- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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If Mariano Rivera wasn't one of the three best pitchers in the American League this year, we know a whole lot of people who need new eye prescriptions.
But there is official evidence that at least six people didn't think he was -- because somehow, six of the 28 ballots for the AL Cy Young award (that's 21 percent) came back without the great Mariano's name on them.
Anybody got a decent explanation for that travesty of voting justice?
Well, we've got one. And the sad truth is, you don't need to be a descendant of Goose Gossage to know this had nothing to do with how Rivera pitched. It had everything to do with when he pitched.
His crime, clearly, is that he pitches the end of games -- not the beginning of games. And baseball's award voters have been subtly telling us for years that they don't think relief pitchers fit the qualifications for this, or any, major award.
The Cy Young is for starting pitchers. The MVP is for position players. And don't even get us started on the Hall of Fame.
So what's the role of relief pitchers in those otherwise-prestigious elections? Basically, as far as we can tell, they exist only to help fill out the ballots.
Well, it's time to fix that.
It's time for the Baseball Writers Association to create a new award -- say, the Rollie Fingers Relief Excellence Award -- to honor the Mariano Riveras and Billy Wagners and Trevor Hoffmans who go through life giving up about one run a month, but get recognized only when they accidentally turn a win into a loss.
This, friends, is an innovation that's more overdue in this sport than letting umpires haul out the instant-replay monitors.
True, nine of the 90 Cy Youngs in history have been handed to relief pitchers. Five relievers have even won an MVP. But they've won only when there was no compelling "normal" candidate to vote for. Check out the voting results. They couldn't be more clear on that.
And the man who serves as human proof -- better than any relief pitcher of his, or any other, era -- is Rivera. This was his ninth season as a closer. It was the sixth in which his ERA was under 2.00. He owns zero Cy Youngs. In fact, this was the first year he'd even finished as high as second. Crazy.
Also, is there any doubt in the mind of anyone who has watched a Yankees game since 1998 that Rivera has been the single most indispensable Yankee in just about every one of those eight straight first-place seasons (including this one)? Shouldn't be.
But how many MVP awards has he won? Zilch, of course. How many times has he even finished in the top 10 in the voting? How about once (a token ninth-place showing, in 2004). What a joke.
"This guy is going to go through one of the greatest careers of any pitcher in history," says longtime BBWAA secretary-treasurer Jack O'Connell, "and not have any hardware to show for it."
He's right -- unless something changes, that is. So let's turn and face those changes. Let's establish an award that acknowledges, finally, that relief pitchers are real people -- people who have every bit as huge an impact on teams and seasons as the Bartolo Colons of our world.
Unlike most ideas we come up with, this one might actually happen. O'Connell says he's open to the idea of introducing a new award. BBWAA president Peter Schmuck was even willing to describe this as "logical." So maybe that sound you're hearing in the distance is the Rollie Fingers Award ball rolling.
'Bout time. In fact, there's only one problem we can see with establishing that award:
It wouldn't be long before we'd have to rename it ...
As the Mariano Rivera Award.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
54mTony Lee, Special to ESPN.com