View Full Version : History of the Bullpen

09-08-2006, 04:12 PM
I was hoping some of the more historical minded on the board could share their vast wisdom with me (us).

When did having "firemen" in your bullpen become vogue? Who started the idea, if anybody? What is an accurate "definition", if you will, for "fireman".

And then, when did having a "closer" become the in thing? Did one GM/manager start the concept?

My perception is that in the 1950s and '60 you mostly had "long relievers" and "short relievers". The 1970s and early 80's were when you had "firemen" who could come in at any point and deal with a mess. Late 1990's is when "closers" became the way to go. But that is just my perception, not sure if it mirrors relality at all.

09-08-2006, 04:18 PM
Relievers first started to appear more in the late 30's. The Middle Reliever aspect is covered here


Pondering relievers and their workload wasnít always something the fans of the game spent their time doing. When the ball was deader, the game a bit slower and the sun shone on most of the games being played a complete game by the pitcher was the norm. Below are the Reds pitchers who have completed 20 or more games in consecutive seasons. Not one Reds pitcher has completed 20 or more games since the 1940ís.

Bob Ewing 1903-08 6
Bucky Walters 1939-44 6
Noodles Hahn 1900-04 5
Eppa Rixey 1921-23 3
Red Lucas 1931-33 3
Paul Derringer 1938-40 3
Bill Phillips 1901-02 2
Andy Coakley 1907-08 2
Fred Toney 1916-17 2
Dutch Ruether 1919-20 2
Johnny Vander Meer 1942-43 2

The above was the norm, the blueprint for pitching success in the days of wool suits, 12-cent dinners and women named Florence.

However this all started to change in the thirties, in 1937 White Sox hurler Clint Brown appeared in 53 games and pitched 100 innings all without starting a game, making him the first pitcher in MLB history to accomplish that feat. Brown was a depression era Scott Sullivan, throwing slightly underhanded and with a side armed approach. This season began a slow process in the evolution of the workhorse reliever, creating a niche for a pitcher that could toss 100 innings and do the majority of it from the bullpen (usually starting only in an emergency.)

Once this feat was accomplished it took a few years for the rest of baseball to catch on and the offensive surge in the postwar era created a greater need to temper the bats with fresh arms and then the concept took off. Since 1937 the feat has been accomplished 418 times, with the Reds and the Giants being the teams having the most players on the list (30). Itís easy to see how the Reds have so many on that list, as a team they have a less than league average ERA since 1946 and still have a winning record, they have to be getting a quality pitching performance from somewhere other than their starting staff for over 50 years.

Between 1946 and 1968 a total of 103 pitchers tallied 100 innings in a season with a start or less. In 1969 the division format and expansion changed the games makeup, this along with the reduction of the mounds height and the eventual introduction of the designated hitter helped decrease what had become a stagnate offensive game in the 60ís. This of course posed a new problem to managers throughout the game, and that was how to beat the increased offense that was now creeping slowly. Many managers in the game took different paths, and all hoped to segue into a balance that could combat the offensive onslaught.

09-08-2006, 05:14 PM
It's been a very gradual development over the course of the history of the game. From year to year, the change in imperceptable, but from decade to decade, it's pretty easy to see.

09-08-2006, 10:46 PM
A former Red (and amazing author) named Jim Brosnan wrote a book about the Reds' 1961 season called "Pennant Race." That year, "Broz" was the elder statesman of the Reds bullpen, and it was fascinating to read his and other players' perspectives on the role of relievers back then.

Even in '61 - a full 45 years ago - starters would rib the relievers about how easy it was to get saves, and the relievers would jockey for position to get those coveted saves. I guess it was so shocking to me because I considered it such a recent phenomenon, but in actuality, fans were probably have the same discussions we have today about the uselessness of the "saves" stat.

To further put it all in historical context, the Reds publications really publicized Wayne Granger as a "star" because of his Firemen of the Year Awards. So, by the late 1960's, a player really could emerge as a stud out of the bullpen.