The Fabulous Firpo: Baseball’s First Fireman

Fred “Firpo” Marberry helped the Washington Senators to their only World Championship in 1924.

He’s one of baseball’s original saviors, a man ahead of his time, long forgotten in the roll call of baseball history.

He’s Frederick Marberry, known to his contemporaries as Firpo. He was a bullpen specialist before relievers became vogue, a fireman on call long before the save was recognized as an official statistic.

Marberry pitched for the Senators, Tigers and Giants from 1923 through 1936, and led the major league in saves five times with Washington. He’s the only pitcher in history to accomplish that feat. As the first prominent reliever, Firpo has been retroactively credited as the first pitcher to record 20 saves in a season, the first to earn 100 career saves, the first to make 50 relief appearances in a season or 300 in a career. Firpo held the career saves record from 1926 to 1946 before it was broken by Johnny Murphy of the Yankees.

Only Dan Quisenberry of the Royals matched Firpo, leading the American League in saves five times in the 1980s. Four-time league leaders include Lee Smith with multiple teams, Bruce Sutter of the Cardinals, Murphy, and Hall of Famers Ed Walsh of the White Sox and Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown of the Cubs. Hall of Famers such as Kid Nichols, Cy Young, Joe McGinnity, Christy Mathewson, Lefty Grove, Dizzy Dean and Carl Hubbell also earned single season save honors.

According to baseball statistician Bill James, Marberry was the second best pitcher in the majors from 1924-1934, behind only Grove. He started 187 games in his career, posting a 94-52 record; overall he compiled a 148-88 record, a .648 winning percentage, 101 saves and a 3.63 ERA. Despite starting only 34 percent of his games through his 14-year career, he won 19 games in 1929; he won 16 games twice and 15 games two other times.

In 1924, Firpo recorded his first save title with 15. That October, he helped guide the Senators to their only World Series championship with an effective relief stint in Game Seven against the New York Giants, finishing with a 1.12 ERA in four games.

Marberry recorded 15 saves again in 1925 as the Senators won their second straight American League pennant.. He won his third straight saves title with 22 in 1926, a record that stood until the Yankees’ Joe Page had 27 saves in 1949.

In 1929, after two subpar seasons, Firpo came back to again lead the American League and the majors with 11 saves, while also winning a career-high 19 games to finish fourth in the A.L.

Marberry was employed primarily as a starter in 1930 and 1931, and posted an overall record of 31-9 for with the Senators. In 1931, showcasing his talents as both a starter (25 starts), and a reliever (20 appearances), he posted a 16-4 record with a 3.45 ERA. While he picked up 11 complete games and one shutout as a starter, he also had seven saves, and finished 13th in MVP voting (Grove won the award).

In 1932, Firpo led the majors in saves for the fifth and last time with 13, before being traded to the Tigers. He finished his career with the Giants in 1936.

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