The Crucial Elements Of A Closer.

Obviously, yours truly is a couple of days late on the Rod Beck condolence train, but the death of the man often called “Shooter” has brought us great stories about him camping out in an RV outside the minor league stadium for the Iowa Cubs while trying to make a comeback in 2002, plus other great humanizing details.

I remember Beck mostly as a Giant, growing up in NL West territory, and he is the first example that I can clearly remember of the idea that a closer should not resemble anyone else on the ballclub; closers are bizarre beasts in and of themselves, with odd personalities and memorable visual aspects. Rod Beck had the waggling arm, what Deadspin crowned the best mullet in baseball, and the Fu Manchu to end all Fu Manchus — Todd Jones wishes he could cop that action. But Beck was simply the first visual symbol I have of the image of a closer. To truly be a closer, and not just a guy who finishes games in the 9th, you must have one or more of these elements:

  1. Facial hair. Bruce Sutter rocked the hobo beard, Rollie Fingers and Dennis Eckersley had the ‘stache action going, Goose Gossage had a Manchu. I remember Mitch Williams having a pencil-thin, after school special job. Eric Gagne has the bushy goatee these days, but this is kind of dying out. John Smoltz still kept his starter ‘tude as the closer because of the beard.
  2. Long hair or some variant thereof. Beck and Williams were all business in the front and party in the back; Eck went with the long mane. Mark Wohlers had the same deal before he snapped mentally. Gagne had the hair that just stuck out everywhere under the cap. Jonathan Papelbon should have kept the mohawk; hell, he could have poked holes in his cap to let it breathe.
  3. Glasses. Gagne again, and see Francisco Rodriguez prior to this year. If only Kyle Farnsworth could add to this theory…
  4. Nickname. Shooter, Goose, Eck, Wild Thing, K-Rod — you see where I’m going with this.
  5. Girth. Beck’s pudge lends itself to current guys like Todd Jones, Antonio Alfonseca (who gets bonus points for having 12 fingers and toes), and Bob Wickman. Lee Smith, the all time leader, was not exactly slight, and when Jose Mesa could still close games, he was a good example too
  6. Some form of nasty breaking/off-speed pitch. Most of your closers have a sick slider or splitter to go with the fastball, and Trevor Hoffman has made it to 500 saves, even after the fastball has departed, by having an absolutely sick change-up.
  7. Closer music (added via Larry Brown’s suggestion in comments). I originally did not include this in the list, as I wanted to solely go for physical attributes, and I bet the players didn’t get to pick this stuff in the old days of live organists, etc., but you can’t deny the effect of Trevor Hoffman rocking the AC/DC, Papelbon coming out to the Dropkick Murphys, or Mo Rivera striding out to Metallica.

Of course, the obvious counter to the first six rules is Mariano Rivera, who is obviously a closer in nature and everything, with a cutter and a fastball being his favorite pitches — and all he has visually is that stone jaw to intimidate. But this list makes closers ten times more fun, and MLB needs more characters like Rod Beck.

(Photo: San Francisco Chronicle)

17 Responses

  1. You don’t need all that stuff….look at Mo Rivera – all you need is a cutter that works

  2. Great list, so true. Got one more to add:

    7. Entrance Song

  3. […] tells us what it takes to be a great closer.  There’s a lot to […]

  4. Larry, I agree that closer music adds to it. I’m going to edit the entry to add that in. I debated over it for a bit and decided to go with solely physical attributes, but the music does add.

    Stiles – Mo Rivera is the exception to all those physical rules, which is why he’s been a badass for so long. Dude looks junkyard dog mean with that stone face of his.

  5. You know, the cutter moves so much, it can be interpreted as a breaking, yes? No?

    Either way, when you get right down to it, closers have to be colorful guys. When an entire team’s efforts are reliant on whether or not one player does his job successfully, it’ll breed a lot of crazy dude. Nice list.

  6. Slick – thanks. It’s entirely kosher to put the cutter in with breaking stuff. I’ve always viewed it as a variant on the fastball, just with different location and movement.

  7. S2n, it is, brother. But Rivera-cutter is a different animal entirely.

  8. Rivera-cutter probably should get its own category of pitch somewhere between slider, fastball, and curve.

  9. The mental aspect is definitely key.

    Seems you either have to be a bit “off” like S2N said (Williams, Gossage, Beck) or just be ice cold (Rivera, Hoffman). I’m not sure if there’s a middle ground.

    Also, apropos of nothing except closer talk, Robb Nen’s toe-tap was awesome.

  10. Great list, but I think the most important thing is stones. As a closer, your career and livelihood rests on every pitch. You just can’t succeed without stones.

  11. […] The Crucial Elements Of A Closer. [image]Obviously, yours truly is a couple of days late on the Rod Beck condolence train, but the death of the man often […] […]

  12. Fantastic post S2N… I agree that a good entrance song is key too!

  13. […] Rod Beck was the ultimate closer  [Signal to Noise] […]

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