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New York Yankees relief pitcher Mariano Rivera #42 Yankees win 5-2, New York Yankees vs. Texas Rangers at Yankee Stadium. Original Filename: _CJS5165.jpg

Top 10 Closers in MLB History

10).  Robb Nen (314 Saves)

The Los Alamitos, California product would enter the waterfront AT&T Park to Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” and dominated hitters with his high-90s fastball and a filthy slider nicknamed the “Terminator.” Nen was a three-time All-Star and won a World Series with the Marlins in 1997.

If not for a torn rotator cuff he would probably rank much higher.

9). Lee Smith (478 Saves)

The intimidating size (6’6”) and a mid-90s fastball made Lee Smith a formidable closer.  He spent eight out of his 18 years with the Cubs making a name for himself, before setting a National League record for saves with 47 for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1991.  He led the league in saves for the Baltimore Orioles in 1994.  Lee was a seven-time All-Star and was the all-time saves leader until Trevor Hoffman passed him in 2006.

Smith maybe best known for a poor performance in game 5 of the 1984 NLCS, even with that Smith was one of the greatest closers ever. It does hurt that he did not have much postseason success. In his defense he wasn’t always on the most talented teams.

8). Billy Wagner (422 Saves)

His stuff was nasty as he averaged almost 12 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched.  He threw in the high-90s with his fastball and ended up using a slider as his second pitch.  The fastball did most of the damage.

Learned to throw the ball left-handed after twice breaking his arm as a young boy.

7). Hoyt Wilhelm (227 Saves)

The first reliever to be inducted to the Hall of Fame, he had to make this list.  He is the only closer to make this list that threw a devastating knuckleball, which gave him the longevity to pitch until he was almost 50.  He had a 2.52 career ERA, was a five-time All-Star.

6). Bruce Sutter (300 Saves)

Sutter was known for a nasty split finger fastball. He won a Cy Young Award in 1979 for the Cubs and closed out the World Series for the Cardinals in 1982 versus the Harvey Wallbanger’s Brewers squad.

5). Trevor Hoffman (601 Saves)

He was also known for his high leg kick and a stare similar to Dave Stewart. He made walk-in music famous with the legendary AC/DC hit “Hells Bells.” He was a seven-time All-Star and had his jersey (No. 51) retired by the San Diego Padres.

He developed one of the most unhittable change ups in baseball history after a torn rotator cuff.

4). Rich “Goose” Gossage (310 Saves)

He was the most recognized Yankee closer before Mariano Rivera took that role.  He won a World Series in 1978 with the Yankees and turned in nine All-Star appearances.

3). Rollie Fingers (341 Saves)

He was instrumental in the Oakland A’s back-to-back-to-back World Series Championships in 1972-74, earning the World Series MVP in 1974.  His signature was and still is his waxed handlebar moustache, the precursor to the current Giants closer, Brian Wilson’s beard.

Fingers was the first modern day closer and is in the hall of fame.

2). Dennis Eckersley (390 Saves)

From 1988 to 1992 he was the most dominant closer in the league and earned both the Cy Young and the AL MVP in 1992.  He basically invented the 9th inning closer role, remember he also won 20 games as a starter earlier in his career.

1). Mariano Rivera (608 Saves)

This too me this is a no doubter. He was dominant into his late 30’s and early-40’s. When “Enter Sandman” came on the game was over.

  • John Welch

    Add one closer. Put him at the top. In 1912, new manager Clark Griffith decided to use his ace starting pitcher, Walter Johnson, to finish ball games. “The Big Train” won 33 games that year, starting 37 and throwing 33 complete games. In 13 relief appearances, Johnson pitched 51 innings and gave up two (yes, two!) earned runs.

    Washington Post sportswriter Ed Grillo explained Griffith’s thinking after a game on June 6, 1912:

    “Having Walter Johnson ready to relieve one of the other pitchers is of great help to the team. The moral effect of sending Johnson out to warm up when one of the other pitchers happens to be going poorly cannot be estimated. It has a smothering effect on the opposing batsmen when they realize that another base hit means the coming in of Johnson, and they usually give up under such conditions”. (From Hank Thomas, “Walter Johnson: Baseball’s Big Train”, p. 97.)

    Hank is Walter Johnson’s grandson, by the way. When I was a kid, I read Shirley Povich in the Post, and Povich often told a Walter Johnson story in his column. I had never heard that Griffith, “The Old Fox”, routinely used Johnson as a relief pitcher.