Nice Work if You Can Get It

Left-handed Re­lief Spe­cial­ists Have a Unique Job: Face Just One Bat­ter

The Washington Post Sunday - - High Schools - By Dave Sheinin

And now, faith­ful read­ers of MLB Sun­day, let us join in praise for the LOOGY: the “lefty one-out guy,” also known as the left-handed re­lief spe­cial­ist. You know him. You love him (as long as he’s re­tir­ing his one bat­ter per game). You wish you were him.

He is typ­i­cally goofy and of­ten over­weight — his job de­scrip­tion re­quires lit­tle in the way of san­ity or fit­ness. He en­ters dur­ing the sev­enth or eighth in­ning, faces his one bat­ter (usu­ally the best left-handed hit­ter on the op­po­nents’ ros­ter), and dis­ap­pears into the club­house to sip a beer. For a sea­son of this, he of­ten earns sev­eral mil­lion dol­lars. Be­cause of the low mileage on his arm, he of­ten pitches into his 40s.

He is the rea­son you tie your 2year-old son’s right hand be­hind his back when your wife isn’t around.

“I was a big Nolan Ryan fan as a kid,” said LOOGY ex­traor­di­naire Jamie Walker of the Bal­ti­more Ori­oles (cur­rent con­tract: three years, $12 mil­lion), ex­plain­ing how one typ­i­cally be­comes a LOOGY. “Hell, I didn’t want to be a reliever un­til I re­al­ized my stuff is not as good . . . It does blow my mind, the money we make.”

The LOOGY (free­lance writer John Sick­els is of­ten cred­ited with coin­ing the term), did not fully evolve un­til re­cent times, but has been around longer than you might think. The first doc­u­mented LOOGY sea­son by our (ad­mit­tedly) ar­bi­trary def­i­ni­tion — a sea­son in which a lefty made at least 40 re­lief ap­pear­ances while av­er­ag­ing less than one in­ning per ap­pear­ance — was by the im­mor­tal Bill Henry of the Cincin­nati Reds in 1962. That makes Fred Hutchin­son the first man­ager to de­ploy — or, some might say, “to hock” — a LOOGY.

But it wasn’t un­til the 1980s that the LOOGY be­gan to take hold as a stan­dard bullpen weapon. Two sig­nif­i­cant things hap­pened in that decade: Tony La Russa (in 1980) man­aged his first full sea­son and Jesse Orosco (in 1987) lost his closer’s job. Over time, La Russa would come to be known as the most pro­lific (or, some might say, most egre­gious) de­ployer of the LOOGY in his­tory, while Orosco, in the sec­ond half of his ca­reer, would be­come known as the God­fa­ther of the LOOGY.

“Oh, man Orosco,” said Den­nys Reyes of the Min­nesota Twins, who last sea­son au­thored one of the great­est LOOGY sea­sons of all-time (66 ap­pear­ances, 502⁄ in­nings, 0.89 ERA,

3 .197 op­po­nents’ bat­ting av­er­age). “He’s the one we all look up to.”

La Russa be­gan us­ing Kevin Hickey as a LOOGY with the White Sox in 1981, and La Russa’s fu­ture teams in Oak­land and St. Louis al­most uni­formly car­ried one LOOGY, if not two. The list reads like a Who’s Who of LOOGYs: Rick Hon­ey­cutt, Tony Fos­sas, Lance Painter, Orosco (for six games in 2000), Steve Kline and Ray King.

Last sea­son, La Russa de­ployed one of his LOOGYs (Tyler John­son or Randy Flores) to face a sin­gle bat­ter a to­tal of 33 times, tops in the Na­tional League and third in all of base­ball be­hind Joe Torre’s Yan­kees (Ron Vil­lone and Mike My­ers) and Mike Har­grove’s Mariners (pri­mar­ily Ge­orge Sher­rill), who each did it 35 times, ac­cord­ing to ret­rosheet.org.

“Ev­ery­body gives La Russa a hard knock [for over-man­ag­ing],” King said, “but he’s a guy [who] put ev­ery pitcher in a sit­u­a­tion to have suc­cess . . . A game could be 14-1, and he’s still go­ing to match up.”

In­ter­est­ingly, though King is one of the great­est LOOGYs of all-time, in his first five ap­pear­ances for the Na­tion­als this sea­son he has faced five, two, three, four and six bat­ters. Nats rookie man­ager Manny Acta has some learn­ing to do, it seems, in the art of the LOOGY. Staff writ­ers Barry Svr­luga and Jorge Aran­gure Jr. con­trib­uted to this re­port.

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