Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Man Who "Saved" Baseball

I first became familiar with Jerome Holtzman as a kid reading "The Sporting News" (actually, I'm still a kid reading "The Sporting News" -- just a slightly older one). Back then, it was a golden age for baseball writers with Koppett in New York, Murray in Los Angeles, Bisher in Atlanta (he's still active), and Holtzman in Chicago. In addition to their hometown papers, they all wrote for "The Sporting News" -- Holtzman's column appeared in more than 1000 consecutive issues.

Holtzman, however, had a couple of claims to fame the others couldn't match. First, he wrote the entry on baseball for the Encyclopedia Britannica. Second, he invented a statistic which was eventually accepted as official by Major League Baseball. He called it the "save," and it's used to measure the effectiveness of relief pitchers who manage to hold onto their team's lead when they enter late in the game. (Don't ask me to explain it -- if you really want the details you can find them here.) He also wrote, No Cheering in the Press Box, considered one of the best ever books about being a baseball writer (unfortunately, it's presently out of print).

Holtzman died last week at the age of 82. The "New York Times" obituary is here, and it includes a wonderful photograph of a cigar-chomping Holtzman sitting in the Chicago Cubs dugout with Don Zimmer, one of baseball's ultimate "lifers."

No comments: