Career: 21 seasons, 890 games, 138-126, 158 Sv, 3.96 ERA (113 ERA+), 34.9 bWAR
Arizona: 1 season, 3 games, 0-1, 0 Sv, 21.60 ERA (25 ERA+), -0.2 bWAR
With all three of his All-Star appearances having come a a reliever, it's easy to forget that Tom Gordon, much like Mariano Rivera (for whom he set up in New York for two years), began his career as a starting pitcher, before moving to the bullpen. Unlike Rivera - career ERA as a starter = 5.94 - Gordon was actually pretty good in that role, As a swingman, he came second to another eventual Diamondback, Gregg Olson, in the 1989 Rookie of the Year balloting, Gordon posted a 17-9 record that season for the Royals, albeit inflated by picking up five wins in relief appearances where he also blew leads.
From 1989 through 1997, there and in Boston, he averaged 22 starts plus 16 relief outings per season. But then the Sox traded closer Heathcliff Slocumb to the Mariners at the 1997 trade deadline, for future All-Stars Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe, Gordon took over the role. and blossomed the following year. He set a club record with 46 saves that season, and converted 54 successive save opportunities in 1998-1999, still the second-longest such major-league streak in baseball history, behind Eric Gagne's 84. The streak ended in June, and Gordon made only four more appearances before requiring Tommy John surgery, which caused him to miss all of the following campaign.
However,. that year also saw him immortalized in a novel by well-known Boston Red Sox fan, Stephen King, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. It tells the story of a young girl lost in the wilderness, who keeps her spirits up by listening to Red Sox games on the radio. A combination of fear, hunger and thirst leads to hallucinations in which she is visited by Gordon, but he also helps her confront the final peril standing between her and safety. There were, at one point around 2005, plans for George A. Romero to direct a film version, but that seems to have petered out.
In 2001, the Red Sox declined to exercise their option, and Gordon signed instead for the Cubs. This began his nomadic spell, as he played for five different clubs in the next six seasons: the Cubs, Astros, White Sox, Yankees and Phillies. New York saw his greatest success, as mentioned above, setting up for Mariano Rivera: Gordon appeared for them 159 times in 2004-05, posting a 2.38 ERA (an ERA+ of 185), with a WHIP below one. From there, he signed an $18 million, three year contract with Philadelphia, making his final All-Star appearance for them in 2006 at the age of 38. But he struggled over the last two season, throwing less than 70 total innings, with an ERA near five.
His 2008 season ended due to elbow issues in early July. and that brings us up to Gordon's time in Arizona, ending his career not with a bang, but a whimper. He signed for the D-backs in February 2009, with uncertain health - he has elbow surgery in October mandating a heavily incentive-laden contract. The base was $500K, but it could have been up to $2.8 million, if he had stayed the entire season on the active roster. Then-GM Josh Byrnes was quoted as saying, "We are pleased to add Tom to our bullpen mix. He will improve our depth. His experience pitching in key roles for winning teams was also important to us." Since then, Josh Byrnes has been fired as a GM. Twice.
When signed, his agent said Gordon "should definitely be ready to go" by Opening Day. That didn't happen. Instead, he showed up at the end of April, faced 10 batters, six of whom got on base, and in the last of his three appearances, on May 3, Tom to be carried off the field (above), after injuring his hamstring covering home on a wild pitch. It wasn't until after the All-Star break that he began his rehab assignment in Visalia and Reno, and they did not go well. Over those 7.2 innings, Gordon allowed 14 hits and 14 walks, as opponents got on base at a .571 clip. On August 11, the Diamondbacks had seen enough and released him.
As late as December 2010, at the age of 43, Gordon was "trying to interest teams in giving him a shot", but no-one would bite. However, his baseball legacy lives on, in the shape of his sons. Second baseman Dee Gordon was traded earlier this month from the Dodgers to the Marlins, while younger brother Nick, a shortstop, was selected with the fifth overall pick by the Twins in June's draft. At his best, Gordon was certainly among the top relievers in the game, and he is one of only four pitchers who have appeared in the majors since 1989, with 100 wins and 100 saves [Since I know you're wondering: Smoltz, Eckersley and Gossage]
But does Cooperstown beckon? Hard to make a solid case for this. There are only four relievers in the Hall of Fame at this point, all of whom have at least 200 saves and an ERA+ of 120 or better. Gordon certainly has the longevity, and the overall numbers are not too shabby either. However, outside of that season and a half where he was untouchable in Boston, he wasn't really the best in the game, and I would be quite surprised if he gets even enough votes this year, to remain on the ballot for 2016.