One of the things that I keep hearing the postseason announcers say is how important the bullpen is to teams, especially Texas and St. Louis. Well, there’s no arguing with them about the importance of the bullpen, but that’s been true for a long time. All the way back in 1959 there was a pretty obscure World Series played between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox. That Series was important for a lot of reasons. The Sox were in their first World Series since the Black Sox Scandal. The Dodgers were the first champions from the West Coast. But it was also a landmark in bullpen use.
A brief rundown of the Series is important here. The ChiSox won the first game behind Early Wynn, that year’s Cy Young Award winner (there was only one Cy Young Award that season), then the Dodgers won three in a row. The Sox came back in game five to win a 1-0 thriller that introduced the nation at large to a struggling lefty named Sandy Koufax (who would later win three of those one-a-year Cy Young Awards). Then the Dodgers put away the Sox in game six to claim their second ever World Series victory and the first for any West Coast team.
Those barebones are true, but they don’t mention the bullpens. Both were important to the teams, especially Los Angeles. The 1959 World Series saw a record for bullpen use. For the first time ever no starting pitcher (on either team) pitched a complete game. Not one. In every game both teams made use of their bullpens to hold leads, keep the score from getting worse, shutting down the opponents, just all those things that bullpens are supposed to do.
The Chisox used Gerry Staley as their main man out of the ‘pen. He pitched four games in the Series picking up a win and a save. Dick Donovan also picked up a save, coupling it with a loss. But the big bullpen star was Dodgers right-hander Larry Sherry. Without him, the Dodgers simply don’t win. He appeared in five games (all but game one), getting a three inning save in game 2, and a two inning save in game 3. In game four he pitched the last two innings to pick up the win, and in the final game he entered the game with one out in the fourth and finished the game for the win. And to top all that off, he pinch hit in game five, grounding out third to first. Needless to say (but of course I am going to) he was chosen the World Series MVP, the first reliever to gain the honor. In fairness to others, the award was only established in 1955.
So good bullpen use isn’t new. It goes back a long, long way. But its finest hour might simply have been 1959.