Whenever I think of former closer Bob Wickman, three things immediately pop into my head:
1. He severed his index finger down to his first knuckle when he was two in a farming accident.
2. He has the most saves in Cleveland Indians history.
3. I had to purchase a defibrillator to help jump start my heart after nearly every one of his outings.
During the best of days, Bob Wickman stabilized the Tribe bullpen, providing the Indians with a surefire, ninth-inning save. During the worst of days, Wickman was an injury-prone emergency room filler, living on the edge during every appearance. Through it all, Bob Wickman was the only closer that provided longevity and consistency throughout his run during the first decade.
The All-Aught Indians closer, since we have to have one, is the hefty righty, Bob Wickman.
It’s almost hard to believe, but Wickman was first brought up as a starter for the New York Yankees way back in 1992. Wickman wasn’t a typical power pitcher, throwing a decent fastball, sinker and slider. What made him special was that half-finger of his. According to Wickman, and every coach he pitched for, that half finger gave him natural movement. When he was on, it was too much movement for any opposing batter.
The Yankees ultimately moved Wickman to the bullpen, where he was one of the main set-up man for Indians’ closer John Wetteland. The Yanks traded Wickman to the Brewers in 1996, where in his first game with the Crew, he gave the Indians a glimpse of their future, blowing a save but netting the win in a late August game.
The Tribe ultiately traded for Wickman, Jason Bere and Steve Woodard in the 2000 Richie Sexson trade. While the Indians needed starters, Woodard and Bere didn’t make it through a complete season, while Wickman became a Tribe staple.
Wickman immediately was placed in the role as closer, replacing another All-Aught reliever, Steve Karsay, and saved 14 of 17 games. He went 1-3, with a 3.38 ERA in 26 appearances and 26 2/3 innings pitched. He only struck out 11 batters however, while walking 12.
Let the Wickman roller coaster ride begin.
Wickman had one of his best seasons as a Tribe closer in 2001, saving 32 games in 35 chances, while going 5-0 with a 2.39 ERA. He made 70 total appearances, and pitched in 67 2/3 innings, and was a true workhorse. The Indians then made a strange move in June, dealing the unhappy Steve Karsay to Atlanta for crazy closer John Rocker. Rocker was immediately made the Indians closer, and after starting off like a house of fire, imploded.
Re-enter Wickman, who continued his spectacular season.
As good as the 2001 season was, was as bad as the 2002 season turned into. Wickman’s elbow bothered him all season until he was shut down in August. His season ended with Tommy John surgery. Wickman’s ERA lived above 4.00 for most of the season thanks to his injury issues. He still managed to save 20 games during the season. Wickman missed the entire 2003 season rehabbing his elbow.
2004 started off much like the previous two seasons, on the DL with a strained elbow. He returned in early July as a set-up man, before entering as a closer after his fifth appearance, and fourth hold. While he wasn’t lights out, he did save five games in six days in early August. Overall, he saved 13 of 14 games, and righted the bullpen a bit. He finished the season strong, with three saves in his final four games, and no runs allowed.
The 2005 was arguably Wickman’s finest year as a closer, saving 45 games in 50 chances, which was tied for the AL lead. Wickman went 0-4 with a 2.47 ERA. For the first time in three years, Wickman pitched over 60 innings, and was chosen to represent the Indians in the 2005 All-Star game.
The 2006 season was Wickman’s final year with the Tribe, and he pitched like he was disinterested for much of the first half of the season. He went 1 and 4, with a 4.18 ERA, saving 15 games in 29 appearances. Wickman was traded in late July to Atlanta Braves. He was light’s out for the Braves, saving 18 games with a 1.04 ERA, showing that when focused, he could be one of the top closers in baseball.
Wickman had a long run as the Indians closer, and while injury-issues were a problem in the middle of his Tribe career, those problems were bookended by outstanding seasons. Sure, I now need a pacemaker because of the round mound of closers, but there is no doubt he was the best closer in Tribe-land during the first decade.