I PICKED UP today’s paper off the front door porch at 5:30 this morning and went right to the sports section to check up on the Phillies and the Mariners. Seems the two teams had the same story: winning until they brought in the relief hurler.
Here are Felix Hernandez’s stats for yesterday’s game for the Mariners:
Innings (IP): 7
Hits (H): 6
Walks (BB): 2
Strikeouts (K): 8
Runs ®: 1
So, why did the manager take Felix out and replace him with anyone?
Here’s Cole Hamels’ stats for yesterday’s game for the Phillies: 8 IP, 7 H, 1 BB, 5 K, 0 R. Even more brilliant! So, why did the manager take Cole out and replace him with anyone?
The only argument either could rationally make was that the pitch count for each pitcher exceeded 100 (103 and 113, respectively). But most starting pitchers can go well beyond that limit when they are pitching brilliantly and they didn’t just have to do it in their last start.
No, there was probably a less rational explanation for both managers: closeritis epidemic!
I had hoped that I was the first to name this term that has afflicted so many major league managers these past few decades. Alack and alas, I am not: in the June 9, 1997, edition of the Chicago Tribune, an article by staff writer Paul Sullivan carries the headline, “Adams Is The Latest Victim Of Closer-itis.”
When to use your best relief pitcher?
Still, the editor used a hyphen, expressing possible uncertainty about its usage. And no other instances of the term being used popped up on my browser (Google—the best!). nonetheless, since I am dehyphenating (sic) the Chicago term and running with closeritis as an actual case of professional unwellness, I am claiming the coinage of the word!
But I need to define it to make it permanent (and mine): so, closeritis is the almost pathological need/urge/desire of a major league baseball manager to insert an unnecessary—and, truth be told, in the eyes of his starter and often the catcher and usually the fans—and unwanted relief pitcher into the game simply for that manager to announce his presence with authority!
The term “closer” is fairly recent in baseball’s long history, coming into common use in the 1990s. Wikipedia defines a closer as “generally a team’s best reliever [who is] designated to pitch the last few outs of games when their team is leading by a margin of three runs or fewer. Rarely does a closer enter with their team losing or in a tie game.
Over time, closers have become one-inning specialists, typically brought in at the beginning of the ninth inning in ‘save situations.’ The pressure of the last three outs of the game is often cited for the importance attributed to the ninth inning.”
A question that has baffled better baseball beans than mine remains: Why would anyone save their best relief pitchers for games in which the their team is ahead by three runs in the ninth inning?
The only answer that these managers can give remains: We’re paying this guy $10,000,000, dammit! I’m gonna use him NOW! Which, since the point of the game is to win, often makes no sense at all.
Like for the Phillies and Mariners yesterday: both teams have a few exceptional starters while neither team boasts a strong bullpen. For most fans, that would seem to indicate that one makes as much use of the former and as little of the latter as necessary.
Observers who are neither emotionally nor financially involved with these managers or MLB, in general, see no relief in sight until the denial stage is part of the past …
Finally, the ironic part of this is that the best manager that the Mariners ever had was arguably Lou Piniella. His weakness was his inability or unwillingness to see when his starter had lost his stuff and needed to be yanked!