I hadn’t heard this until today, but apparently Jerome Holtzman, the sportswriter credited with inventing the save, passed away last weekend. Today, Colby Cash of the National Post takes a look at the rule’s origins — Holtzman wanted to prove that a reliever’s 18-1 record was highly deceptive, so he created an equally deceptive statistic.
There’s not a whole ton to the article, as Cash goes on to make an analogy to public policy. Yippee! But there is this one takeaway quote:
By 1980 the idea of the “closer,” a role that gives a team’s best reliever the narrowly defined job of protecting a lead at the end of the game, had taken over. As countless researchers have demonstrated, and as elementary logic indicates, this is a suboptimal use of talent. Teams are no less likely to blow late leads in the “closer” era than they were before, and a team’s most effective reliever should almost certainly be allowed to come into tied games, in which an extra run saved by good pitching has the highest possible value.
Instead, a team like the Yankees uses a Rivera to protect relatively safe two- or three-run leads, but lets ties be decided by guys who can’t hoist Rivera’s jock. Why? Because the “save” has come to define what it was originally meant only to describe: Since we measure relievers by saves, saves must be what they do. Q.E.D.