Engber: Who made that relief pitcher?

From Daniel Engber at the New York Times on April 18, 2014, with mention of SABR members Peter Morris and John Thorn:

In April 1903, a writer for Sporting Life described what might have been a baseball first: “Manager McGraw has originated a new plan,” the paper said, referring to John McGraw, the successful skipper of the New York Giants. “He will use two pitchers in every game, one being in the points five innings and the other four. No manager but one who has originality and nerve would attempt any such innovation, but McGraw has both.”

The team soon abandoned this idea, wrote Peter Morris, author of “A Game of Inches: The Stories Behind the Innovations That Shaped Baseball.” But in the years that followed, McGraw did find a way to reorganize his roster. Some pitchers would be called upon to start games; others would specialize in finishing.

Until the 1910s, most teams used relievers only when they had to and assigned the role to the pitcher who was most effective over all. “The relief pitcher tended to be your best pitcher,” said John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball. That is to say, a No. 1 starter doubled as a No. 1 reliever. Because changing pitchers was uncommon — teams did it only once every seven games or so — there hadn’t been much thought of making relief work a standing gig.

Read the full article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/20/magazine/who-made-that-relief-pitcher.html

Originally published: April 18, 2014. Last Updated: April 18, 2014.