No piece of the puzzle to create a Mount Rushmore for each position in the history of the Chicago White Sox proved more problematic than the role of the middle reliever or setup man.
Specific roles for relief pitchers didn’t evolve until the late 1980s and early 1990s, prior to that relievers were mostly pitchers who didn’t have either the stamina or the stuff to go through the lineup multiple times and were thus sent to the bullpen as failed starters.
Middle relievers in particular were a hard thing to define because for more than a century of baseball, the pitcher expected to get himself out of trouble in the middle of a game was the starter, i.e., the guy who got himself into that mess in the first place.
But now we’ve reached a point in the evolution of baseball that the middle reliever may be the pitcher that most often is brought into high-leverage situations — runners already on base that the starter put there and a need to work out of trouble or at least limit the amount of damage to what has already been done.
The modern setup man works the seventh or eighth inning, often coming in at the beginning of the frame with the bases empty. The same goes for the closer, a role covered in our Mount Rushmore series here.
The late onset of this role is reflected by the 24 pitchers meeting the criteria for consideration: At least 150 relief appearances with fewer than 50 saves. Many of them served as the closer (or as it was called in its early days, the fireman) for at least part of their time with the White Sox, but only one of them — Sarge Connally — pitched for the team before 1950.
Conversely, half of the qualifiers pitched all or part of their White Sox careers in the 21st century.
Some of the anomalies found:
- The group’s lone Hall of Famer did not earn a spot on Mount Rushmore. Rich Gossage spent five seasons in Chicago — three as a reliever/spot starter, one as an outstanding closer and one as a not-so-outstanding starter.
- Two of the earliest qualifiers, Turk Lown and Gerry Staley, sort of shared responsibilities at the end of games. The duo would have tied for the American League lead in saves in the White Sox pennant-winning campaign of 1959, each saving 15.
- Gossage was one of four in the group to spend at least a season in a defined closer’s role, along with Eddie Fisher, Bob Howry and Bob Locker.
All that said, here are the qualifiers:
- Juan Agosto (1981-86)
- Sarge Connally (1921, 1923-29)
- Neal Cotts (2003-06)
- Jesse Crain (2011-13)
- Fritz Dorish (1951-55)
- Eddie Fisher (1962-66, 1972-73)
- Jace Fry (2017-20)
- Rich Gossage (1972-76)
- Bob Howry (1998-2002)
- Dan Jennings (2015-17)
- Nate Jones (2012-19)
- Matt Karchner (1995-98)
- Scott Linebrink (2008-10)
- Bob Locker (1965-69)
- Turk Lown (1958-62)
- Damaso Marte (2002-05)
- Donn Pall (1988-93)
- Jake Petricka (2013-17)
- Cliff Politte (2004-06)
- Scott Radinsky (1990-93, 1995)
- Bill Simas (1995-2000)
- Jerry Staley (1956-61)
- Matt Thornton (2006-13)
- Kelly Wunsch (2000-04)