When Bruce Sutter became the first pure reliever ever elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Jan. 10, one and perhaps two names were missing from the Class of 2006 — Goosage and Smith.
If the baseball writers had decided that this was the year to allow a premier reliever into Cooperstown, they should have considered a trifecta.
Sutter, a six-time All-Star and the 1979 Cy Young winner, received 400 votes, or 76.9%. Players need at least 75% to make the Hall. Rich “Goose” Gossage was third with 64.6%, and Lee Smith was sixth with 45.0%.
The numbers, and baseball about stats more than any other sport, show that these three were almost too similar to separate.
In 12 seasons with three teams, Sutter won 68 and lost 71. He saved 300 games in his 661 appearances, all in relief. He struck out 861 batters in 1,042 innings and posted a 2.83 earned run average.
Gossage pitched for in 1,002 games over 23 seasons, posting a 124-107 record with 310 saves, 1,502 strikeouts over 1,809 1/3 innings and a 3.03 ERA. Gossage wins the longevity and winning percentage vote; Sutter wins the saves/season vote. Their strikeouts per innings pitched ratio is the same at 0.83.
‘Goose’ is best remembered for his time with the New York Yankees, including a World Series championship in 1978, but consider this four-year run:
1975 – 26 saves for Chicago White Sox
1976 – 9-17, 3.94 ERA, 15 complete games and 224 innings in 29 starts for White Sox
1977 – 11-9, 26 saves for Pittsburgh Pirates
1978 – 10-11, 27 saves for Yankees
Today’s closers average about one inning per appearance. Gossage averaged 1.8 innings per appearance.
In comments posted on mlb.com, “I just don’t get it. I’m at a loss for words,” Gossage told the New York Post after being informed he hadn’t garnered enough votes in his seventh year on the ballot. “I just can’t believe Sutter got in before me.
“He deserved it. I was hoping Sutter and I could go in together. … I don’t know if I ever will make it.”
He might not. At least not for a while. Although Gossage’s vote total was up nine points from the 55% favorable mention he received last year, next year will be the time for Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. to be enshrined. There are other players with big credentials too, like Mark McGwire, Paul O’Neill and Jose Canseco, plus returning folks like Jim Rice and Andre Dawson.
Smith, meanwhile, pitched for just about every Major League Baseball team, including the Montreal Expos. He owns the all-time record for saves with 478. In 18 seasons (1980-1997), he was 71-92 with a 3.03 ERA over 1,289 1/3 innings in 1,022 games. With 1,251 strikeouts, he averaged 0.97 Ks per inning, better than even Mariano Rivera‘s 0.90 average.
Sutter deserved to be elected, but this was the year to elect one of his peers with comparable stats (Gossage) and the all-time saves leader (Smith). There’s a good chance neither will see this opportunity again.