Once again last season, one of the most dominating pitchers -- and one of the biggest difference-makers -- of modern times didn't win a single major award.
Not a Cy Young. Not an MVP. Not a Nobel Prize. Not even a People's Choice Award.
But then, that's nothing new for Mariano Rivera. He may be directly responsible for putting five World Series rings on the fingers of his good friends, Derek Jeter and George M. Steinbrenner 3rd. But clearly, baseball seems incapable of finding an award that the greatest closer in history is allowed to win.
Well, it's time to change that.
It's time for the Baseball Writers' Association of America to establish a new award for relief pitchers. And if it were up to us, we'd call it the Jerome Holtzman Award, in honor of the late, great Chicago baseball-writing legend who invented the modern save rule.
Just for disclosure's sake, you should know that we proposed this award at a BBWAA meeting at the winter meetings in December, to almost universally positive response. But we were told it was an idea that needed more discussion. So fine. Let's discuss it.
Why does baseball need another major award? Here's why:
1. Because relievers are the forgotten men of election day
This isn't just about Mariano Rivera. Not really. He doesn't need a den full of large, gleaming trophies for anybody to figure out he's been the best relief pitcher in the history of relief pitching.
But if he's the greatest anything in history and he doesn't have a trophy to show for it, that ought to tell us something, right?
What it tells us, ladies and gentlemen, is that the voters for these major awards keep all relief pitchers in a glass case in their brains. And that case has a sign taped to it that says: "ONLY OPEN IN CASE OF EMERGENCY."
In other words, unless there is nobody else worth voting for -- and by that, we mean absotively, posolutely nobody -- for the Cy Young or MVP awards, these voters wouldn't even think of putting a reliever at the top of their ballots. Any reliever.
Here are the cold, indisputable facts to prove it:
We're now up to 17 seasons since A's closer Dennis Eckersley won the 1992 Cy Young and MVP awards in the same year. Since then, only one reliever (Eric Gagne, in his historic 55-for-55 season in 2003) has won a Cy Young. And no reliever has won an MVP award, or even finished in the top three.
In those 17 seasons, just five relievers have even received a first-place vote in the Cy Young balloting -- Gagne, Rivera (1996 and 2005), Trevor Hoffman (2006), Randy Myers (1997) and Jose Mesa (1995).
Likewise, in those 17 seasons, only three relievers have even finished as the Cy Young runner-up -- Hoffman (2006), Rivera (2005) and Mesa (1995).
Meanwhile, over in the MVP voting, we've had just 10 top-10 finishes -- and only two top-five finishes (both by Mesa, believe it or not) -- by any relievers in the past 17 elections. And the last of those top-five finishes was 15 years ago.
Of the exactly 1,000 first-place MVP votes cast in that time, precisely four have gone to a relief pitcher -- two to Brad Lidge in 2008, one to Francisco Rodriguez in 2008 and one to Mesa in '95. And that's all, folks.
Finally, back to the great Mariano Rivera: Over his 15 seasons of brilliance, this man has never won a Cy Young or an MVP, has finished as high as second in the Cy Young voting just once, has gotten a first-place vote in exactly two Cy Young elections (2005 and 1996) and has sneaked into the top 10 of only two MVP races (2004 and '05, when he came in ninth in both years).
OK need any more proof here? Thirteen different relievers had seasons in that span with ERAs under 1.50 and at least 30 saves. Only three of them even got a first-place Cy Young vote to show for it.
So obviously, voters have decided the MVP is a position player's award, the Cy Young is a starting pitcher's award and that None of the Above is a relief pitcher's award.
2. Because we don't know what to make of relievers, period
It isn't only every October that voters aren't sure how to measure relief pitchers. It's all the time. Twelve months a year. 24/7.
And for good reason. What tools do we actually have to evaluate these guys? The save is the most overrated stat in baseball. And the Rolaids Award is gurgitated out of a computer based only on a mathematical formula, driven by (what else?) saves.
So there's a real need for a Jerome Holtzman Award, just to help the planet put these men in some kind of proper baseball perspective. And why, you ask, does that matter?
Because if you look at Hall of Fame voting over the past decade or so, it couldn't be more obvious that voters can't figure out how they're supposed to go about determining what constitutes a dominant, Hall of Fame reliever.
We know Rivera is a Hall of Famer. That's for darned sure. And we know Jorge Julio isn't. But all those save-collectors in between? We have no idea, apparently, how to size them up.
If it's taking Goose Gossage nine years to get elected, then clearly, these voters need help. And the current awards aren't providing any of that help -- because this trend is only getting worse.
In the '00s, all relief pitchers on earth combined for one Cy Young trophy, no MVPs, three years in which a reliever got a first-place Cy Young vote and one year in which a reliever got a first-place MVP vote. So our present award structure is telling us nada, zilch, zippo about how great any of our modern relievers are.
In fact, just take a look at this list of top-tier relief pitchers who have never gotten a first-place Cy Young vote -- ever: Billy Wagner, Joe Nathan, K-Rod, Lidge, Jonathan Papelbon, John Smoltz (in any of his four dominating seasons in the 'pen) and, of course, many others.
So some year, come Hall of Fame time, wouldn't it help voters to have some sort of award-voting results to use as a guide that might assist them in distinguishing which men of that group were really elite closers and which ones just piled up a bunch of saves?
And wouldn't it help those voters right now, for example, when they try to figure out how the heck to assess Lee Smith's credentials if they could see he'd won, oh, five Holtzman Awards and finished in the top three 10 times? As opposed to his actual collection -- of zero awards?
Hey, it couldn't hurt. Could it? So why not?
3. Because relief pitching is here to stay
Yes, in case you hadn't caught onto this, bullpens are turning out not to be some kind of passing fad in this sport.
They're not going to go the way of the designated runner (see The Herb Washington Story), the 3-foot-7 pinch-hitter (see The Eddie Gaedel Story) or Disco Demolition Night (see The Bill Veeck Story) any time soon.
Which means more and more relievers are going to start turning up on Hall of Fame ballots for, well, the rest of time. So we'd better give ourselves some kind of decent tool to evaluate them besides (shudder) saves.
And why not this tool? Why not the Jerome Holtzman Award?
The only negative we've ever heard from the BBWAA is that it's becoming more and more challenging to find enough qualified voters for the current awards, so a new award would just add to that challenge. But is that a good enough reason? We say no.
Matter of fact, we'll solve that issue in one sentence: Have the same set of voters vote on the Cy Young and the Holtzman Award every year.
OK, now that that's out of the way, let's get on with it.
Once upon a time in the 1950s, the BBWAA decided that pitchers weren't getting their due in the MVP voting, so it introduced the Cy Young Award. Now we have an exact parallel situation with relief pitchers. So what are we waiting for?
Let's honor the legacy of the beloved Jerome Holtzman. Let's help future Hall of Fame voters put modern relief pitching in more accurate perspective.
And let's never again find ourselves looking back at a time when a player as dominating as Mariano Rivera could say he somehow wasn't worthy enough to win a single one of our major awards.
Ready to rumble
Happy Hollidays: Have to hand it to Scott Boras. Every winter, he wangles a contract for somebody or other that makes people ask: How'd he do that? And this winter's winner is the seven-year, $119 million Matt Holliday deal.
"I don't understand the Cardinals," said an official of one team that never did much more than kick the tires on Holliday. "Everybody knew there was nobody else there when they were at $16 [million a year] for six [years]. But Scott kept asking for $17 [million a year] for seven, and they just did it. So obviously, he just wore them down."
Now in the Cardinals' defense, Holliday's deferred money places the present-day value of his contract at only about $16.2 million per year. But the big question, said the same official, is: "If they did this for Holliday, how does [Albert] Pujols settle for less than the A-Rod deal now?"
Good question. Let's say Pujols does get the A-Rod deal (10 years, $305 million, if you count the historic-milestone package). If Pujols is even in that neighborhood, it would lock in the Cardinals to pay just Pujols and Holliday alone between $45 million and $50 million a year -- through at least 2016.
Meanwhile, if the Cardinals pick up all their options on Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, they'd be paying their two aces a combined $21 million by 2012 -- which would elevate this team into the neighborhood of a $70 million payout just for its four best players.
If that's how it plays out, it's great, on one level, for all those loyal Cardinals fans who keep packing that ballpark. On the other hand, this is a team that has never had a $100 million payroll in any season in club history (according to the USA Today salary database). So the Cardinals have a big challenge ahead, trying to juggle all those obligations and still have enough dollars to pay the rest of the roster down the road.
More Holliday cheer: A couple of side notes here: A) Holliday actually wound up taking less money per year than the Rockies offered him (six years, $107.5 million) before they traded him. That offer averaged out to just more than $17.9 million a year, in case your calculator is on the fritz.
And B) the only other offers Holliday had anywhere, from what we've heard, at the time he signed with St. Louis, were one-year deals at about $18 million. So the Cardinals beat that by (gulp) $100 million.
Chap-stick: The second-most fascinating contract of this winter? Had to be the Reds' innovative $30.25 million deal with Aroldis Chapman, thanks to an unprecedented escalator clause carved out by agent Randy Hendricks.
Here's what makes this deal unique: If Chapman whooshes to the big leagues quickly and finds himself arbitration-eligible by 2013 or 2014, he wouldn't have to choose between the salaries in the contract ($2M in '13, $3M in '14) and the money he could earn by going through the arbitration process.
He'd get to keep that money (which converts to bonuses), and he'd get to add a big league salary on top of that. So if he turns into the next Tim Lincecum or Felix Hernandez, the Reds will be paying him a lot more than $30.25 million over the life of this deal.
On the other hand, several clubs that were in initially on Chapman backed off because they had major reservations about what he brings to the table other than a very live arm. So even though he's raked in an amazing contract, this is still a guy with a lot to prove.
Cliff hanger: We've heard in recent weeks that before trading for Roy Halladay, the Phillies offered Cliff Lee virtually the same three-year, $60 million extension that Halladay signed. It's unclear whether Lee and agent Darek Braunecker formally turned that down. But the Phillies' almost immediate decision to turn around and essentially replace Lee with Halladay pretty much says it all.
The Phillies clearly just aren't going to waver on limiting pitching contracts to three years. And Lee could be looking for a contract twice that long next winter.
"Everyone in baseball knows," said one AL executive," that the two things Cliff Lee and Darek Braunecker will want next winter are a lot of years and a lot of dollars. This guy just played with a Cy Young (CC Sabathia) who got seven years on the open market. So why would anyone think he wouldn't be saying, 'Why shouldn't I get that, too?'"
Crystal Ball Dept.: At this point, Lee and Josh Beckett look like the top two free-agent starters at next winter's auction house. But one longtime AL executive made this prediction recently: "I don't think Josh Beckett gets to free agency."
Unlocked door: While the Phillies have downplayed any interest in bringing back Pedro Martinez, we hear they're actually plenty interested. They'd just prefer the same kind of half-season arrangement that worked out so well for both sides last year. But Martinez has been looking for a full-season gig at "market" dollars, according to another NL club that checked in. And right now, it appears as if that ain't happening.
Au Contreras: Also hearing that the Phillies have backed off on John Smoltz because Smoltz is intent on being a starter, and they don't want to commit to that. But the Phillies have been in on Jose Contreras, proposing a similar scenario to the deal that enticed Chan Ho Park last year -- i.e., they'd prefer him in a bullpen role, but they'd be willing to let him compete for the fifth starter's job in spring training.
Vanishing payroll: It's great to hear Dodgers owner Frank McCourt reassure people that his pending divorce is having "no effect whatsoever" on the way the Dodgers are run. But it's tough not to notice this trend:
Two years ago, the Dodgers' payroll was almost $119 million when the season started, and at about $122 million when it ended -- a number that doesn't even include all the salaries (Manny Ramirez's, most prominently) that were being paid by other teams.
By last year, the Dodgers' opening-day payroll had dropped to just more than $100 million, according to ESPN.com's calculations.
But this year, it looks as if the payroll is going to be somewhere in the 80s -- a plummet of approximately $40 million from just two years ago. And clubs and agents that have dealt with the Dodgers this winter keep coming away reporting: "They have no money."
Well, they led the major leagues in attendance last season. So you can't blame those folks for asking: "Where'd that money go, anyway?" Excellent question.
Mining Colby: The most praised under-the-radar free-agent signing of the winter might be the Rangers' two-year, $5 million deal with their old friend, Colby Lewis. Officials of two different clubs told Rumblings they think Lewis -- who led Japan's Central League in strikeouts in each of his two seasons in Japan -- could make a big impact.
"The big difference now," said one executive, "is, he's healthy and he's throwing the ball over the plate -- two things he wasn't doing consistently when he was here before."
An NL executive's take: "He's throwing more strikes. He's got better makeup. He should be a solid 180-inning guy. We like that signing a lot."
Rockfish: We keep hearing the Rockies talked to the Marlins about Dan Uggla, and the two sides "kicked it around" actively, according to one source familiar with those discussions. But the Rockies seem to be more zoned in on free-agent options -- primarily Miguel Tejada, Orlando Cabrera or Orlando Hudson -- if the price tag drops.
If there's enough money left over, indications are that the Rockies also would love to figure out a way to bring Jason Giambi back as a bench bat if he can't find more regular work elsewhere.
Who's not on first: Scouts who have seen Carlos Delgado play in Puerto Rico have this recommendation: Look for a DH job.
"He's got no range at first -- none," said one scout. "He actually limps out there. He can't play first on a day-to-day basis. I think he can still DH, because he's still got power. But to play first for a team like the Mets? Can't see it."
Beneath the Sheets: We've heard the Cubs described elsewhere as the leading contender for Ben Sheets. But we've gotten the impression that they've actually back-burnered Sheets for now.
Agents for other players they've talked to consistently report the Cubs want to address two other priorities first: a set-up arm (Kiko Calero? Chan Ho Park?) and a fourth-outfielder type (Jermaine Dye? Reed Johnson? Jonny Gomes? Xavier Nady? Fernando Tatis?). They would only turn back to other needs after those two areas are taken care of.
Hope for Fausto: But the winter-ball reviews were much more positive on Indians reclamation project Fausto Carmona. The big stat: In three starts in the Dominican Winter League, Carmona walked a total of zero hitters. You might say that's a slight departure from Carmona's recent work in the big leagues.
He issued at least one walk in all 24 starts for the Indians last season -- even a couple in which he didn't get past the second inning. And over the past two years, his walk-to-strikeout ratio is a gruesome 140-to-137. Carmona and Jake Westbrook loom as two humongous figures for the Indians this year.
Mr. November Lives: Sounds as if Bud Selig's competition committee could take action on a couple of fronts as soon as the next few weeks. But as determined as the commish is to find a way to tighten up the postseason schedule, there appears to be no way to shrink it enough this fall to avoid playing World Series games in November.
It's likely that the off day between Games 4 and 5 of the LCS will disappear. And it's possible the Series could shift to a Tuesday start instead of Wednesday. Even if both of those things happen, though, baseball would still be looking at a Series Game 7 on Nov. 3.
But at least Selig is on board with the idea of eliminating at least a couple of October off days, which is good news. "Put it this way," said one baseball man. "There's a reason Mike Scioscia is on this committee."
Rarefied '00s Stat of the Week
Rumblings now presents yet another '00s leaderboard you've probably never seen elsewhere -- Most Blown Saves in the '00s:
Late-Nighter of the Week
From David Letterman: "How about that Mark McGwire? Hits a million home runs and now, many years later, he admits to taking steroids. There were clues that he was juiced on the stuff. One night, as a matter of fact -- do you remember this? -- he hits a home run and it bounces off the upper deck at Shea Stadium. But wait. I'm not done. They were playing in St. Louis."
Tweet of the Week
From "Late Night" writing genius Eric Stangel (@EricStangel): "More trouble for McGwire's '98 Cardinals. Tom Pagnozzi now admits Flintstones Chewable vitamins helped him hit .219."
Headliner of the Week
From the relentlessly entertaining Sportspickle.com:
REX RYAN PROCLAIMS JETS
WORLD SERIES FAVORITES
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His new book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.