Forerunner to the Closer

The original template for starter to reliever conversions, Jerry Staley had some sharp years for the St. Louis Cardinals. Primarily a sinkerball artist, he could induce easy outs without throwing too many pitches. His 1952 Topps baseball card (below) was issued right in the middle of a three-year run in which he nearly averaged 20 wins per season.

When I picked this card up via COMC I was only three cards into building my ’52 Topps set. It is the first black back variation to the join the collection and certainly wouldn’t be the last. The card looks fantastic, but was available at a discount because it is trimmed. The background action is nice and its presentation reminds me of stylized painting. Given the way Topps colorized black & white photography for the card, this view isn’t too far off the mark.

Staley’s performance began to drop off with age in the mid-1950s. His career seemingly headed towards obscurity, his contract was picked up by the Chicago White Sox. Skipper Al Lopez was a connoisseur of bargain bin pitching talent and quickly turned the once promising St. Louis starter into what would eventually become known as the closer role. The shift worked, giving his career a hint of the future arcs of Dennis Eckersley and John Smoltz. In 1959 the White Sox won their first pennant since the 1919 Black Sox scandal with Staley anchoring the bullpen.

Above: Staley’s closer position was celebrated in the 1960 Topps set with card #57.