For some reason, the San Diego Padres‘ don’t feel it is necessary to retire #34 for the number two greatest free agent signing in franchise history. Does ownership not like him? Did he not do enough to be shown the love? Two other franchises have retired his number. When Rollie Fingers signed with San Diego on December 14th, 1976, the pioneer of the modern closer took his talents from the Bay Area and brought them to America’s Finest City.
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And it’s not as if Fingers was at the tail end of his career, like many former All-Stars who come to San Diego to watch their careers die. Oh no, Fingers continued to dominate the back-end of games, racking up a whopping 72 saves in his first two seasons in the brown and gold, leading the National League in both seasons. Fingers finished fourteenth in NL MVP voting both seasons, and he even received some Cy Young consideration, finishing eighth in 1978.
1979 was a tough one for Fingers, as his ERA jumped two full runs from the previous season, and he recorded only 13 saves. The 1980 season was a nice bounce back one for Fingers, as he concluded his Friars’ career by going 11-8 with 23 saves. Unfortunately for the Padres, as was the usual occurrence during that era of Padres’ baseball, if you possessed much talent, and were making good money, and you could fetch something solid in return, you were most likely getting dealt.
Fingers would go on to be traded twice in December of 1980, the first by the Padres to the St. Louis Cardinals, for a slew of players, highlighted by future All-Star backstop Terry Kennedy, and then only four days later, the Cardinals would deal Fingers to the Milwaukee Brewers. What is ironic about it, is that Fingers would go on to win the AL Cy Young Award in 1981 for the Brew Crew, posting a 6-3 record, along with 28 saves. At the time of his retirement in 1985, Fingers was the game’s all-time saves leader, and would hold that distinction for eight more years until he was surpassed by closer Jeff Reardon.
Fingers was inducted in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1992, but you wouldn’t know he ever pitched for the Padres…three of his most productive seasons of his career came in San Diego, yet it was his first team, and his final team, that understand what it means to have greatness play for your franchise.
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