stepchildren of Major League Baseball. They never get the credit they deserve and for the most part are left out of the Hall of Fame. It’s argued that their impact on a game is much like a 9th inning pinch hitter. The problem with that analogy is that the greatest pinch hitters fail 70% of the time. If a closer fails 70% they would be in the minors quick as a wink.
Starters get all the fame and fortune while closers, who can actually dictate the outcome of a game more than a starter, are the guys that get left out in the cold. A save is about as rare as a home run, except a save will 100% of the time win a game for you, while a homer more than likely will not. So since there is a 500 club for home run hitters, why can’t there be a 500 club for closers? A number that practically guarantees enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.
The short list of names in this club are Trevor Hoffman (601 saves) and Mariano Rivera (600 saves as of last night). These two deserve to be in the Hall of Fame, and while it might be a lock for Rivera, the same cannot be said for Trevor Hoffman, whose career has been every bit as dominant as Rivera’s has.
For years the argument was to let in Lee Smith (478 saves), but the bang against Smith was that he wasn’t considered a dominant closer like Hoffman or Rivera. Next would be John Franco (424 saves), again a very good closer but not Hall of Fame material. Finally Billy Wagner (422 saves) rounds out the top 5 and he is in the same class as the other two, very good but not great.
The truth is if you look down the list of career save leaders, you will notice that even most active players have no shot at closing 500+ games. Jason Isringhausen (300 saves), Francisco Cordero (322 saves) and Joe Nathan (260 saves) are all over 36 years old and their best days are behind them. Even young guns like K-Rod (291 saves, 30 years old) and Jonathan Papelbon (217 saves, 29 years old) have little shot to enter the 500 save club. In fact the youngest guy in the top 100 is Joakim Soria (160 saves, 27 years old) will have a difficult time closing 500+ games.
I know my idea of a 500 save club gaining automatic entry into the Hall of Fame is a difficult pill to swallow, but with two players finishing out their career and getting ready to be added to the Hall of Fame ballot, both should be first ballot Hall of Famers. The question becomes will they? As unfathomable as it sounds I think Jeff Bagwell has a better chance of first ballot entry, not to take anything away from Bags, but he never affected a game like Hoffman or Rivera did.
As for a hobby take on this, Hoffman’s autograph can be had for between $15 – $30 while Mariano’s autograph is going to set you back between $100 – $150 (although there is a 1997 Leaf autograph that sells consistently around $50). I would consider both of them to be must owned autographs and wait until Hoffman is enshrined, his autograph should double in value.
What do you think about the 500 save club gaining automatic entry into the Hall of Fame? Are these guys first ballot Hall of Famers?