Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Dandy Dozen - Willis Gordon
The Resume - One of the game's all-time best closers, Gordon has been pitching in the big leagues for 12 seasons. He's saved 391 (of 449, 87.1%) career games. His career save percentage is good for 3rd all-time. His 711 career appearances are 3rd in league history. He holds the career saves records for both San Juan, including 3 of the franchises top 5 all time, and Fresno (then LA), including 4 of the top 5 all-time performances as well as holding Houston's single-season saves record. Gordon's career ERA of 3.49 is solid.
His best season came in season 11 for Houston, where he signed a 4 year, $27.6 million contract. His first year saw him save 39 of 42 games, win 3, and post an un-heard of 1.22 ERA.
The Rest of the Story - Gordon group up in Oakland but developed a hard-partying lifestyle while spending much of his youth in LA. After arriving on the scene for the Los Angeles Banditos, Gordon was the toast of the town while saving 145 games in 4 seasons. But the cocaine, the ladies, and the late night caught up to him. In season 5 he allowed 17 runs and 37 hits in 29 innings before the Bandidtos shipped him to San Juan. The hard times continued with the Crownrificos, where he logged a 5.97 ERA in the 2nd half of Season 5 and a 5.63 ERA for season 6 while be subjected to the most brutal workload of his career, 100 innings and 76 appearances.
Just when he was about to hit rock bottom, San Juan promoted AAA pitching coach Shooter Ray to the major leagues and handed him the bullpen. Shooter was a prep star himself in rural Indiana. Despite an abusive home-life, he carried his high tiny Hickory High baseball team to the state finals in Indianapolis. There, he was torched for 11 runs on 15 hits in just 3 innings by the big-city boys. Shooter was never the same, becoming a fall-down drunk. San Juan owner wang35 found him on the streets of San Juan begging for change and recognized him from beat up copy of Baseball America that featured an 18-year old Shooter with a picture of his HS sweethart, Jennifer Aniston. Wang kept the BA around for the picture of Aniston, who he insists to this day that "he discovered before she was big." Wang hired on Shooter; Shooter cleaned up his life; and then Shooter cleaned up Gordon.
In season 7 Gordon's ERA was back to 2.60 and he saved 42. Shooter was promoted to pitching coach and has remained there for 6 seasons. Gordon has tapped his sponsor and former coach to introduce him at the Hall of Fame ceremony.