Being able to be clutch comes with the territory as a closer in baseball. With the game on the line and teammates depending on the closer to secure a victory, they must possess the capability to block out any and all distractions in order to focus on making the last few outs. At the pinnacle of baseball – playing as a professional in Major League Baseball (MLB) – this talent is extremely necessary and is in fact required at a much higher degree. With the added pressure of massive crowds and millions of fans holding their breath at each pitch, MLB closers mustn’t be fazed by their surroundings. With each pitch as crucial to the outcome of the game as the next, MLB closers need to remain calm, cool, and collected in order to collect the save.
Many would say that these players’ blood runs cold, harboring ice in their veins rather than the warmth of blood that so readily adapts to emotion. Still, others would say that closers are a different breed, meant for the spotlight and able to brush aside the psychological barriers that would otherwise prevent any average player from performing under such pressure.
As for the fifteen men on this list, to achieve what they did in the MLB, they embodied all of the qualities of a closer and were able to shut out the noise better than anyone ever has in the game of baseball. Here is a list of the top fifteen MLB closers whose blood ran cold…ice cold.
29 Francisco Cordero (329)
This seasoned MLB veteran decided to call it quits on his career in 2012. Before his retirement, Francisco Cordero played for six separate teams over a career that spanned 14 years. In seven different seasons, Cordero had at least 34 saves, compiling a career-high 49 in 2004 with the Texas Rangers. A three-time all-star, Cordero split his career between the American League and National League. His first eight years in the league were spent in the American league, primarily with the Rangers, while the next six were spent in the National League with both the Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds. At the end of his career, Cordero collected a total of 329 saves. Of his 405 career save attempts, Cordero only blew 76 of them, giving him a save percentage of 81.2%. In his four years with the Cincinnati Reds, Cordero was ice cold, as he saved an incredible 150 games.
27 John Wetteland (330)
It is quite astonishing that in just twelve seasons, John Wetteland was able to collect 330 saved games. Wetteland split his career between the American League and National League, with his most dominant years coming in the former. In his six seasons in the American League, Wetteland spent time with both the New York Yankees and the Texas Rangers. He was voted as an all-star three separate times, including in 1996 as a New York Yankee when he led the American League in saves with 43. Although Wetteland only appeared in 618 games, he compiled a save in over half of those games. In 393 save opportunities, he only managed to blow 63, giving him a career save percentage of 84.0%. Wetteland had over 40 saves in four different seasons, including 43 in 1993 when he also had a record of 9-3. The really amazing statistic about Wetteland was his strikeouts. He was able to strikeout a total of 804 batters in just 765 innings pitched.
25 Rollie Fingers (341)
With a name like Rollie Fingers, this man was destined to become a pitcher. Not only did he have one of the best names to ever play baseball, he wore one of the most memorable mustaches to ever grace the pitching mound. Fingers was an all-star in seven different seasons and won the Cy Young and MVP awards in 1981 as a 34 year old. Over his 17 year career, Fingers spent time with the Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres, and Milwaukee Brewers. In 450 save opportunities, Fingers blew 109 of them, giving him a respectable 75.8% career save percentage. In the post-season, Fingers won the World Series three times and actually won the World Series’ MVP in 1974. Pitching in the 1970s during the era of peace and love certainly did not warm Rollie Fingers’ heart; it seemed to make it colder in fact, allowing Fingers to become one of the decade’s most ice cold closers.
23 Randy Myers (347)
Randy Myers had 25 or more saves in nine separate seasons over his fourteen year career. This included a career high – and league-high – 53 saves in 1993 with the Chicago Cubs. Two years later, in 1995, Myers led the MLB in saves once again with a total of 45. A four-time all-star, Myers compiled a total of 347 career saves. In his career, Myers moved around the league a lot, spending time with the New York Mets, Cincinnati Reds, San Diego Padres, Chicago Cubs, Baltimore Orioles, and Toronto Blue Jays. Of his 408 career save opportunities, Myers only blew 61 of them, giving him a career save percentage of 85.0%. For every inning that Myers pitched (884.2), Myers had one strikeout, as he compiled 884 punch-outs during his career. Myers was crucial in helping Cincinnati win a World Series in 1990 as he had 4 saves in the post-season that year, with 3 coming in the National League Championship Series where he saved three games against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
21 Troy Percival (358)
One of only eleven closers in MLB history to have over 350 career saves, Troy Percival racked up 358 in his illustrious career. The Anaheim Angels’ legend, Percival collected the bulk of his saves during his time in California, earning 316 as an Angel. Of his 415 career save opportunities, Percival only blew 57 of them, for an impressive career save percentage of 86.3%. Percival had 25 or more saves in ten separate seasons, and had 30 or more in seven straight seasons. A four-time all-star, Percival played the majority of his career in Anaheim, but finished his playing days for three other teams over four years: the Detroit Tigers, St. Louis Cardinals, and Tampa Bay Rays. Percival enjoyed shutting down batters so much that after his first retirement, he pursued a comeback which, albeit short-lived, was fairly successful. During his comeback, Percival played with the Tampa Bay Rays and, as a 38 year old, collected 28 saves.
19 Jeff Reardon (367)
Jeff Reardon played for seven different teams during his lengthy MLB career that lasted for 16 years. When it was all said and done, Reardon had had stints with the Montreal Expos, Minnesota Twins, New York Mets, Boston Red Sox, Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds, and New York Yankees. Playing for so many teams might have made it difficult for any other closer to string together saves – seeing as how he would constantly be playing in unfamiliar ballparks and facing unfamiliar batters from year-to-year – but Reardon was able to ignore his ever-changing surroundings. Reardon finished his career with 367 career saves, and was voted as an all-star on four separate occasions. He had at least 25 saves in nine separate seasons, including 41 in 1985 which was good enough to lead the entire league. Of his 473 career save opportunities, Reardon blew 106 of those giving him a career save percentage of 77.6%.
17 Johnathan Papelbon (368*)
Currently playing for the Washington Nationals, Johnathan Papelbon is certainly one of the most ice cold closers in MLB history. Having played for the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies prior to Washington, Papelbon has terrorized both American League and National League batters in the ninth inning. So far in his career, Papelbon has 368 saves which, seeing as he is still playing, is subject to change. Of his 417 career save opportunities, Papelbon has only blown 49 of them, giving him an astounding 88.2% career save percentage. Essentially, 9 out of 10 times, Papelbon is lights out which is an incredible statistic considering he is playing in the modern MLB. Papelbon had seven straight seasons with more than 30 saves including a career-high 41 in 2008 as Boston’s reliever. What is really incredible is that Papelbon has managed to collect all of his saves – and his 807 strikeouts – in just 686 games.
15 Joe Nathan (377*)
Amazingly, this 41 year old reliever is still playing in the MLB, and is currently pitching out of the Chicago Cub’s bullpen. Nathan’s career has spanned the better part of sixteen seasons and has seen him pitch for a variety of teams including: the San Francisco Giants, Minnesota Twins, Texas Rangers, Detroit Tigers, and Chicago Cubs. The majority of his 377 saves were collected while he was playing for the Twins, however he was also lights out as a Texas Ranger. Much like Papelbon, Nathan’s save numbers are prone to get bigger as he continues to pitch in the majors. In his 422 career save attempts, Nathan has only blown 45 of them, giving him an astounding 89.3% career save percentage. Throughout his career, Nathan collected more than 40 saves in four separate seasons, and had at least 35 saves nine different times. With numbers like that, it is hard to argue that Nathan had anything other than ice flowing through his veins.
13 Dennis Eckersley (390)
The unbelievable thing about Dennis Eckersley is the fact that he was only converted to a closer half way through his career and was still able to save a total of 390 games. In his lengthy career of 24 years, Eckersley played the first 12 as a starting pitcher, compiling a respectable 165-140 record. But in the latter half of his career, Eckersley was moved to the bullpen as a closer where he would flourish for many years. Of his 461 career save opportunities, Eckersley blew 71 of them, leaving him with an 84.6% career save percentage. Eckersley led the league in saves twice in his career, having saved 45 games for the Oakland Athletics in 1988 and 51 games for Oakland in the 1992 campaign. His efforts in 1992 earned him a Cy Young Award and the honor of being named the American League MVP. It is easy to imagine what Eckersley’s numbers as a closer might have been, had he played the first twelve seasons of his career as a closer.
11 Francisco Rodriguez (415*)
As one of only six closers to ever record over 400 saves, Francisco Rodriguez is certainly proven to come through in the clutch. Currently only 34, Rodriguez has several years of baseball ahead of him which suggests that his numbers will continue to grow. The bulk of his 415 saves came with the Los Angeles Angels where he recorded 208. Rodriguez has managed to blow only 67 of his 482 career save opportunities, giving him a completion rate of 86.1%. The six-time all-star led the entire MLB in saves on three separate occasions, including in 2008 when he threw a career-high 62 saves. Rodriguez’s bread and butter is the strikeout, as he strikes out nearly a third of the batters he faces and has fanned a total of 1104 batters. Rodriguez has earned over 40 saves in five different seasons and it looks as if he will accomplish it once more this season with the Detroit Tigers. With several seasons yet to come for Rodriguez, it is tough to predict how far he may climb the all-time saves list.
9 Billy Wagner (422)
The seven-time all-star, Billy Wagner was about as cold as it gets when it came to closing out ball games. At the end of his career, Wagner had saved 422 games, while only blowing 69, leaving him with a career save percentage of 85.9%. Wagner had at least 30 saves in nine different seasons, which included a career-high 44 saves in 2003 as a Houston Astro. Of the 3,600 batters that Wagner faced in his career, he only allowed 601 hits against, while retiring 1,196 via the strikeout. Over his sixteen year career, Wagner averaged a total of 34 saved games per year. Wagner collected over 100 saves with two separate teams: 101 with the New York Mets, and 225 with the Houston Astros. Although he spent over half of his career playing in the warmth of Houston, there is no denying that Wagner could have frozen water had he breathed on it. Being this high on this list proves that Billy Wagner was one of the most ice cold closers in MLB history.
7 John Franco (424)
At 5’10”, 170 lbs., John Franco was never the most physically intimidating pitcher. However, for what he lacked in size, he made up for it by intimidating batters when it mattered most. Franco had over 25 saves in eleven different seasons which included a career-high 39 in 1988 with the Cincinnati Reds. Franco does not possess the same save percentages as many of the players on this list, as he finished his career with only an 80.8% completion rate. What does matter though is that Franco was consistent from year-to-year in his ability to close out ball games. This consistency proved a valuable asset to Franco who collected 424 saves over his 21 year career. Franco was voted as an all-star on four separate occasions, and his ability to come through in the clutch made him a legend both in Cincinnati and in New York where he played for the Mets.
5 Lee Smith (478)
By the end of his career, Lee Smith was somewhat of a suitcase, as he had traveled to play for eight different MLB teams including: the Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, California Angels, Cincinnati Reds, and Montreal Expos. Whatever the reason for his bouncing around the league, Smith could flat out close games. He finished his career with a total of 478 saved games and was elected as an all-star seven different times. Smith was given 581 opportunities to close out ball games and managed to blow 103 of them which left him with an 82.3% career save percentage. Smith had 25 saves or more in fifteen different seasons, including 47 in 1991 which was good enough to lead the entire league. Even more impressive, Smith had over 30 saves in eleven of those seasons and over 40 in four of those. He also collected over 150 saves with two different teams: 160 with the St. Louis Cardinals and 180 with the Chicago Cubs.
3 Trevor Hoffman (601)
Trevor Hoffman is one of the greatest pitchers to ever play in the MLB, and arguably the greatest closer of all-time. Playing the majority of his career for the San Diego Padres, Hoffman cemented his legacy by collecting a total of 601 saves. Of those 601, Hoffman earned 552 of them with the Padres effectively christening him a San Diego sports legend. The seven-time all-star had over 40 saves in nine different seasons, including 53 in 1998 which was good enough to lead the entire MLB. Of his 677 save opportunities, Hoffman only blew 76 of them which resulted in a career save percentage of 88.8%. It is hard to see anyone breaking 600 career saves, and thus catching Hoffman, anytime soon. Hoffman will therefore continue to sit in second place on the all-time saves list for years to come. The San Diego weather did little to warm Hoffman’s blood as he was extremely ice cold during his playing days as a closer.
1 Mariano Rivera (652)
Oh Mariano Rivera, where would the New York Yankees be without you? The greatest closer in the history of the MLB, Rivera spent his entire nineteen year career with the Yankees. Throughout his career, Rivera racked up an incredible 652 saved games cementing his legacy as the most clutch closer to ever play baseball. The thirteen-time all-star was given 732 career save opportunities and only blew 80 of them, giving him an 89.1% career save percentage. Rivera had over 40 saves in nine different seasons, including 44 saves in his final year with the Yankees as a 43 year old! Rivera led the MLB in saves three times (45 in 1999, 50 in 2001, and 53 in 2004) and also holds the MLB record for games finished by a pitcher out of the bullpen with 952. I think that it is safe to say that Rivera was one of the greatest Bronx-Bombers of all time, and it is certain that for the rest of his life, wherever he goes in New York, Rivera will eat for free. You might as well wear mittens if you ever plan to shake his hand, because Mariano Rivera was the most ice cold closer to ever play in the MLB.