Thorn: On baseball’s first relief pitchers

From SABR member John Thorn at Our Game on January 20, 2012:

When I wrote The Relief Pitcher, published in 1979 with the now quaint subtitle “Baseball’s New Hero,” the save had been an official statistic for ten years, and no reliever had yet been inducted into the Hall of Fame. In that year’s balloting Hoyt Wilhelm received 38.9 percent of the required 75; by 1985 he was in. But proximity is not causality; it is unlikely my book influenced that happy outcome, as my royalty statements will attest. However, when I noticed this forlorn work on my shelf this week, the thought struck me that, 33 years later, some of it might still be worth your attention. So, as I wrote in 1979 (with a handful of updates of fact or prose infelicity):

While the future of the relief pitcher is assuredly “ahead of him,” in that immortal baseball tautology, his past lies farther behind him than one might imagine. It goes back beyond Page and Konstanty, beyond Murphy and Marberry, beyond even Otis Crandall, often identified as the game’s first reliever. In fact, the story of relief pitching begins with the man to whom so much of Major League Baseball traces its roots, Harry Wright.

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Originally published: January 23, 2012. Last Updated: January 23, 2012.