How can a Pitcher get credited with a Save when he never shook the Catcher’s hand after the final out of the inning and the game wasn’t actually over? In August of 2013, the Tigers Bruce Rondon came on in relief against the Indians in the top of the 7th inning protecting a 5-2 Tigers lead. After allowing one hit and then getting the final out of the inning, he calmly walked to the dugout. The Tigers proceeded to score two additional runs in the bottom of the 7th and eventually, the game was called after seven innings due to rain. Opening up the newspaper the following morning, the box score of the game shows Rondon getting his first Save of the season! How would you like to lose your Fantasy Baseball League by one point in the Saves category?
When the founding fathers of Rotisserie baseball included a “Saves” category back in the early 80’s, they probably didn’t anticipate the type of angst that would be cascading down on the owners of Fantasy teams. In the original 4×4 format, an established closer could cost more than 10% of your roster’s budget at the Draft table. Maybe even more challenging, however, is the changing landscape that is part of the quest for Saves. Lets see a show of hands for all the experts who were spending mid-July targeting Roberto Osuna, Sean Doolittle, Kirby Yates, Ken Giles, Ian Kennedy and Wade Davis.
Saves didn’t become an official stat until 1969 and now, in the age of specialization, it isn’t uncommon to see Closers save 30, 40 or even 50 games. It certainly wasn’t like that in the 1950’s & 60’s, but thanks to baseball-reference.com and other baseball researchers, the history of Saves can now be tracked back over the last hundred years of baseball. For today’s baseball card collecting adventure, we’ll find the rookie cards of the Saves leader for each of the 20 seasons prior to the official birth of Saves in 1969. As always, the card values are based on “Near Mint” (NM 7) condition.
> 1949 – Joe Page, Yankees, 27 Saves – This tall lefthander was a starting pitcher when he first joined New York in the mid-40’s but became the last guy in the bullpen in 1947. To illustrate how the role has changed, he appeared in 60 games, finishing 48, with 135 IP and 13 Wins. Not an unsung hero, he also finished 3rd in the AL MVP balloting. This workload, however, took a heavy toll and his career was essentially over after 1950. His rookie card is from 1948 Bowman (#29) and books for $75.
> 1950 – Jim Konstanty, Phillies, 22 Saves – Philadelphia won the NL Pennant and Casimir James Konstanty was a major contributor. When you digest his stats, it is clear to see why he won the NL MVP…appeared in 74 games, finishing 62 of them!! Pitched 152 innings and had 16 Wins to go along with his Save total. You can find his rookie card in the 1950 Bowman set (#226) with a value of $50.
> 1951 – Ellis Kinder, Red Sox, 14 Saves – Nicknamed “Old Folks”, he was an excellent starting pitcher for four seasons prior to moving to the bullpen in ’51. In 1949, for example, he went 23-6 and led the AL with 6 shutouts. His performance in this season was amazing and included an 11-2 record in 127 IP while finishing 41 games. The 1950 Bowman set is also home to Kinder’s rookie card (#152) and it books for $30.
> 1952 – Al Brazle, Cardinals, 16 Saves – “Cotton” was another starting pitcher from the late 40’s who transitioned to the bullpen. He even started 6 games in this season and went 12-5 for the year. The 1949 Bowman set has his rookie card (#126) and $30 will add it to your collection.
> 1953 – Ellis Kinder, Red Sox, 27 Saves – Still effective at age 38, this tied Page’s record for the most Saves in a season. He also led the AL with 69 games pitched and 51 games finished. Oh, and his ERA was 1.85!
> 1954 – Jim Hughes, Dodgers, 24 Saves – A journeyman who didn’t get to the majors until age 29, he also led the NL with 60 appearances. His 1953 Topps card (#216) books for $45.
> 1955 – Ray Narleski, Indians, 19 Saves – The starting rotation was Early Wynn, Herb Score, Bob Lemon & Mike Garcia with a spot starter named Bob Feller. This slender right-hander also led the league with 60 appearances and added a 9-1 record. His 1955 Topps card (#160) is worth $45.
> 1956 – Clem Labine, Dodgers, 19 Saves – The “Boys of Summer” had a great staff and this veteran closed the door by finishing 47 games. His rookie card is the jewel of this collection, as it comes from the high-numbered run of the famous 1952 Topps set (#342) and books for $415.
> 1957 – Bob Grim, Yankees, 19 Saves – The 1954 AL Rookie of the Year award winner when he went 20-6, Grim transitioned to the bullpen and added a 12-8 record to this All-Star season. The 1955 Bowman rookie card (#167) is worth $45.
> 1958 – Ryne Duren, Yankees , 20 Saves – Sort of a cross between Ricky Vaughn and Nuke Laloosh, this hard-thrower wore eyeglasses that looked like Coke bottles and always threw his first warm-up pitch all the way to the back-stop. He finished 2nd in the Rookie of the Year race and had 87 K’s in 75 IP. His 1958 Topps card (#296) can be found for about $25.
> 1959 – Turk Lown, White Sox, 15 Saves – Actually, a three-way tie with NL leaders Lindy McDaniel & Don McMahon, we’ll stick with Omar Joseph Lown. He led the NL in games finished for ’56 & ’57 with the Cubs and then went cross-town to the Pale Hose. He added 9 Wins in this stellar season for a 35 year-old. His 1952 Topps rookie card is also from the scarce series (#330) and books for $300.
> 1960 – Lindy McDaniel, Cardinals, 26 Saves – He and his Brother Von both pitched for the Redbirds in the 1950’s. This outstanding season included a 12-4 record and a 3rd place finish in the Cy Young voting. Led the NL in Saves again in 1963. His rookie card is from 1957 Topps (#79) and books for $20.
> 1961 – Luis Arroyo, Yankees, 29 Saves – Not the prototypical closer at 5″ 8″, he had one of the greatest bullpen seasons ever for the pennant winning Bronx Bombers. Led the league with 65 appearances and 54 games finished while adding 15 Wins in 119 IP. Two years later, his career was over. The 1956 Topps set has his rookie card (#64) and it is valued at $25.
> 1962 – Roy Face, Pirates, 28 Saves – Another diminutive relief pitcher, this was the 3rd time Elroy led the NL in Saves. And that’s in addition to his 18-1 record in 1959. His rookie card from the 1953 Topps set (#246) will set you back $155.
> 1963 – Stu Miller, Orioles, 27 Saves – A consistently good closer for both the Giants & O’s in the 1960’s, his stats for this year included league-leading totals of 71 appearances and 59 games finished. His 1953 Topps card (#183) is worth $40.
> 1964 – Dick Radatz, Red Sox, 29 Saves – Considered by some as the first of the modern closers, he was intimidating at 6″ 6″ and his nickname was “The Monster”. Groomed as a closer, he finished 3rd in the ROY balloting in ’62 when he accumulated 24 Saves & 9 Wins. If you ever want a relief pitcher season for your historical Rotisserie roster, this is it…in addition to the Saves, 16 Wins and 181 K’s in 157 IP. Not surprisingly, after pitching 538 innings in his first four campaigns, he was “toast”. The 1962 Topps rookie card (#591) can be yours for about $60.
> 1965 – Ted Abernathy, Cubs, 31 Saves – A “sidearm” hurler since hurting his arm in High School, he had 84 appearances and 62 games finished for the Cubbies. His 1957 Topps card (#293) books for $35.
> 1966 – Jack Aker, Athletics, 32 Saves – Nicknamed “Chief”, he pitched for 11 seasons but never matched this particular performance. 57 games finished and a 1.99 ERA in 113 IP tells the tale. His 1966 Topps card (#287) is worth $10.
> 1967 – Ted Abernathy, Reds, 28 Saves – Another great season, this time in Cincinnati. Led the league again with 70 appearances and 61 games finished.
> 1968 – Phil Regan, Cubs, 25 Saves – Actually started the season with the Dodgers but had all the Saves for the Cubbies. Acquired “The Vulture” as his nickname in Los Angeles when he went 14-1 out of the bullpen in ’66 behind Koufax, Drysdale, Osteen & Sutton. His 1961 Topps card (#439) is valued at $10.
There you have it…the 20 leaders of the unofficial category before Ron Perranoski of the Twins topped the leader board in 1969. Hope you enjoyed the history lesson.