Oh, What a Relief: Marshall Bridges
The career of left-handed reliever Marshall Bridges was nearly as quick as his formidable fastball. During the 1962 season, he was the ace of the New York Yankees’ bullpen.
This Week in 1960s Baseball
The winning pitcher was Luis Arroyo (13-3).
The Yankees took a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the first inning on home runs from Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra. New York added another run in the fifth inning on Bobby Richardson’s two-out RBI single. Continue reading
This Week in 1960s Baseball
(September 25, 1960) After one year’s absence from the World Series in 1959, the New York Yankees clinched a return ticket to the Fall Classic with a 4-3 victory over the Boston Red Sox that made the Yankees the American League champions for 1960.
The Yankees broke a scoreless tie with three runs in the top of the third inning, including a two-RBI single by Roger Maris. The Red Sox came back in the bottom of the same inning, when a single by Vic Wertz scored Pumpsie Green and Willie Tasby. Ted Williams was thrown out at home to end the inning.
Boston rallied in the bottom of the ninth. With two runners on and two outs, Frank Malzone singled to center field to score Tasby, chasing Terry out of a complete game. The Yankees brought in their relief ace, Luis Arroyo, who got Pete Runnels to pop out to second baseman Bobby Richardson. That pennant-clinching out gave Arroyo his sixth save for that season.
It also gave Yankees manager Casey Stengel his tenth – and last – pennant as a manager.
Glancing Back, and Remembering Hoyt Wilhelm
It’s probably the most unhittable pitch in baseball (with apologies to any pitch ever thrown by Sandy Koufax). And it may be the most unpitchable.
The knuckleball is slow, it doesn’t rotate, and it doesn’t offer many clues as to where it will end up. But one pitcher, more than any, is associated with the knuckleball, and was such a master of its unpredictability that it floated him all the way to Cooperstown.
Hoyt Wilhelm broke into the major leagues with the New York Giants in 1952 – as a 29-year-old rookie. That year he led the National League in winning percentage (.833 on a 15-3 record), in games pitched (71, all in relief) and in earned run average (2.43). In his first major league at-bat, he hit a home run (the only one of his career).
For more than two decades thereafter, Wilhelm remained one of the game’s most durable and productive relievers. He entered the 1960s in the middle of a five-year stretch with the Baltimore Orioles. After a brief stint as a starter for the Orioles (in his fourth major league start, he pitched a no-hitter), Wilhelm recorded 33 saves over the next two years, second best in the American League to Luis Arroyo’s 36. Then he was traded to the Chicago White Sox in the deal that brought Luis Aparicio to the Orioles. In six years with Chicago, Wilhelm appeared in 361 games for the White Sox, all but three as a reliever. He saved 98 games, with an ERA of 1.92 for the six years combined. Wilhelm closed out the 1960s by splitting the 1969 season between the California Angels and the Atlanta Braves, with a total of 14 saves and a combined ERA of 2.19.
Throughout the 1960s, no relief pitcher was as consistently effective as Wilhelm. During those 10 years, he won 75 games and saved 152 more, with an ERA of 2.19 for the decade. His career lasted two years beyond the 1960s, with his retirement after the 1971 season at age 48. His 1,070 career appearances were the major league record at the time Wilhelm called it quits.
Today Wilhelm still ranks fifth in most career games by a pitcher. He remains the all-time major league leader in career wins in relief (124) and career innings pitched in relief (1,871). Opponents’ career batting average against Wilhelm was only .216, lower than batters’ career averages against fellow Hall-of-Famers Tom Seaver (.226), Catfish Hunter (.231) and Rollie Fingers (.235).
Oh, What a Relief: Luis Arroyo
During the 1961 season, Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s hallowed home run record. But it was a left-handed reliever named Luis Arroyo who changed the game forever.
Arroyo didn’t invent the save. And he didn’t invent the role of closer. What he did – through his spectacular season of 1961 – was demonstrate what a dedicated closer could be for a pennant contender: indispensable.
Elevating the Role of Reliever
At the beginning of the 1960s, the measure of a pitcher was how effective he was as a starter: how many wins, how many innings, how many complete games. Aces pitched complete games, and occasionally relieved. And while baseball in the early 1960s had its share of successful relief specialists such as Hoyt Wilhelm, Roy Face, Stu Miller and Lindy McDaniel, any reliever could be used at practically any point in the game for as many innings or outs as needed.
The closer just happened to be guy who got the last out.
Arroyo more than any other pitcher changed that, and set baseball on the course where single-inning set-up pitchers and single-batter specialists became as integral as they are in today’s game. Arroyo’s spectacular dominance during the 1961 season established the prototype for the “closer,” the relief pitcher whose job was to get the critical final outs that preserved victory. The closer became a strategic pitching weapon rather than a late-inning after-thought.
Out of the Bullpen, Out of Nowhere …
Little in Arroyo’s career prior to 1961 suggested that his pitching in that season would be so effective and game-changing. He toiled in the minor leagues for 6 seasons. In his first 4 major league seasons – pitching for the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds – Arroyo posted a combined record of 18-22 with a 4.42 ERA and only one save in 117 appearances. Eleven of those victories came as a Cardinals rookie in 1955.
On July 20 of 1960, Arroyo was purchased by the New York Yankees. Both his effectiveness as a reliever, and his career, improved dramatically with that change of franchise. Over the second half of the 1960 season, Arroyo appeared in 29 games for the Yankees – all in relief – going 5-1 with a 2.88 ERA and seven saves.
The 1961 season was when Arroyo showed the baseball world what the role and value of a closer could be. Arroyo pitched in 65 games and finished 54 of them, the most in the major leagues in both categories. Arroyo also set a major league record with 29 saves, while compiling a 15-5 record with a 2.19 ERA. He finished sixth in the balloting for Most Valuable Player.
Arroyo’s stay in excellence would be short-lived. He developed a sore arm during the next spring and was limited to only 27 appearances in 1962 and six in 1963 before retiring. He finished with a career record of 40-32 with a 3.93 ERA.
Prior to 1960, the major league record for saves in a season was 27, shared by Joe Page (1949) and Ellis Kinder (1953). Major league pitchers had posted 20 or more saves in a season only nine times, with McDaniel (26) and Face (24) both accomplishing the feat in 1960. After Arroyo, the floodgates were opened. Through the rest of the 1960s, 39 times pitchers recorded seasons of 20 or more saves. Ted Abernathy cracked the 30-save barrier in 1965 when he notched 31.
Arroyo’s record lasted only four seasons. His impact remains greater than ever.