Wednesday, May 7, 2008


Every few months or so Sports Illustrated or ESPN or FOX Sports or some other national sports network comes out with bogus lists that are designed to do nothing more than fill space. Things like the best ballparks in baseball, the best sports towns in America, the greatest living left handed pinch hitters, greatest rivalry between directional schools in college football 1-AA, and so on and so forth. I usually don't get bogged down in those things because they are usually worth little more than the time it takes to read them. They put them out there so idiots like me will gripe and complain that their pet team, player, era, sport, city, or whatever isn't number 1. Of course there's bias, of course current and recent players often win out over older players, of course the east coast always wins out over the rest of the nation. And of course they throw garbage out there to get people all up in arms.

Case in point, Sports Illustrated has come out with their Best Baseball Players by Number. A great big time waste until you get to #42. Who is considered the greatest #42 by this group of drooling morons? Oh, Jackie Robinson, right? The man for whom the number was retired by all baseball. Who broke the color barrier. Who played two years of negro league ball before even an opportunity to play minor league baseball. Of course not! It's Mariano freakin' Rivera! A closer! A man who usually plays in about a third of the games his team plays. And of those games he plays 1/9 of the innings actually played. He can throw everything he has for 1 inning and goes out there usually with a lead. There's no doubt that Rivera is a great pitcher (although I'd like to see what he can do two times through a lineup) and he has a great postseason track record. But I'm naturally skeptical of closers. I agree that the 27th out is the hardest to get, but most closers these days throw as hard as they can for 4-5 batters, usually with a lead. They have to have strong personality no doubt, but you only need one out pitch, and for Rivera, it's a cut fastball that rides in on players, resulting in a lot of broken bats. It's a great pitch that has lasted him for almost 15 years.

But any discussion about the who is #42 in baseball history begins and ends with Jackie Robinson, perhaps the most important player in baseball history. The only one that might have something to say about that is Babe Ruth who almost single handedly rescued baseball after the Black Sox scandal.

So I've fallen into SI's trap. I talked about their stupid list. Idiots.

Update: I'm an idiot. It turns out only one moron at SI thought Mariano Rivera was a better representative for #42. Bryan Graham who I've never heard of but needs to just stop writing right away. His argument is that because Robinson's stats aren't as great as other players of the era, but did any other player of the era have to put up with the stress of what he had to deal with as the first African-American major league baseball player? Because of society's ignorance and baseball unwritten rules, Robinson didn't get to his start in MLB when he was 28! Those were leading into his prime years.

The bigger question I have is this: are closers in the era overrated? As I said earlier, they pitch in about 1/3 of the teams games, of those games they usually pitch only one inning, and they usually have the lead when they come in. In the 1998 season, the Yankees best team record wise with 114-48 and a World Series win, his numbers were 3-0 and 36 saves in 54 appearances. He had a direct hand is 34% of the teams wins and APPEARED in exactly 1/3 of the teams games anyway!

So what do you think? Closers overrated?

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