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A progression of late-inning pitching changes not only drag out Major League Baseball games but irk viewers. Spectators head home early.
Former major-leaguer Al Holland, a visitor to the latest banquet of the Wilson Hot Stove League in early January, doesn’t watch many games. But when he tunes in, the late innings have arrived.
“I love that part of the game; I’m a reliever,” Holland explained in a recent telephone interview from his home in Roanoke, Virginia. “If you don’t have relievers and a bonafide closer — if you can get to (the closer) with the lead, you have about won the game 98 percent of the time.”
Holland, a left-handed pitcher, brought impressive credentials with him for his second appearance at the Hot Stove banquet. He pitched in the majors for 10 seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates (1977 and 1985), San Francisco Giants (1979-82), Philadelphia Phillies (1983-85), California Angels (1985) and New York Yankees (1986-87).
He pitched in 384 games, compiling a 2.98 earned run average and a 34-30 record. Holland pitched in the National League Championship Series and the World Series with the Phillies in 1983. The Wilson visitor was acclaimed National League Rolaids Relief Man of the Year and Sporting News Fireman of the Year in 1983 when he posted a 2.26 ERA, 8-4 record and 25 saves in 68 games. Holland was a National League All-Star with the Phillies in 1984.
The former minor league pitching coach for the St. Louis Cardinals was a football and baseball star at North Carolina A & T University where he pitched four no-hitters. Holland was proclaimed NAIA All-America in 1972 and 1973, leading the NAIA with an 0.54 ERA in 1973. Hall-of-fame inductions include the North Carolina A&T Sports Hall of Fame in 1994 and the 2015 National College Baseball Hall of Fame.
“I’m happy with my major-league career,” Holland said. “I wish I could have played a little bit longer, and, if I had not hurt my elbow, I believe I could played another three or four years.”
Holland was joined by a lengthy lineup of former professional baseball celebrities recognized at the banquet.
The list included: Luther “Luke” Atkinson of White Plains, Maryland; Mike Caldwell of Raleigh, John Donaldson of Charlotte, Bill Harrington of Garner, Billy Harris of Hampstead, Jim Holt of Graham, newcomer Eliot Johnson of Durham, Clifford Layton of Dunn, Monty Montgomery of Martinsville, Virginia Alvin Morman of Fuquay-Varina, Scott Pose of Raleigh, John Roper of Raeford, Richard “Dick” Such of Sanford, Marion “Tim” Talton of Pikeville, Fred Valentine of Washington, D.C.; Floyd Wicker of Snow Camp and Tracy Woodson of Richmond, Virginia.
BECOMING A RELIEVER
Holland explained he was persuaded to become a reliever by Larry Sherry, a right-handed pitcher in the majors for 11 years with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Detroit, Houston and California.
“He told me that, if I wanted to get to the big leagues really fast, become a reliever. He saw that the game was changing and that starting pitchers could no longer go nine innings.”
Holland said he threw at a top velocity of 98-99 miles per hour. His most effective pitch was a cutter and he emphasized, even if a pitcher threw nearly 100 mph, he was going to get hit unless the ball had movement.
“Besides, good relievers usually hang around for four or five years,” he reasoned
Holland insisted he wanted to pitch every day and was upset if he didn’t get into the game. And he was not about to inform his bullpen coach or manager that the didn’t have his “best stuff” on a particular day.
“You battled and worked through it,” he contended, “until the manager came and got you. But I always felt I had my best stuff every day. You have got to have confidence in yourself to be a reliever.”
Holland is not complaining the game has become one of specialists.
“To be a great team, you’ve got to have a pitching coach and manager who know how it works and can make it come together,” he declared.
STILL A FAN
As a fan, Holland noted he’ll only watch four or five regular-season games per year, but is a frequent onlooker for the playoffs. His tendency is to view the first couple of innings, go away and then come back for the parade of late-inning relievers.
His Wilson visit was his first in three years. Holland said previous commitments kept him away the previous two years but commented: “I kept this one clear when (the Hot Stove’s Kent Montgomery) called me.”
He occasionally travels to Philadelphia for functions with the Phillies and hopes to return to Wilson.
“But I can’t make the drives that I could back then,” he said.
Holland lauded the Wilson event and assured he thoroughly enjoyed it.
“I met a lot of old, old veteran players,” he remarked. “It’s a great thing. I don’t have a problem with (former celebrities being recognized). It’s nice to be remembered.”
Holland especially enjoyed obliging young autograph seekers.
“It made me feel good that they remembered me and asked for (an autograph),” he responded. “That’s an honor.
“When you are an ex-ballplayer, that’s exactly what you are.”