Orosco gets shot to break Hall barrier

Orosco gets shot to break Hall barrier

NEW YORK -- There was a time in Jesse Orosco's career, before sheer longevity defined the man, when his reputation, instead, hinged on a slider. It was a good one. And Orosco proved it in 1986, during his first of two full decades in the big leagues, when that slider helped win the Mets the World Series and Orosco widespread fame.

Perhaps his most memorable slider actually came days earlier, at a time when Amazin' happenings still remained in doubt. The Mets were battling the Astros for the right to play in the World Series, and in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, they watched Orosco cough up a lead in the 14th inning and then threaten to do the same in the 16th.

Yet, with two men on base, Orosco threw the slider that struck out Kevin Bass and sent the Mets cruising toward the title.

Orosco threw more sliders against the Red Sox in the World Series, finally striking out Marty Barrett on a fastball to win the thing. And because of those October memories, he once said he would want his Hall of Fame cap to be decidedly blue and orange.

"Mets, definitely," he said. "Many more memories there than anywhere else."

It's a request that, perhaps, he'll be able to make. Orosco is among 10 first-timers on the 2009 Hall of Fame ballot, and if the Baseball Writers' Association of America sends him to Cooperstown, he would become the first pitcher to make the Hall after spending the bulk of his career as a middle reliever.

A candidate must receive 75 percent of the vote to gain election, with former Red Sox slugger Jim Rice (72.2 percent), former Expos and Cubs outfielder Andre Dawson (65.9 percent) and former Twins ace Bert Blyleven (61.9 percent) standing as the top three returning vote-getters.

Rickey Henderson, whose career spanned 25 years and nine teams, headlines the newcomers to the 2009 Hall of Fame ballot. Henderson, who never announced his retirement, last played for the Dodgers in 2003. The 1990 AL MVP is the all-time leader in runs scored (2,295), stolen bases (1,406) and is second in walks (2,190).

The tricky part of Orosco's candidacy is that only five relievers have made it to the Hall, and all five closed out games for significant chunks of their careers. The most recent inductee, Goose Gossage, saved 310 games over 22 years in the big leagues. Bruce Sutter, who entered Cooperstown in 2006, saved 300 games over a dozen years. Rollie Fingers saved 341. Dennis Eckersley, 390. And Hoyt Wilhelm, despite pitching years before closers became a part of baseball's mainstream philosophy, saved 227.

Orosco saved just 144 games over his career, holding the closer's role with the Mets and then serving primarily as a middle reliever for eight other teams. Though there is no denying his credentials, history has shown that the save -- however contrived a statistic -- has been the dominating factor in whether relievers make it into the Hall.

"There's no doubt that [the save] has allowed a lot of guys to get deserved credit for what they do," former closer John Smoltz once said.

Still, Orosco has racked up plenty of credit for his 1,252 appearances, a Major League record by no small margin. All but four of those came in relief, and most in the latter stages of his career spanned less than an inning. Throughout his 24-season career, which saw him transition from closer to middle reliever to left-handed specialist, Orosco produced a 3.16 ERA over 1,295 innings. He bounced from the Mets to the Dodgers, Indians, Brewers, Orioles and Cardinals, back to the Dodgers, then to the Padres, Yankees and Twins.

And he molded a reputation even more distinctive than the one he held in 1986, when he became the iconic final image of the World Series -- flinging his glove into the air and falling to his knees after recording the final out.

Into his second, and then his third decade in the game, Orosco became better known as an anomaly of longevity, the type of player who could still pitch effectively into his 40s. Even with a reduced role later in his career, Orosco's value remained high.

Shortly after Orosco joined the Yankees in 2003, his old pitching coach, Mel Stottlemyre, approached him and asked how much longer the 24-year veteran planned to pitch.

"I still feel good; I'm still enjoying it, still getting hitters out," Orosco replied, their exchange recounted in the New York Times. "They're going to have to take the uniform off me."

They didn't have to resort to that -- Orosco retired after stints with the Yankees, Padres and Twins that season -- but the conversation still revealed much about the man. Without that fire, that ambition, Orosco certainly never would have been able to remain in the big leagues for 24 years. And without his career spanning close to a quarter century, Orosco likely wouldn't have an opportunity to enter the Hall of Fame in 2009.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.