Closers: Where have all the cowboys gone?
Closers: Where have all the cowboys gone?
One of my favorite baseball memories was several years ago when I was taking a group of high school students on a mission trip to Mexico. We flew into San Diego and on our layover we caught a Padres game. I had my fingers crossed that the Padres would be up in the ninth inning (and they were) because I knew what was coming. Sure enough, the PA let loose that familiar tone of Hells Bells and there came Trevor Hoffman, running in from the bullpen. The high school students went nuts. Having never really felt the exciting of a stadium full of people pumped up to an entrance like that (or this, although this song was also used by the great Billy Wagner), they couldn’t help but go a little nuts. It was electric. It was bad a$.
While rock-n-roll is an apt illustration, it’s also got a little bit of the Old West vibe to it, as you can almost see the hard throwing closer, glaring at the batter, and with a gravely voice say, “There’s a new sheriff in town…” And as ashamed as I am to admit it, when I think back to the way closers used to bring down the house, I thought of the 90?s Paula Cole song, Where have all the cowboys gone?
My testosterone dropped 10 points in admitting that, but that song was the first thing that came to mind, and without going all Dawson’s Creek in the post, I do wonder where the cowboys have gone in baseball.
Craig Kimbrel has “it”. Aroldis Chapman could have “it” if not for Dusty Baker and his 1890?s ways. John Axford certainly has the cowboy facial hair but he hasn’t been pitching like he has “it” this season. You can have the swagger and the entrance song, but ultimately you have to lock the game down.
You see what I’m saying here? Who is there that comes in in the 9th and not only brings the house down, but sits down three straight? The cowboys are a dying breed in baseball.
There are several reasons for this:
- Injuries. If you are a closer, just go ahead and schedule a MRI and get that out of the way. I won’t even try to list all the injuries here as we should keep this post under 10,000 words. But when a Hall of Famer like Mariano Rivera goes down the game of baseball loses something, even if you hate the Yankees. Never pay for saves in fantasy baseball couldn’t be more true right now.
- Lack of Personalities. Like Brian Wilson or not, but the game was better with The Beard doing interviews. A cowboy has personality. Jason Motte wants to be Baby Beard, but he can’t pull it off. There a very few that can in the game today, and this will get worse with the media’s penchant for jumping on any remark that they can take out of context and give to their 24-hour news pundits to overreact to for days. It’s too risky to speak from the heart, or be honest, or approach things with a sense of humor because there is a legitimate fear of media backlash. It’s better to play it straight and keep to the cliches.
- Lack of Talent. Sure, Chris Perez enters the game to Prodigy’s Firestarter. It’s like the crowd (all 4,000 of them in Cleveland) knows full well that Perez is playing with fire because – despite his strong start – he’s just horrible. Matt Capp’s mom doest even jump out of your seat when he entered the game. But these things go in cycles and there are some exciting young arms coming up to take their place: Kenley Jansen, Ryan Cook, Shawn Tolleson, Brad Brach, Vinnie Pestano, Ernesto Frieri, Antonio Bastardo, Rex Brothers, Brad Boxberger, and Addison Reed to name several. I’d love to see 2 or 3 of those guys go on to record 300+ saves in a career.
- Baseball is Old School. Managerial impatience is preventing a lot of guys from finding their groove or lack of imagination is preventing them from thinking from a different angle, but baseball is an old boys club, so I wouldn’t expect any new tricks out of the old dogs. Expect more of the same “closer by committee” or “he gets the job because he has closer experience” memes that we’ve been getting.
I sure miss the cowboys though. It certainly added a level of excitement to the end of games that we seem to be missing right now. There is a certainly a young crop of fireballers ready to step in. My only regret is admitting that they make me think of a Paula Cole song.
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