Sunday, April 6, 2014

HALL OF FAME LEADERS XVIII: 1979 LEADING FIREMEN

Today we come to the final Topps "League Leader" card of the 1970's that (at the moment) features solely Hall of Famers: 1979 Leading Firemen (#8) with "Goose" Gossage and Rollie Fingers.
Take a look at the card first:


For Gossage, it was a successful first year in the Bronx in 1978, as he lead the American League in saves with 27 to go along with a 10-11 record and 2.01 earned run average.
He was already entrenched as a "beast" out of the bullpen, firing 100-mile-an-hour fastballs out of a wind-up that was all arms and legs.
I used to LOVE seeing this guy pitch when I was a kid! He just looked like a mad-man to me.
Then I got the chance to meet him years later and he was just about the coolest, nicest person you could ask for, with that no-nonsense approach to talking to people that immediately made you comfortable.
Gossage would end up fifth in Cy Young Award voting that year, as well as 13th in M.V.P. voting, while also becoming a catalyst in one of my favorite stories about the crazy "Bronx Zoo" days.
In 1977 Sparky Lyle, the Yankees relief whiz, went on to win the Cy Young and seemed to be THE Yankee closer with no end in sight.
Then the Yankees go out and get Gossage as a free agent, leading to a CLASSIC quote by Yankee third baseman Graig Nettles, telling Lyle that he went, "from Cy Young to Sayonara".
It turned out to be true, as Lyle was gone, getting traded to the Texas Rangers in November of 1978.
Gossage on the other hand went on to be the Yankee closer for six years, never posting an E.R.A. over 2.62 in any of those seasons, with an incredible low of 0.77 during the strike season of 1981.
He'd also finish in the top-5 in Cy Young voting three times, with a high of third-place in 1980 when he went 6-2 with a league-leading 33 saves and a 2.27 earned run average.
He hung around the Majors for 22 years, retiring after the 1994 season with the Mariners at the age of 42, eventually getting the Hall of Fame nod in 2008.
As for Rollie Fingers, one of the all-time classic characters of the 1970's baseball era, 1978 was an excellent year for the veteran, as he lead the Majors with 37 saves to go with a 6-13 record and 2.52 E.R.A.
It was his second straight year leading the league in saves, and his third year getting into the top-10 in Cy Young voting, finishing in 8th-place.
As we all know, his best season was still ahead of him, as 1981 saw him win not only a Cy Young Award, but also an M.V.P., as he went 6-3 with a league-leading 28 saves and microscopic 1.04 E.R.A. for the Milwaukee Brewers during the strike year, as the "Brew Crew" were on the verge of some solid seasons with guys like Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Cecil Cooper and Gorman Thomas powering them to the World Series the following year.
1983 saw Fingers suffer some arm problems, rapidly ending his Major League career after the 1985 season at the age of 38.
But the numbers were already there, and Fingers found himself voted into Cooperstown as the first pitcher whose career was solely as a relief pitcher in 1992.
Of course he also left us with the trademark "Rollie" mustache, about as cool a souvenir from the 1970's as you can get, initially grown as a member of the awesome Oakland A's dynasty of the mid-70's.
It's been a nice little "sub-set" of sorts to focus in on for a little while.
Hope you enjoyed it as well…

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