It’s kind of crazy to sit back and think that a pitcher who only pitches in the ninth inning, and only comes into the game when it’s close would make more money than the starting pitcher who throws hundreds of innings and has much more influence on the game. But there is definitely a reason that the top closers in baseball get paid the way they do. It’s because getting the last three batters out in a game is extremely difficult and intense. It takes a short-term memory to be able to keep doing it for a living for years on end because you can’t let a game-winning run ruin your mentality for the next day. That’s what makes the 10 most dominant closers In Baseball History such a special list of players.
While many of the players that we’ve featured on this list will be judged by the number of saves they managed to accumulate during their careers, some of these pitches have the chance to accomplish a lot more individually, including numerous All-Star game appearances, multiple World Series rings, and even a handful of Cy Young Awards. When you’re closer to getting into the Cy Young Award category, you must be doing something right. With all of that said, we have even included some closers that may never make the Hall of Fame, but all of these gentlemen have racked up at least 300 cities in their career.
The closer’s role in the game is clearly defined these days, but it didn’t always exist, so from that standpoint, these dominant pitchers helped to define the importance of the position and pioneered what it means to be a great closer. Given the increased importance the position has been given over the last 20 years especially, it’s no coincidence that the number one pitcher on this list only retired recently. Here it is for your enjoyment…
10 Tom Henke
Tom Henke put together 217 career saves while donning a Toronto Blue Jays uniform and that’s how he will be remembered. Add that to the 94 saves he tallied with other teams throughout his career and it’s obvious why Henke starts off our top 10 list... A total of 311 total saves isn’t bad at all. It must have been the glasses. Unfortunately for Henke, he has not made it to the Baseball Hall Of Fame, despite ranking the top 25 among all time saves leaders.
9 Billy Wagner
You wouldn’t think a major league baseball player would be happy to break his dominant arm and be forced to learn to throw a baseball with the other hand, but when Billy Wagner was a kid, that’s exactly what happened. He broke his right arm, taught himself to pitch with his left arm and became one of the best closers of all time. From 1999 through 2010, he appeared in seven All-Star games. In that very first All-Star caliber season, Wagner struck out an incredible 124 batters in just 74 innings pitched. That’s a strikeout per nine innings ratio of 15. He may not have had MVP trophies and Cy Young awards like some of these pitchers, but Wagner was pretty dominant in his prime.
8 John Wetteland
John Wetteland finished slightly ahead of Tom Henke in career saves with 330, which is why we have given him the number 9 spot on this list. Apart from racking up the saves, Wettelend has a really special award attached to his name. He was the MVP of the 1996 World Series winning New York Yankees. For a guy who was as consistent and reliable in the ninth inning as any other closer in the game during his prime years, Wetteland sure did bounce around the league, but that 1996 season also got him a career-high 43 saves, so he’s probably cool with the way things turned out.
7 Lee Smith
During his last six seasons in the league, Lee Smith played for no less than five teams. That’s just what happens when you get to the latter part of your career but it doesn’t mean that Smith wasn’t a great closer. He was in fact just that. Smith racked up an incredible 478 saves out of 1,022 appearances in his career and there was a time during his prime years when he was pretty much automatic. From 1991 to 1995, Smith represented his team in the All-Star game every year. His ability to close out a game was top notch, and while Smith hasn’t gotten his call to the Hall of Fame yet, he does get the call on this list in the number 7 slot.
6 Bruce Sutter
Bruce Sutter won the Rolaids Relief Man Of The Year Award three times in four seasons as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals back in the early 80s. His consistency was a big part of helping the team win the 1982 World Series. While winning a World Series is nothing strange to a good closer, just ask John Wetteland, Sutter did something few closers in baseball will ever get the chance to do. He won the National League Cy Young Award as the game’s best pitcher. Those are the kind of accolades that get your number retired when you’re done playing, and Sutter received the honor from the Cardinals on top of being inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006.
5 Rollie Fingers
Here we present to you the man with one of the most memorable mustaches in sports and also one heck of a closer… none other than Rollie Fingers. Aside from Bruce Sutter, Fingers is the only other closer on this list to have won a Cy Young Award. He accomplished the feat in 1981. Seven years before that, he won the World Series MVP trophy when the Oakland Athletics took home the title. To say the least, Fingers was a big part of the franchise’s glory years… and that makes him deserving of the number 6 spot on this list.
4 Rich Gossage
Rich ‘Goose’ Gossage made nineAll-Star appearances throughout his career and he experienced the joy of winning a World Series title with the New York Yankees in 1978. He finished his career with 310 saves and like Rollie Fingers, Gossage will be known for his mustache. Apparently if you want to be a closer you have to be impeccably obsessed with your facial hair. Gossage got voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008. He was voted in by 85.8% of the voters, which pretty much made him a sure bet to get on this list in 2015, although he probably didn’t know that at the time and he probably doesn’t care now.
3 Trevor Hoffman
Aside from one of baseball’s greatest hitters Tony Gwynn, closer Trevor Hoffman is probably the name that people remember most when they think of some of the greatest players in the short history of the San Diego Padres. The man racked up a mind blowing 601 saves in his career, mainly thanks to an absolutely nasty curveball that hitters simply couldn’t lock onto. While he never actually won a World Series, Hoffman was one of the biggest reasons the team made it to the show in 1998.
2 Dennis Eckersley
Believe it or not Dennis Eckersley wasn’t actually a closer for his entire career, but no matter what his role was out on the mound, the man could pitch and he was an intimidating figure to those standing in the batter’s box. He won the American League Cy Young Award in 1992. While he will mostly be remembered as a member of the Oakland Athletics, Eckersley once threw a no-hitter with the Cleveland Indians in the 70s. Hitters definitely did not want to face him with the game on the line, and he definitely played a huge role in the team’s 1989 World Series victory. Eckersley’s sweeping pitches and ability to get guys out is supplanted by just one man who takes the number one spot on this list of dominant closers.
1 Mariano Rivera
If there is one closer that isn’t in the Hall of Fame that will no doubt about it claim his spot in due time, the closer will be former New York Yankees great Mariano Rivera. He won five World Series titles with the team and also won the World Series MVP award in 1999. Rivera’s cut fastball would routinely break the bats of the game’s best hitters. That pitch alone is a big reason why he was able to post a whopping 652 career saves. Rivera seemed to have batters beaten before even throwing a pitch. When "Enter Sandman" blazed through Yankee Stadium, you knew the end was coming. Rivera rarely let games slip away from the Yankees and it's a pretty unanimous choice to place Mo number one on our list.
Rivera received the Commissioner’s Historic Achievement Award back in 2013, and all of those accomplishments are good enough to name him the most dominant closer.