Major League Leading Firemen, 1975March 12, 2008
If the history of star relief pitchers was the history of rock and roll, this card might be something like a snapshot taken of two young duck-tailed hep cats at Sun Records in 1954. Each moment in question has rich historical roots, antecedents such as Hoyt Wilhelm and Firpo Marberry and Dick “The Monster” Radatz feeding into one story as Robert Johnson and Bill Monroe and Big Joe Turner feed into the other. But with Sun Records, 1954, and Major League Leading Firemen, 1975, the histories are poised to become something all their own, to catch fire.
In this analogy, Al Hrabosky would be Carl Perkins, the pioneer of a savage new style that would bring him a brief, hot fame that would fade, leaving him years later largely forgotten by the general populace. And Goose would be Elvis, the one-name star who in some ways absorbed the style of his daring contemporary on his way to prolonged success and widespread immortality. Just as Carl Perkins was first and therefore most striking to snarl the threat not to step on his blue suede shoes, Al Hrabosky was first to close out games with motorcycle gang facial hair and the bristling malevolence of a starving caveman bent on breaking the neck of and feeding on a saber-toothed tiger.
As a kid I was mesmerized and a little scared by the images on This Week in Baseball of Hrabosky stomping around behind the mound before pitches and shouting and gesticulating after pitches. But the key to his brief, hot fame–as with Carl Perkins–was that he was, at least briefly, really good. In fact, as good as Rich “Not Yet Goose” Gossage was in 1975, Al “The Mad Hungarian” Hrabosky was probably a little better. In 1976, when this card commemorating their success (albeit with a points system that was not explained and that few understood) came out, Hrabosky fell back to earth, but not as much as Gossage, who was moved from the bullpen to the starting rotation, where he floundered, posting a 9 and 17 record. At that point, if you had told a casual baseball fan that one of these men would someday make the Hall of Fame while the other would fade into relative anonymity (as evidenced by his unsponsored $10 page on baseball-reference.com), the casual baseball fan probably would have guessed that Hrabosky, not Goose, would be going to Graceland.