Remembering the Days of the Nine-Man Pitching Staff

Just recently, a trip down memory lane revealed something a bit shocking to me.

It was one of those aspects of baseball that has changed over the years to such a degree that it’s actually hard to remember the way things used to be.

Here’s what I mean:

A few nights ago, I was going through some old VHS videos of Orioles-related content to decide if it was worth uploading any of it to Youtube…just in case there are any other strange people out there like me who would like to see it.

Most of the videos were old season preview specials that were aired by the local Baltimore television stations.

I got a kick out of seeing Vince Bagli, Chris Thomas, John Saunders…and even a young Scott Garceau talking about how the Birds might fare in upcoming seasons during the 1980s.

(Side note: I did decide to go ahead and upload a lot of these videos to a Youtube channel. Feel free to check it out if you’d like. I’m not trying to monetize it in any way – it’s purely for the sake of nostalgia. The channel is the same name as this web site – Trust Your Stuff – and can be viewed by clicking the hyperlink.)

Anyway…back to the original point of this entry: the “shocking” thing I noticed on this trip to the past.

During one of those specials I was watching – the 1984 WBAL-TV season preview – I noticed they were talking about how it was a shame that pitcher Bill Swaggerty would not make the Opening Day roster.

Of course, there’s nothing unusual about that.

What was unusual was the number of pitchers being carried on that Opening Day roster by manager Joe Altobelli: nine.

That’s right – nine pitchers and 16 position players on a 25-man roster.

Don’t believe me? The link to this discussion is here. (See the 12:53-13:30 mark.)

In 2021, the Orioles Opening Day roster consisted of 14 pitchers (including NINE relievers!) and just 11 position players.

Now…I was 13 years old on Opening Day 1984 so I vaguely remember those days.

And now that my memory has been refreshed, I do remember that teams in that era carried a lot less pitchers than they do now.

Typically, teams would start the season with four starting pitchers, four relief pitchers, and one “swing man” who would pitch long relief and then fill in when a fifth starter was needed.

The first six to eight weeks of the season included many open dates on the schedule (or rainouts) so it wasn’t always necessary to carry five true starting pitchers early in the season.

That part of the equation is still true.

But just imagine for a moment a modern-day game being played with just four dedicated relief pitchers in the bullpen.

Roster construction like that would certainly make it more critical that a starting pitcher deliver as many innings as possible to a team. And you’d have many fewer pitching changes as lefty specialists and single-inning-only relievers would no longer exist.

Come to think of it…that’s probably a better brand of baseball than the constant parade of anonymous relief pitchers – many of whom are fresh off the AAA shuttle – that is so prevalent in today’s game.

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