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Blessed relief

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The concept of the relief pitcher is as old as baseball itself. The originals having been introduced sometime in the early '80s; that would be the 1880s, old Sport.

For a couple generations they were just washed up starters used to mop-up one-sided games. The notion that you should call upon a young, fresh arm to bail out your mighty ace at the end of a tight or vital game was considered anathema.

Nowadays, relievers are baseball's hottest commodities. No team features fewer than six and better teams may have eight, all varying in the look, stuff and purpose they present. There are relievers for all occasions, all situations. They parade through game after game, often asked to throw just a dozen pitches, sometimes merely three or four. But they must be on call at least every other day, ready to fire every pitch as if it were their last and, sometimes, it is.

Relief pitchers have profoundly changed baseball and it's come to the point where they dominate it, for better or worse. A fair number of we who merely stand by and watch might vote the latter.

It was John J. McGraw, fierce and legendary skipper of the pre-war New York Giants' fire wagon (that would be WWI, old Sport) who refined the role.

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