And I know, baseball fans — baseball broadcasters — we love to argue. So we argue, who’s better? Who’s the best? But there is no argument … This is not a Padre broadcast bias. It’s not a Padre fan bias. We know this. The only true measure of a closer is how many saves did you get. So today, without any fear of argument, I tell you that, today, the San Diego Padres retire the number of truly — by that benchmark, the only benchmark — the greatest closer in the history of Major League Baseball.
Now. To be fair, this is almost certainly one of two things (or perhaps a little of both): a tongue-in-cheek comment meant to call down upon the guest of honor a warm round of knowing applause from the Padres faithful, or an attempt to get his name in the papers and piss off some Yankees fans (and he succeeded there — check out where the link above came from). But the fact that he probably wasn’t completely serious is no reason for me not to pretend he was. (It’s not. Shut up.)
Here are some other only benchmarks Mr. Leitner might subscribe to:
Greatest Hitter: Pete Rose. That’s the obvious one. The only true measure of a hitter is how many hits you get. Sure, Babe Ruth had 41 more total bases in almost 5000 fewer plate appearances, but Rose had almost 1400 more hits, so there’s really no argument.
Greatest Base-Stealer: Pat Burrell. The key to successful basestealing, when you think about it, is this: not getting caught. And by one measure — I submit to you the only measure — Burrell is the best of all time at not getting caught. Among hitters with 5000 plate appearances since 1951 (since both leagues have continuously been keeping track of such things), Burrell has the fewest caught stealings, with just three in ten career attempts. So, it’s conclusive. Ramon Hernandez, Paul Konerko and even Big Papi give him a run for his money, but Pat the Bat is the best.
Greatest Pitcher: Livan Hernandez. We can’t say this conclusively, because Baseball-Reference only has this stat going back to 2000, but when you think about it, what is pitching all about? Pitch-ing. As in, the number of pitches you throw. We know this. And Livan has thrown the most over the last eleven-plus years, edging out the second-greatest, Javier Vazquez, by about 1600.
Greatest Teammate: Hughie Jennings. There are a lot of ways you might try to measure good-teammateness — steak dinners or Rolexes purchased, sacrifice bunts, cover stories told to managers and/or wives, and so on. But haven’t you ever heard of taking one for the team? Jennings did it an astounding 287 times, and in a short career. Craig Biggio came just two plunkings short of tying the almost-100-year-old record, which would’ve been a shame, since it took him literally twice as many plate appearances (a bit more, actually) to do it. Nobody was better at creating his own bodily harm than Ee-Yah, who is thus indisputably the greatest teammate in MLB history.
Greatest Defensive First Baseman: Tony Clark. We all know that the key to being a great first baseman is having a great stretch, which means being tall. And at 6’7″, Tony the Tiger was as tall as they come, save a few pitchers. Q.E.D.
Greatest Cleanup Hitter: Eddie Murray. Really, there’s nothing more quintessentially “cleanup hitter” than the sacrifice fly — the guys in front of you get a man over to third, and your job is to get that runner home any way you can — and Murray, since the stat has been tracked full-time (going back to 1954), leads all of baseball in that stat, with 128. Oddly, he’s just one ahead of his long-time teammate, Cal Ripken, Jr. The two greatest #4 hitters of all time, on the same team? Seems like a waste.
So by now you’ve figured it out: this was just a really dumb excuse to play around with the Baseball-Reference Play Index and come up with some oddball leaderboards.
But the kind of interesting/depressing thing is that even if Leitner wasn’t exactly speaking from the heart there, there are a lot of people who buy into what he was saying, just as there are still a lot of people who really think that Pete was the greatest hitter (but at least, you know, hits are objectively good things — lots of saves aren’t even that). Flipping through the comments — and again, that article is on ESPN New York — you can find a number of people who really do think that as of this moment, Hoffman is the better closer than Mariano Rivera because the former has racked up nine more career saves.
So I guess what I’m saying is: next time you say or do something really dumb, comfort yourself with the knowledge that you’re still light years ahead of a lot of baseball fans out there.