Picking a fave closer won't be easy
From Gagne to Perranoski, LA has had bevy of top relievers
LOS ANGELES -- Since the Dodgers came to Los Angeles, they have relied upon strong pitching to win. Over the years, the importance of relief pitching has increased, and the Dodgers kept pace with some strong performers in the late innings.
Dodgers fans have cheered pitchers such as Jim Brewer and Ron Perranoski. They delighted in Todd Worrell. When the Dodgers obtained Jeff Shaw from the Cincinnati Reds, they had been having trouble finishing off victories. Shaw gave them a reliable closer.
Eric Gagne was a struggling starter and looked unlikely to have a Major League career. In 2002, Gagne became the closer, and with him the Dodgers had arguably the best closer in the game for a few years.
This month, fans can choose their all-time favorite Dodgers closer. Below are six of the great Los Angeles relief aces, with each worthy of being any fan's favorite:
Worrell came to fame with the St. Louis Cardinals, but his final five seasons were with the Dodgers, and he was a key component of the Dodgers' two postseason runs in 1995 and '96. After signing with the Dodgers in '93, Worrell battled back from arm injuries his first two years in Los Angeles to close out his career with three very good seasons, saving 32, 44 and 35 games, respectively, and making the National League All-Star team in '95 and '96. After the '97 season, Worrell decided to call it a career at age 37.
Gagne began his Dodgers career as a starting pitcher, with mixed results. He often breezed through the batting order the first time around, but the opposing team would tee off on him the second time around. A demotion to the Minors in 2001 laid in question what would become of the young right-hander. With the advice of Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax, the Dodgers tried Gagne out as a closer, and a superstar was born.
Gagne went on to have three of the most dominating seasons a relief pitcher has ever had, saving 52, 55 and 45 games for the Dodgers from 2002-04. Gagne won the 2003 National League Cy Young Award with a perfect season of 55 saves in 55 chances, made three straight All-Star appearances and helped the Dodgers win the 2004 National League West title.
Injuries limited his appearances in '05 and '06, and Gagne left as a free agent the following year.
His tenure with the Dodgers was brief, but Marshall had such a special season for the Dodgers in 1974 that he had to make the list of nominees. Acquired by the Dodgers from the Montreal Expos after the '73 season for Willie Davis, Marshall appeared in a Major League-record 106 games in '74, helping Los Angeles win its first National League pennant in eight years and becoming the first relief pitcher to win the Cy Young Award. He was still effective in '75, despite a ribcage injury. Marshall was traded to the Atlanta Braves early in the '76 season.
Brewer joined the Dodgers in 1964 and won a championship with the team the following season. The Dodgers won the National League pennant the next year and then went into an eight-year drought in the National League before winning another pennant in '74. It was during this period that the screwball artist from Broken Arrow, Okla., shined as the team's most dependable man out of the bullpen. Brewer wasn't flashy, but he was steady with double-digit saves for six straight seasons. He made the All-Star team in 1973 and partnered up with Marshall out of the 'pen to get the Dodgers to the World series the next season. Brewer was traded down the freeway to the Angels in '75 and finished his career with them the following year.
Here's a trivia question for you: Who pitched in an All-Star Game wearing the uniform for a team he had never played for? The answer is Shaw in 1998. The right-hander was named to the NL All-Star team after a stellar first half with 23 saves for the Cincinnati Reds only to be traded to the Dodgers for Paul Konerko right before the All-Star break. When Shaw arrived for the Midsummer Classic at Coors Field in Denver, a Dodgers uniform was there waiting for him. In his 3 1/2 seasons in Los Angeles, Shaw did the uniform proud. He saved 25 games for L.A. in 1998, 34 in '99, 27 in 2000 and 43 in '01. Even though he was still in his prime and made the NL All-Star team in '01, Shaw retired at the end of the season to his beloved Washington Courthouse, Ohio, at the age of 34.
In the early 1960's the Dodgers had great starting pitching, which included Koufax, Don Drysdale and Johnny Podres. The role of relief pitchers was different then. A reliever may pitch up to three innings or longer on consecutive days and during those glory years of the early '60's, Ron Perranoski was one of the best and most dependable relievers in the game. He came up with the Dodgers in 1961 and had his best season for the team in its championship year of '63, going 16-3 out of the bullpen with 21 saves and stellar relief against the Yankees when the Dodgers swept them in the World Series. Perranoski helped the Dodgers win another championship in '65 and a pennant in '66.
After being traded away after the '67 season, Perranoski returned to pitch briefly for the Dodgers in '72. After his retirement as a player, Perranoski rejoined the organization as a Minor League coordinator and then as the Dodgers pitching coach for 14 seasons, helping the team win world championships in 1981 and '88 while developing two Cy Young Award winners in Fernando Valenzuela in '81 and Orel Hershiser in '88.
Sarah D. Morris is the editor of Sarah's Dodger Place. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.