There’s no question that just behind the manager and his coaching staff, the most important role on a baseball team is its closer. You can have the greatest lineup in the world, the best pitching staff too, but if you don’t have an intimidating presence coming to the mound in the ninth inning, you might as well forget about winning baseball games.
For the Seattle Mariners, they planned on starting the season with David Aardsma as their closer. Aardsma is exactly the type of player you want coming out to anchor your team’s win. He’s over six feet tall, has a hard fastball and comes out of the bullpen to music that I don’t approve of. Unfortunately, like most closers, he’s a little bit kooky upstairs, and he didn’t have the mental fortitude to avoid injury.
That means that the Mariners have been forced to rely on Brandon League to close out their games. Looking at their 16-22 record, you can judge for yourself how successful that’s been for them. In his last three appearances he’s lost the game for his team, leading me to believe it’s no coincidence that a Major League Baseball team has never won the World Series with an Asian closer.
Now, I’m not racist. I’ve got several Asian friends and I enjoy Kung Fu movies and many dishes from Asian cuisine like General Tao Chicken, Chicken Balls and Sweet & Sour Ribs. Just don’t ask me to use chop sticks!
It’s clear to me that despite his hard fastball and tattoos, League doesn’t have the swagger to be a closer. I mean, look at that picture of League up there. If that’s him practicing his mean face, he’s got a lot to learn. It doesn’t help matters that he’s also an inch shorter than Aardsma. Like most Asians, League is likely a smart fella and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he keeps overthinking the situations he’s in as a closer.
If there’s anything I’ve learned during my time around the game it’s that thinking and baseball do not go well together.
I remember having a lefty closer when I was coaching down in Oklahoma City in the seventies. He didn’t have much in the way of stuff, mechanics or make up, but he was a tall, scary looking guy. While all the other ballplayers got caught up in the disco look, this reliever I had wanted nothing to do with it. He, like me, believed that women shouldn’t wear makeup (you don’t paint the barn unless it needs painting). So, why in heaven’s name would it be okay for men to do it?
Anyway, his mean and gruff look combined with rumors that he hung out in Bricktown when he wasn’t playing intimidated all of the opposing hitters. More often than not he’d end up using sliders to get ball players out probably because his fastball wasn’t much to speak of. That, there, is proof that closing out baseball games has more to do with having the right mentality than ability or talent.
If you still don’t believe me, look at the New York Yankees and Mariano Rivera. They’ve been very successful together, and Rivera only has one pitch. That’s what intimidation can do for you. And that’s what Brandon League is lacking.
If the Mariners ever hope to get back to their glory days they might want to consider trading for a veteran proven reliever who can anchor their bullpen and ensure that they keep the leads they get.
Hunter Roscoe is a former Minor League Baseball player and coach. You can follow him on Twitter.