Grierson: A look back at the sports writer who invented the save stat

From Tim Grierson at MEL Magazine on May 1, 2018, with mention of SABR member David Fletcher:

This summer will be the 10th anniversary of Jerome Holtzman’s death. When I mention this to people who knew him — his colleagues, his coworkers, even his son — they’re always taken aback. “It hasn’t been 10 years? Is that true?” actor and entrepreneur Jack Merrill says about his father’s passing. “I can’t believe it’s been 10 years.” Holtzman, generally considered one of the greatest sportswriters to cover the game of baseball, died July 19, 2008, at the age of 82 from a stroke — a fact confirmed to the New York Times for its obituary by Merrill, who also helped plan his old man’s memorial service in Chicago, a city where he was a legend among fans of both the Cubs and the White Sox. “I made a big speech at the service,” Merrill remembers. “I made sure that there was some sort of legacy for him.”

Similar eulogies came pouring in from former editors and rivals, Holtzman’s longevity, love of the game and colorful presence all fondly recalled. He had a nickname — The Dean — and reputation as a kingmaker. (Lewis Grizzard, who worked with him at the Chicago Sun-Times memorably declared, “He never smiled, but he had the keys to Cooperstown. No major leaguer ever got into the Hall of Fame if Holtzman didn’t want him there.”) Known for his omnipresent suspenders, bushy eyebrows and cigar, Holtzman wrote about baseball for more than 50 years, many of them during the game’s supposed golden age, and his 1974 book No Cheering in the Press Box, a collection of interviews with famous sportswriters, is considered a classic.

But what he’s best known for, arguably, is his creation in 1959 of the save stat, the first official new baseball statistic since the introduction of the RBI in 1920. (Major League Baseball officially adopted the save in 1969.) By coming up with a metric for recognizing the important contribution of closers — baseball’s so-called “firemen” whose job it is to nail down the win at the end of the game — Holtzman brought cachet to the position, helping make pitchers like Bruce Sutter and Mariano Rivera stars. It also propelled them into the Baseball Hall of Fame, the most exclusive enshrinement of the four major North American sports. When Trevor Hoffman is inducted on July 29, he’ll be only the sixth pure reliever to ever enter the Hall — he probably won’t thank Holtzman from the podium, but he should. Without Holtzman, guys like Hoffman wouldn’t have a stat to hold up as proof that they were actually good at what they did.

Read the full article here:

Originally published: June 27, 2018. Last Updated: June 27, 2018.