Top 15 MLB Closers of the Live Ball Era

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Top 15 MLB Closers of the Live Ball Era

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Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

What was life for a Major League Baseball manager like before the discovery of the Closer? It must have been adventurous but it surely would have been less secure. Within several decades baseball has moved from a time where pitchers finished their own games for the most part to where a team cannot be even considered a strong contender if they do not have a strong closer to be the cornerstone of the bullpen. Why not, I say.

It was an inevitable change really. Somewhere along the line a relief pitcher became extremely good at dominating for one inning an slowly baseball people realized there was a need for someone that they could bring in to a close game to literally close the game out and not allow the other team back in the game. Of course there would be a specialty pitcher designated for the sole purpose of ending the game in strong fashion. It only makes sense.

Though it was a natural evolution of the relief pitcher for him to become a closer, it doesn’t mean the job is easy. Actually the fact of the matter is that there have only been a handful of these guys that have been dominant for long enough to really be the best at the job. This list is of the top 15 men that became closers, some half way through a career and some right off the starting line, and proceeded to become a part of the legend that is the Closer.

David Miller is a Senior Writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @davidmillerrant, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google+.

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15-Jose Mesa

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Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Mesa was able to compile a long career of steady saves. Though not as long as some, his 1995 campaign landed him in the top few spots in Cy Young Award and MVP award voting. He also led the Cleveland Indians to an American League championship that season and nearly a World Series championship.

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14-Francisco Cordero

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Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Cordero had 40 or more saves in a single season three times and was a three time all-star. His years with the Cincinnati Reds were among the best of his career which saw him total 329 saves.

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13-Roberto Hernandez

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Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Hernandez moved around enough towards the last half of his career that it is difficult to pinpoint a location to call his home team. We know for sure that he dominated while closing for the Chicago White Sox. No matter how his role changed he put together a dominant decade worth of closing games. During that time there were few better than Hernandez.

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12-Joe Nathan

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Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

Nathan is one of the couple on this list that are still active in today. Currently he sits at 324 saves. Though he might not climb much higher on the overall saves list considering his age, I placed him this high because he has continued dominant closing of games even after having to get passed two injuries. The men this successful at saves, you will notice have usually not had to overcome more than one injury if any. That says something important about Nathan’s closing ability.

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11-John Wetteland

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Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

What did Mariano Rivera do before he became a closer? He was a set-up man for this guy. Wetteland only spent a couple of years with the New York Yankees but they were productive years as were most of the rest of those he spent closing games. He was every bit as good as his set-up guy back then and compiled 330 saves in only 9 years of doing the job. Who knows where the number would have been if he was able to pitch until he was 40.

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10-Troy Percival

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Though Percival’s total saves fell short of the top few in history, he averaged 35 saves per season and that is among the best marks ever for a career. Where would that number be if injury had not have shortened his career? It would probably have put him in the top five all time closers at least. As it is, he still made the top ten. That is more than fairly impressive if you ask me.

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9-Jeff Reardon

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Derick Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

If Reardon’s name doesn’t strike fear in you just at the thought of him facing you in the ninth inning, you must not have been watching when he was in his prime. Let’s just say that in the late eighties to early nineties people didn’t just throw around nicknames like ‘The Terminator’ for people who weren’t dominant. From 1982 through 1992 he was one of the greatest closers in the game.

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8-Randy Myers

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Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Anyone that was a MLB regular watcher during the 1990’s will recognize Myers’ name. Some of the highlight years of his career were actually spent with the Chicago Cubs during a few of their good seasons. He led the league in saves three times and compiled a 3.19 ERA.

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7-Billy Wagner

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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

For any good team to be good they need a real closer that can take a heavy load. For the “Killer B’s” era Houston Astros, this was the guy. He moved around a little at the end of his career but that doesn’t lessen what he did. He has 422 saves and a career ERA of 2.31 over what was otherwise a fairly quiet career. It was quiet as far as landing him among the top five in the history of the game at what he did, if you call that quiet.

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6-John Franco

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Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

When I think of the New York Mets closer, I think of the name John Franco first of all. He made a successful and lengthy career out of what he wanted to do with his baseball life. It resulted in 424 saves and a career ERA of 2.89 as he was to the Mets what Mariano Rivera was to the New York Yankees. He deserves to be right in the thick of the best ever conversation and he is.

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5-Rollie Fingers

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Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Fingers was one of the first guys to really hit the big time and let everyone see what a specialist brought in to close games could really do. Overall he had 341 saves but in reality has inspired many more than that.

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4-Lee Smith

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Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Once again, if that name does not sound intimidating to you it probably simply means you have had limited exposure to baseball. Smith’s career ERA is a tiny 3.03 and he gathered 478 saves overall. That is plenty good enough for him to make this list and should be enough for him to be considered one of the best closers to ever play the game because he is.

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3-Dennis Eckersley

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Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

If Rollie Fingers forced everyone to notice how effective a closer could be, Dinnis Eckersly helped everyone see just how dominant one could be. The only reason Eck isn’t in the top spot is because half of his career was spent as a starter. If he had closed games for the entirety of his time in the game there is no doubt who would be sitting at number one in my opinion. The fact is that he did not. So his 390 saves, as dominant as they were for the half career spent on that job, land him at the third spot. He also is the last closer to win the Cy-Young award and MVP in the same season or any season for that matter.

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2-Trevor Hoffman

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Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Hoffman might be the only person that has ever been described as having an overpowering change-up. As a closer it was said that he could have told anyone the change was coming and they still couldn’t have stayed back on it. With 601 career saves, second place in Cy-Young voting twice and a career ERA of 2.87 he is solidly the second best closer the game has ever seen.

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1-Mariano Rivera

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Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

I hope this wasn’t a surprise to anyone. Rivera is clearly the greatest closer to play the game and that is not the case only because he is retiring after this season. His 637 saves are far above second place and way above everyone else. His career 2.20 ERA is stunningly low for a closer. The post-season save total of 42 is also nearly unbelievable as is the incredible post-season career ERA of 0.70. He is the best ever, end of story.

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  • Farva55

    I’d have to say Billy Wagner should be pretty high up there.

    • David Miller Rant

      I agree. I had him in front of some great ones at #7. You think he should be up with Eck and Fingers and such? Just curious. Thanks for the comment.

      • Farva55

        Yeah, from a dominance factor…i would imagine most hitters weren’t comfortable facing 100 and 91mph sliders.