Inventing the closer.
The 1960s saw the arrival of the relief specialist as an essential part of a major league team’s winning strategy.
No longer just the “mop up” guy, the relief specialist brought a different mind-set and pitching strategy to the game. The adoption of the “save” as an official baseball statistic in 1969 (though saves were being unofficially calculated and published as early as 1960) confirmed the value and unique role of the closer.
Here’s my rundown of the top 10 relief pitchers of the 1960s, based on a combination of their closing effectiveness and overall pitching performance in terms of strikeouts and ERA.
1. Hoyt Wilhelm – Riding his trademark knuckleball all the way to Cooperstown, Hoyt Wilhelm was a dominating pitcher for 21 years, and a reliever almost exclusively for all but a couple of those years. Throughout the 1960s, he won 75 games and saved 152 more, with an ERA of 2.19 for the decade. Today Wilhelm remains the all-time major league leader in career relief wins (124) and career innings pitched in relief (1,871).
2. Dick Radatz - During his short career, Dick Radatz more than any other pitcher redefined the role of reliever. During his rookie season with the Boston Red Sox in 1962, Radatz appeared in 62 games, going 9-6 with a 2.24 ERA, striking out 144 batters in 124 innings pitched, and leading the major leagues with 24 saves. His dominance continued over the next 2 seasons. In 1963, Radatz finished 58 of the 66 games he appeared in, going 15-6 with a 1.97 ERA and 25 saves. That year he struck out 162 batters in only 132 innings. In 1964, Radatz led the majors with 29 saves, finishing 67 games in 79 appearances, and posting a 16-9 record with a 2.29 ERA. He struck out 181 batters in 157 innings pitched.
3. Ron Perranoski – Ron Perranoski established himself as the Dodgers’ closer in 1962, appearing in 70 games and finishing 39 of them, with 20 saves and a 2.85 ERA. In 1963, Perranoski had a career year, with a 16-3 record and 21 saves with a 1.67 earned run average. Over the next 4 years, Perranoski appeared in 256 games for the Dodgers, saving 54 with a 2.73 ERA. He was traded to the Minnesota Twins following the 1967 season, and saved 65 games for the Twins over the next two years, leading the American League in that category both seasons.
4. Roy Face – Roy Face’s best season came in 1959, when he set the major league record for winning percentage (.947) on an 18-1 record. But he was also a consistently effective reliever throughout the 1960s. In 1960, Face went 10-8 for the world champion Pittsburgh Pirates, with 24 saves and a 2.90 ERA on a league-leading total of 68 appearances. He led the league again in saves in 1961 (17) and in 1962 (28), when he had the lowest ERA of his career (1.88). Face continued pitching for Pittsburgh through the 1967 season, and pitched for Detroit and Montreal before retiring toward the end of the 1969 season. In his 16-year career, Face posted a 3.48 ERA while accumulating 193 saves pitching in 848 games.
5. Phil Regan – Phil Regan is an example of a sometimes effective starter who found great success in relief work. As a starter for the Detroit Tigers from 1960 to 1965, Regan went 42-44 with a 4.50 ERA. As a reliever for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs from 1966 to 1969, Regan went 44-21 with a 2.60 ERA and 69 saves. His best year was 1966, when he went 14-1 for the Dodgers with a 1.62 ERA and a league-leading 21 saves. He also led the league with 25 saves in 1968, splitting a 12-5 season between the Dodgers and the Cubs.
6. Stu Miller – Stu Miller was the pitcher who was allegedly blown off the mound by a gust of wind during the 1961 All-Star Game in Candlestick Park. He was also a pretty good reliever for much of the 1960s. The National League ERA leader in 1958 (2.47), his best season was 1961, when he won 14 games in relief, saved 17 (NL best) and posted a 2.66 ERA for the San Francisco Giants. Traded to the Baltimore Orioles in 1963, Miller responded by leading the majors in saves (27) and appearances (71) while posting a 2.24 ERA. In 5 seasons with the Orioles, Miller won 38 games in relief, and saved 100, with a combined ERA of 2.37.
7. Lindy McDaniel - Lindy McDaniel pitched for 4 teams during the 1960s. One of the most underrated pitchers of his era, McDaniel led the National League in saves 3 times, collecting 141 victories and 172 saves over his 21-season career.
8. John Wyatt – John Wyatt was the Kansas City Athletics’ closer from 1962 to 1965, winning 27 games while saving 70 for one of the league’s worst teams. He led the American League with 81 appearances in 1964. Traded to the Boston Red Sox in 1966, he had the chance to show what he could do for a winning team, and delivered, saving 20 games for the pennant-winning Bosox in 1967 with a 10-7 record and a 2.60 earned run average.
9. Eddie Fisher – Eddie Fisher was a spot starter who found limited major league success until he learned the secrets of the knuckleball from Chicago White Sox teammate Hoyt Wilhelm. Then, as a relief specialist, Fisher’s pitching numbers improved dramatically. His best season was 1965, when he went 15-7 for the White Sox with a 2.40 ERA and 24 saves in 80 appearances.
10. Luis Arroyo - Luis Arroyo was a sub-.500 pitcher until he became a relief specialist. In 1961, pitching for the New York Yankees, Arroyo led the majors in appearances (65), games finished (59) and saves (29), while going 15-5 with a 2.19 ERA.