Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Randy Johnson's 300th Win Part VI: The Aftermath

Wow. I was originally planning on getting this section done by January, but I got lazy, and so now rather than doing this piece 6 months since the big event, I'll be writing about it on the first anniversary. Of course, that's probably more apt, because not only is the one year anniversary more powerful than 6 months, it also allows us to have a vaster outlook at what has happened since the game in my life, in Randy Johnson's career and in the world of 300 game winners. If I was a good writer, I'd be able to put the event in a historical perspective as a satisfactory coda, but since I'm not, it's going to be a jumbled mess where I talk about what happened after the game, what happened over the rest of Randy Johnson's career, my fanatic memorabilia collecting, and the future of the 300-win milestone.

Or the Complete Story of How I Got to See One of the Greatest Milestones in the History of the Game

Part I: The Introduction
Part II: The Player
Part III: The Set-Up
Part IV: The Rainout
Part V: The Game
Part VI: The Aftermath

Or What Happened in the Year After Randy Johnson's 300th Win

When Wil Nieves swung and missed on that final fastball from Brian Wilson, thereby cementing Randy Johnson's 300th win, the entire stadium erupted in cheers and applause. The noise echoed in the misty night, resembling a crowd of 20,000 than one fewer than 10,000. The scoreboard flashed a message from the Giants next to a giant picture of the Big Unit: "Congratulations on your 300th career win! Randy Johnson 22nd ML season - 607 career games," eliciting more applause from the sparse but vocal crowd.

As I was celebrating my wonderful fortune along the first base line, Randy Johnson was in the Giants dugout along the 3rd base line digesting the milestone he had just reached. While he was going through the motions, hugging his teammates in the dugout, his stoic expression was not far from the one he held during the bottom of the 9th. It wasn't until he went out onto the field with his son Tanner that he began to show hints of emotion. And when his family came out onto the field, he became all smiles. This was probably his last great career achievement, and there was nobody he wanted to celebrate with more than his family. He hugged those closest to him before doffing his cap at the small but hardy crowd who braved the weather and the last-minute schedule change to see him go for this milestone victory.

After that, it was back into the clubhouse for Randy and the Giants. There was another game set to begin 30 minutes after the first one. While the rest of the Giants were making their pre-game preparations, Randy was forced to face the media in a post-game press conference. During the conference he admitted he was more nervous doing the press conference than when he was pitching, firstly because he was so locked in during the game, and also because this was a long-term milestone that "had been going on for 21 years." He went on to thank his teammates in all of his prior teams, because as everybody knows, 300 wins is a team-oriented milestone, and joked that he "only needed 211 more to catch Cy Young" before adding how he is still 50 wins behind a peer in Greg Maddux. Randy later said that in a perfect world, he would have gotten the 300th win at San Francisco, but told the story about how after his 299th win against the Braves, Don Sutton (winner of 324 games, including his 300th on June 18, 1986) told him that "it doesn't matter [where you get the milestone], just do it."

One person who was glad that Randy Johnson got his Washington DC and not San Francisco was me, sitting in Section 128L Row K Seat 10 while the rest of my group went and got something to eat. I had joined in the vocal post-game celebration, crying "History!" and "300!" but during the 30-minute break I was trying to digest the magnitude of what I just saw. Seeing any milestone, from 500 home runs to 3,000 hits to a perfect game is enough to make any fan of the game go giddy with joy, but this wasn't any other milestone. This was a milestone that I had obsessed over for almost five years, one that I spent hundreds of hours researching. And I had seen somebody reach this milestone. As a fan of the 300-win milestone, it would be as difficult to contemplate what I witnessed as it is for a pitcher like Randy Johnson to describe his feelings for reaching it.

30 minutes is certainly not enough to fully consolidate all of my feelings. It wasn't long before Screech - the Nationals mascot - and his team of young attractive females came running around tossing and shooting T-shirts into the stands. Ryan was lucky enough to get one, leading a nearby spectator to jokingly (at least I hope it was jokingly) comment that he shouldn't have gotten one because we were rooting for the Giants. Ah, we were rooting for the Giants because of the milestone, but now that nobody is going for his 300th win, it was time to switch allegiances towards our hometown team and root for the Nationals. In fact, when I found out that Ross Detwiler (lifetime record of 0-1) was the Nationals starter, I thought it would be even better if the Nationals win. This way we can have a pitcher win his 1st career game and another win his 300th career game in the same doubleheader!

Alas, it was not to be. Things started out well as the Nationals scored in the bottom of the first against Matt Cain on a double, a single, and a sacrifice fly. But Detwiler couldn't hold onto the lead. The Giants tied the game in the fourth and really made him work in the fifth. Emmanuel Burriss led off with a double, and after a failed bunt attempt by Cain, the Giants pounded four hits with a strikeout sandwiched in between. Three runs scored, and there would have been a fourth if Pablo "Kung Fu Panda" Sandoval hadn't slipped and fell while making it around third. By then it had started to rain again, and this time the rain never relented. The Nats went down against Cain in the bottom of the 5th to make it an official game, so when the rain got heavy with two on and two out in the top of the 6th, the umpires got together and called for the tarp.

Even though I hate waiting, I've always wanted to be one of those hardy individuals to wait out a lengthy rain delay. It was why I was willing to stay until almost 11 PM the night before to see if they would begin the game. Part of me wanted to stay to see if they would play the rest of this game. However, Mike wasn't so optimistic. He and the others got up to go as soon as the game was delayed, explaining that since it was closing in on 10:00, the chances of them calling the game is high, as it was already an official game. I figured he was probably right, and joined them in leaving. Matt needed a ride with me anyways. At that time the rain was a torrential downpour. Since the area around the center field gate is uncovered, we had to run all the way to the Metro, and still got soaked. The ride back was rather quiet, since we were all tired, but we were still excited over what we just witnessed: one and a half games games for the price of one, one of them being Randy Johnson's 300th win.

Mike and Ryan were able to finding parking at Vienna, but Matt and I had to leave at Dunn-Loring Merrifield. I didn't forget that we needed a SmartTrip card to leave the parking lot, so I had to stop by the SmartTrip machine and buy one. Of course, I didn't know how to use it. I ended up having to flag somebody and ask before I paid the minimum charge of $20 to get our ticket out. We got to the car and began the trip back. I remembered that the night before, Matt and the others talked about getting Slurpees. I was hoping that 7-11 would have another copy of the Washington Post so I can get two copies, so I asked Matt if he wanted to get a Slurpee. He replied that he would if there was a 7-11 along the way. I knew that there was a 7-11 at Cedar and Lee Highway close to my mom's former school. Since we had to take Route 29 to get back we ended up stopping there. We each got a Slurpee to go, and the store did have extra copies of the Washington Post. And on the way back WTOP kept talking about Randy Johnson's 300th win, which we saw just a few hours earlier. What a way to end an exciting day.

Matt had said that he was going to drive all the way back to Charlottesville that night. I couldn't convince him otherwise, so when we got back to my house, I bid him farewell and a safe drive back. Mike was staying in Northern Virginia, because he was doing his annual visit of alumni in the area. He was actually going to meet with Ryan the next day, even if they already spent much of the past two days together. While I was checking to see if everything was all right, we decided to meet up on Friday at the Fair Oaks Mall and talk about something that isn't baseball related for once. After that, I went up to my room to add the 300th win to the Wins of Randy Johnson video and uploaded it onto YouTube. And then I started reading all of the coverage about the milestone victory on MLB.com, ESPN.com, CNNSI.com, Yahoo.com, CBS.sportsline.com etc. I ended up staying up until 5:00. I'm sure I would have had a hard time falling asleep if I actually got into bed anyways due to the excitement.

Meanwhile, sometime during the second game of the doubleheader, my cousin Ada gave birth to her second child, Aiden. Happy birthday, Aiden!


After an exciting week, I settled back to enjoy the final month before leaving for medical school. I woke up late on June 5, but just in time to meet with Mike at Fair Oaks Mall. We had a good talk about my faith, and still had time to talk some baseball. After that, I went back home and finally played The Sims 3. Even though the game ran super-slowly on my two-year-old laptop, I was still hooked. For the next three weeks, whenever I wasn't packing for the trip to Texas or doing the reading material about smoking cessation for CAP's pre-matriculation course, I was spending time with my Sims. I also went on a late-night drive to all 28 schools where I substituted to commemorate the closure of my substitute teacher career. It took me 2 and a half hours to drive to all 28 schools. I left at 3:28 AM and didn't get back home until 6:02.

While I was wasting away over a digital family, Randy Johnson was enjoying a bit of a mini-revival. Since the Giants had to use two starters for the June 4 doubleheader, the Giants rotation was put in a bit of bind. There was talk of bring up an unproven rookie to start against the Marlins on June 8 so Randy can get the normal four days rest, especially since he bruised his shoulder during the 300th win, but the Big Unit agreed to go up against Florida with only three days rest. It was his first start on three days rest since July 5, 2005, when he won his 254th game to tie Red Faber and Jack Morris. He pitched decently enough, striking out five in five innings, but with two on in the second he made a mistake pitch to young Brett Carroll that the outfielder got a piece of for his first career homer. Meanwhile rookie Sean West threw 8 shutout innings to record his first career win. Five days later, on June 13 - the 6th anniversary of Roger Clemens's 300th win - the Giants faced the Athletics in the Battle of the Bay. Randy started the middle game of the three game set. He gave up a run in the 3rd and a home run in the 4th, but he held the A's scoreless over the next three innings. The Giants scored three runs in the bottom of the 7th to help Randy get his 301st win.

On June 19, 19 hours after I finished my late-night drive, Randy made his third post-300 start, this time against the Texas Rangers. Randy pitched decently enough in the first five innings, allowing only a homer to Michael Young, but ran into trouble in the 6th. Two singles, two stolen bases, and a walk led to a run with two on and two outs. The Giants were clinging to a 3-2 lead, so Randy was replaced with Brandon Medders, who had pitched so well in the 300th win before the fateful at-bat rattled him. Perhaps he was still feeling the effects of a Mike MacDougal's fastball that barely missed his head, as Marlon Byrd blasted his first pitch to center for a two-run double. Both runs were credited to Randy, making his pitching line look worse than it really was, but the Giants rallied to give Randy a no-decision. A day later, the Giants honored Randy's 300-win milestone. The Big Unit basked in the glories of his accomplishment surrounded by fellow 300-game winners Gaylord Perry (314), Tom Seaver (311), and Nolan Ryan (324). Perhaps buoyed by the ceremony, Randy went out in the rubber match of the second Battle of the Bay a few days later and shut down the Athletics for seven innings after allowing a first-inning run. The Giants blasted rookie Gio Gonzalez for six runs to help Randy win number 302.

On June 30, 2009, my family and I began the long trip from Virginia to Texas, with a detour in Kansas to visit friends. We left at about 8 in the morning, and took turns driving as we went from Virginia into West Virginia through Kentucky, Ohio, and Illinois. I drove the last leg before we turned in for the night. My dad had work to do, so we got the information for the Wi-Fi service so we can use the Internet. When I checked MLB.com, I saw that Randy Johnson started that night. Normally I know exactly when he's going to start, but this start must have slipped my mind as I was busy preparing to move. Better yet, he pitched five and 1/3 strong innings against the St. Louis Cardinals, allowing only two home runs against Albert Pujols. The Giants got out of their offensive funk to score 6 runs against ERA leader Chris Carpenter to get Randy his 303rd career win. In his five starts since getting his 300th win, Randy had gone 3-1 with a 3.90 ERA. It's not up to par with the 35-year old Big Unit, but that's fairly good for a 45-year-old, and definitely better than the 5.71 ERA he was sporting going into June. I felt that he had a great chance of passing Tom Glavine who has 305 wins, and with 4,867 strikeouts he could get close enough to 5,000 to come back for 2010.

Alas, it was not to be. Randy Johnson made his next start on July 5, 2010, against the Houston Astros. It was after I had visited old friends in Kansas and got settled down in Texas. I went to the library in my new school to surf the Internet since I had none in my apartment. I went to MLB.com and to my dismay, the Giants lost to 7-1 with Randy getting the loss. And things were worse than it seemed. Randy had to leave the game in the fourth inning after allowing three runs on two home runs, a single, and an error by the pitcher. It turns out that he may have torn his rotator cuff while striking out against Roy Oswalt in the bottom of the 3rd. He was placed onto Disabled List shortly afterward and would remain out of commission until September, when he became a mop up man after the Giants had pretty much slipped out of contention for the Wild Card race. And he would be a shell of his former self, posting a 6.23 ERA in five appearances, three of them losses.

His final appearance was in the last game of the season, against the Padres. He came on in the 7th inning to try to hold onto a 3-2 lead. He struck out the first batter, Nick Hundley, who nevertheless made it to first on a passed ball. A bunt single, a sacrifice bunt, and a hit batsman later, the bases were loaded. David Eckstein popped to third in foul territory, but it was deep enough to advance all the runners, including Hundley with the game-tying run. Finally, Adrian Gonzalez was called out on strikes on three pitches. It was Randy Johnson's 4,875th strikeout, and perhaps his last, as he was pulled for a pinch-hitter in the next half-inning.

With his dismal performances as a reliever, it seemed inevitable that Randy would retire after this season. If he had stayed healthy and pitched well during the rest of the season, it wouldn't be impossible to see him coming back in 2010, but with the way things turned out, the question was not whether or not he would announce his retire, but when. And as expected, on January 5, 2010, Randy Johnson officially announced his retirement from baseball, ending a 22-year career where he established himself as one of the best pitchers in the history of the game. Even though he didn't make his major league debut until 25, didn't become dominant until he was 30, and had several shortened seasons due to injury, Randy still put together a resume that only a select few could lay claim to. He ranks second all-time in strikeouts, but first in strikeouts / 9 innings pitched with 10.61, far ahead of strikeout king Nolan Ryan. Of course, Randy Johnson is more than just strikeouts. He was an undeniable ace who helped rescue the Mariners when he led them to the playoffs in 1995, who brought hope to the Houston Astros for a few months in 1998 with his insane 10-1 run, and who became the face of the Arizona Diamondbacks franchise as he helped them win a division title in 1999 and a World Series in 2001. He is one of only 20 pitchers to throw a perfect game, and one of an even more select group to tack on another no-hitter. He led the league in ERA four times, (three more than the number of times he led the league in wins.) And finally, he is one of only 24 men to win 300 games in his career: the ultimate marker of longevity, quality, and good fortune. Sure, his curt attitude off the baseball field may have cost him several fans, but there's no denying that Randy Johnson is one of the premiere pitchers not just of our generation, but of all time.


Now that I look back at the incident a year later, I've come to realize that I've never really come to a satisfying conclusion as to how I, as a fan of the 300-win milestone, should approach what I witnessed. I suppose the ideal response would have been to be grateful of the blessing of the experience and move on with my life. I tried that for a few months, but I could never shake the nagging feeling that I need to do more about the experience! And since I am an obsessive individual, the way I set out to rectify this feeling is to obsess over the game itself. I did something similar in the past with Roger Clemens and his 336th win, which I saw, but my response towards the Clemens game would pale in comparison to what I would do with the Big Unit's 300th win. In fact this response would go on to take over my life, my back account, and the way I view the sport.

My initial response was benign. I downloaded the broadcast of the game as soon as it was available as a Game of the Year in iTunes and watched it once by itself and another time somewhat synched with my recordings. And then I put together a video of highlights from the game that I linked in the previous post. Of course, it took me two weeks to get around to do it. It wasn't until November when things began to escalate. I can't quite remember what set me off. During my first few months at Texas I was perfectly content with going weeks without watching the game. However, either because I needed an outlet for the stresses of medical school, or because the game just got more and more interesting each time I watched it again, but in October and November I began to watch the game over and over again. I watched the game on my iPod Touch on the 2-hour flight to and from Dulles during Thanksgiving break. I watched the game while voting for the game 2,000 times for MLB.com's Moment of the Year. (I still can't believe Jacosby Ellsbury steal of home got second just because it was against the Yankees. Steals of home are not that rare. The 300th win finished fourth.) When I saw that MLB.com was offering all broadcasts of all games as part of their off-season MLB.TV package, I signed up without second thought and watched the hometown MASN broadcast which included a nice shot of Matt making a catch on Aaron Rowand's foul ball. I listened to the radio broadcasts that were also available, where I heard Bob Carpenter comment on Matt's catch. It got to the point where I was able to know not just the key plays of the game like the double play or the Randy Johnson putout, but EVERY single play, even all of the ones in the 1-2-3 innings.

Okay, so maybe it's not too bad this 2-hour game has over two dozen views on iTunes, more than some songs that are 1/10 its length. It just means I have no life and like wasting my time. But then I decided to go beyond the video and into the world of memorabilia collecting. I've been an autograph hound for years, and I'm way too materialistic for my own good, but for some reason I've never really dipped into the wild world of baseball memorabilia. There are people like Barry Halper whose lives orbit around collecting memorabilia, but I've been quite content with collecting Topps baseball cards...at least until I became maniacal over Randy Johnson's 300th win.

Like my obsession with watching the game, my memorabilia collecting didn't start out so bad. I had the ticket stub from actually being at the game (which sells for a pretty penny on eBay, if anybody actually cared enough to buy them), and I was able to get the Washington Post, Washington Times, New York Times, and USA Today articles about the game. And that was it, at least until I decided to search "Randy Johnson 300th win" on eBay to see what was out there. They had a Randy Johnson's 300th win poster that the Giants gave away, probably on the day of the ceremony. That seemed harmless, and was certainly very interesting, so I brought it. Later I went and did another search and saw that Topps had cards about the milestone in their Updates and Highlights and Heritage sets. Even though I don't collect those sets, I like baseball cards, and went ahead and bought those as well. A few weeks later a search brought up an issue of the Giants Magazine with the milestone on the cover. That soon became part of my collection.

The memorabilia items kept coming. A friend from UVA Gamers that I hadn't talked to since graduation contacted me and gave me his Randy Johnson's 300th win bobblehead. I hate bobbleheads. They're so pointless, but if somebody was going to give it to me for free I'll take it. I bought the unlicensed Upper Deck card honoring the milestone. I purchased a plaque that somebody had made with an 8' x 10' picture commemorating the milestone. I bought the giant frame made by That's My Ticket honoring the win, one that erroneously listed Tom Glavine as having 303 wins while naming all members of the milestone club. I purchased both photomints by Highland Mints in commemoration of the milestone, including one that has infield dirt from AT&T Park, which I felt was odd, since he got the win in Nationals Park. When I saw that the Topps 2010 Randy Johnson card featured him making the iconic play in his milestone win, I bought one without a second thought (only to get three more copies in the packs that I had.) I also added the Topps Silk version of the card, which I still think is a completely pointless insert. And when somebody told me that Randy Johnson was going to be in Houston for a Tri-star convention, and that you can send items in to have it autographed for you, I wasted no time in buying the opportunity to send in my ticket stub to have him sign it and add a "Win 300" inscription.

So I bought all this memorabilia, and it all started when I searched for Randy Johnson 300th win on eBay. But what exactly was I looking for when I typed in that search term for the very first time? The answer lies in the foul ball that Matt caught. I thought it was awesome that not only did we get to see Randy Johnson's 300th win, but one of us had caught a foul ball. However, that piqued my curiosity. How much would a game-used baseball from Randy Johnson's 300th win be worth in the memorabilia market? I know that Matt's ball won't go for much since it was never authenticated, and he'll probably never sell it, but I began to go on eBay to see if there were any authenticated balls. I searched for several months, seeing only tickets in bulk and the memorabilia items that I ended up buying, but there were no game-used baseballs...at least until January. That day I went and did my search, and saw a buy-it-now listing that advertised a game-used baseball from Randy Johnson's 300th win on 06-04-2009, complete with what seems to be the Big Unit's autograph. Of course, the only times I had seen his autograph were the ones printed on his Topps 2007 and 2008 cards, but those looked nothing like what was on the ball. On the cards, he had written "Randall K Johnson," which I always thought was strange because his middle name is David. But then I went and looked for Randy Johnson's autograph online, and they indeed had the same bizarre appearance where the R looked more like a て in Japanese than an R. And then I went and looked up the authentication code in MLB.com's database, since if it was game-used I sure as heck would know when it was used. The search result for hologram number BB942497 said, "Randy Johnson pitching to Alberto Gonzalez, base hit to shortstop, first." The only thing I can think of was the ball in the 6th inning where Gonzalez reached on a throwing error by Edgar Renteria, which led to the Nationals' only run. Of course, he reached on an error and not a hit, but Gonzalez never got on base on any other occasion.

The next day another listing appeared, this time for BB942495, which appeared to have been the ball that got by Bengie Molina in the 5th inning before the Double Play. This ball looked cleaner, and Randy had inscribed "#300," and even messed up writing the zero in the middle. The price tag on both of these authenticated game-used baseballs? $1,000, with $5 shipping. Yeah...that's a little bit out of my price range...or so I thought. By then I already had a pretty impressive collection of Randy's 300th win related memorabilia, but the game-used baseball would be the magnum opus. I didn't have Matt's athletic ability, so the only way I could get a baseball was if I buy it. And the more I thought about it, $1,000 wasn't that much. $1,000 was about how much rent is for my roommate and me. And I had over $1,000 left from my first disbursement. I COULD save the money for a rainy day, or help pay off the interest from my loan...or I could be the proud owner of an authenticated game-used baseball from Randy Johnson's 300th win! That was good enough for me!

The next question was which ball I should get. Both of the available balls were pretty damaging to the Giants' win probability as calculated by Tom Tango. The passed ball took off 3% of the win probability and the error took off 4%, and it led to Nick Johnson's double that removed 17%. I looked at some of the other authenticated balls, and one that caught my eye was BB942496, which was the ball from the play that has become iconic when talking about Randy Johnson's 300th win...the one where he threw out Anderson Hernandez and landed on his shoulder. Yeah, it would be cool to own the ball that was shown in Sports Illustrated and on Randy's Topps 2010 card, but when I asked the seller about the ball, he said it was already sold, and the buyer is unwilling to sell it. I wouldn't blame the guy. I personally thought the ball would be in the Hall of Fame Museum if anything. With that option gone, I settled on the passed ball, since it looks cleaner, it has a "#300" inscription, and the fact he messed up on the middle zero is absolutely hilarious. So I made an offer to the seller where I knocked off the $5 shipping cost. He agreed to it, and a few days later I added the authenticated, autographed, game-used baseball to my collection.*

*Later, I was looking through the Giants magazine, and there was a picture of Randy Johnson signing a couple of game-used memorabilia. One of the baseballs sitting in front of him had a visible authentication sticker and it was stuck above the "Official Major League Baseball" message, about where the Rawlings logo would be. That's exactly where the authentication logo is on BB942495! So I honestly believe that the game-used ball I own is featured in the Giants magazine. It's not quite as cool as owning the ball featured in Sports Illustrated and on Randy's Topps 2010 card, but it's still pretty neat.And finally, my yearlong obsession with Randy Johnson's 300th win seems to have skewed my concentrations in my baseball fanaticism. A lot of people have said that they see me as a huge Randy Johnson fan, which is interesting because I've never been much of a Big Unit fan in the past. I thought he was a great pitcher and everything, and was happy for him when I heard about his perfect game (while I was practicing driving of all things,) but he never held a special position in my baseball heart like Mickey Mantle, George Brett, or Roger Clemens did. First of all, the Yankees were the first team that I liked (you can thank Mickey Mantle for that), and so Randy's success against them in the 1995 ALDS didn't win him any favor points with me. And second of all, I matured as a baseball fan near Kansas City and Washington DC, far away from Randy's regular stomping grounds of Seattle and Arizona. The only times those two teams ever registered on my radar was when they faced the teams I did like in the playoffs, as in 1995 and 2001. I barely noticed when Randy won his 24th game in 2002. It wasn't until he posted back to back 17-win season with the Yankees in 2005-06 and started to challenge 300 that I first began to develop an interest in Randy. So you could say that I jumped on the 300-win bandwagon.

And even then it seems like I'm still more of a fan of the actual 300-win game than of the man itself. Since he's pitched in over 600 games, it really is like I'm missing the forest because I'm dedicating so much effort on a single tree. It's actually kind of funny this is the opposite of what I am like for the other 300-game winners. I know a lot about their careers as a whole, such as their win-loss record and ERA numbers, but little about the individual games they won. I can't even remember the exact dates most of them won their 300th game. (I think this is what led me to do create the Excel spreadsheets listing each game they pitched it.) Anyways, with Randy Johnson my obsession over his 300th win has overshadowed my appreciation of his career as a whole. This became quite evident as I was writing about his career for the 300th win series back in December. I was thinking it would be a short summary about his early life and his achievements, but as I was doing research it seems as though everything I found was something that I didn't really think of or put in a historical context, just because I spent so much time on the game itself. And now that I think of it, the only Randy Johnson mementos I have that are not related to his 300th win are his baseball cards.

Randy's career isn't the only thing that I've come to neglect just because I was so wrapped up in his milestone win. I've begun to spend less time celebrating the other members of the 300-win club, most of whom actually have more career wins than the Big Unit. Before I entered my obsessive mode I was researching the lives and careers of other 300-game winners. Afterward, whatever free time I had to spend on baseball I spent it on the game. Retrosheet finally has the play by play data from the 1920 and 1930s, allowing me to work on the Excel spreadsheet for Lefty Grove, but I haven't touched it since January. It's really a pity, because Grove is probably still the best left-handed pitcher of all time. Even if he has "only" 300 wins, his .680 winning pct. is still the best for any 300-game winners. He led the league in ERA a record nine times, and his adjusted ERA+ of 148 is behind only Pedro Martinez among starters in the modern era. Randy Johnson's is only 136. I've come to realize what I'm missing out, and I've started to rectify that. When I saw that that somebody had written a book about Old Hoss Radbourn (winner of 309 games) and his record-setting 59-win 1884 season, I pre-ordered it and read it in my free time. I also purchased an authenticated baseball autographed by all 300-game winners between Warren Spahn and Nolan Ryan, so the others will get some memorabilia love as well. I'm still hoping to add the signatures of 21st century 300-game winners Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Randy Johnson. It'll be an expensive endeavor, but for a fan of the 300-game milestone like me, it'll be worth it.

My fascination with the 300-win game has been costly in terms of time, money, and the diversity of my interest in baseball, but this isn't the first time that an obsession has come to dominate my life. It's happened so often that I'm not terribly surprised or concerned that I've dedicated so much time and money towards the game. If you want to see more examples of my obsessions, just check out the Heart-Melters Gallery I have elsewhere in my blog. And it's clear that I've gotten over my fanaticism over the game, considering I haven't bought any related memorabilia or even watched the game in months. Maybe in ten years I'll come to wish I'd rather have that extra $1,000 to pay for my loans, but at this point in time, a year after the game, I don't have any regrets.


Before I finally close this insanely long series, I suppose I should address the issue of who will be the next 300-game winner. It's become a popular practice to declare the 300-win pitcher extinct. People have been doing it ever since the 1960s, when Early Wynn limped to the 300-win plateau, but I don't believe it. True, the five-man rotation and the emergence of the extensive bullpens have decreased the number of wins that a pitcher can get, but medical advancements have allowed pitchers to last longer. And history has taught us that getting to 300 wins is less about how one performs early in his career, but how he performs after the age of 35. It's about who can make the adjustments necessary to perform well after he may have lost his fastball, and even about who actually has the desire to go for 300. Just take a look at Mike Mussina. He had 270 wins at age 39 after coming off of a 20-win season, and would certainly have been able to keep going to get those last 30 wins, but he chose to retire instead. This is why it's so difficult to predict who will hit the milestone.

Perhaps there is some method that experts can use to predict who is more likely to pitch effectively to a later age. But even so, many experts remained pessimistic about Randy Johnson's chances of getting to 300 until he got to 290 wins in 2008. I had already mentioned this multiple times in this series, but I personally feel that there are three essences that a pitcher needs in sufficient quality to reach 300: Quality, Longevity, and Luck. Just think of it like a triforce, only instead of Wisdom Power and Courage you have Quality Longevity and Luck. People like to make fun of Don Sutton for being a pedestrian 300-game winner who merely stuck on some teams until he reached 300, but he was a quality pitcher who was 15% better than the league average in the 1970s and frequently finished in the top 5 in K / BB. And he never missed a start for 20 years, which definitely factors in the luck. Perhaps the randomness of luck and unpredictability of longevity is enough to turn people away from the 300-win milestone, as it doesn't honor those that are truly the best, but as I said in Part I of the series, the milestone celebrates a unique group of pitchers who have successfully balanced all three essences. (Except for those who reached 300 in the 19th century. Those guys had no longevity. Cy Young with his 511 wins is the prime example of the guy that added longevity to quality and luck.) Anyways...so of all the active pitchers who has the best shot at 300?

Right now there are two pitchers within 100 wins of the milestone: Jamie Moyer and Andy Pettitte. Jamie Moyer is the active leader after the Big Unit's retirement with 263, but he's 47 years old. Sure, he's gotten at least 10 wins in each of the last five seasons, and can probably reach that mark this year, which would put him at 268. However, he'd still be 3-4 years away from 300. I'm sure Moyer would be willing to pitch until 50, but the question is whether or not anybody is going to give him the chance. And the only way that would happen is if he is of sufficient quality over the last bit of the season, or if he's darned lucky. Andy Pettitte is a more interesting case. He began the year with 229 wins, and he is having a resurgent season where he's gone 7-1 with a 2.48 ERA. It wouldn't be a stretch to believe that he'll end the season with 245 wins. Plus, he doesn't even turn 38 until next week. With the Yankees potent offense behind him, Pettitte has won 14 or 15 games in each of the last three seasons despite being only 5% better than the league average. If he keeps on winning 14-15 games a year, he'll get to 300 in 2014, when he'll be 42 years old. And even if we factor in regression he will probably get to 300 wins before he turns 45. Of course, Pettitte has been playing the retirement card every off-season, so the question is whether or not he'll actually pitch that long. And this is why it's so hard to predict 300-game winners until they actually get close.

There are other pitchers below the age of 35 that have at least 100 wins. Some of them are easy to rule out. Others are technically ahead of Randy Johnson's pace but still don't have much of a shot. And then there are some players worth discussing; the ones that can get 300 if they can balance the three essences. Carlos Zambrano has certainly been among those considered when he was dominating hitters in his mid-20s, but he's been scuffling the past two years, and he only has 106 wins at the age of 29. He can still rediscover his quality stuff and make a run for 300. Jon Garland has 123 wins at the age of 30, certainly buoyed by his back to back 18-win seasons in 2005-06, but he's been largely league-average and had been getting by on luck. He is having a great year so far (6-2, 2.15), and if this marks a new beginning for his career he can yet get to 300. (With a 1.40 K / BB mark, it's highly unlikely.) Johan Santana is definitely one of the best pitchers in the game right now. He's won three ERA titles and two Cy Young awards. A year ago the Washington Post named him as the likeliest to reach 300 last year, but he only has 126 wins at 31 thanks to a late start and dismal run support. He's certainly lacking in luck, but his luck can change anytime and become a consistent 20-game winner. Mark Buehrle is a workhorse who has reached 200 innings pitched every year since 2001, and he has thrown both a no-hitter and a perfect game. However, he can be wildly inconsistent. He ended the 2006 season with an ERA close to 5.00, and he is struggling so far this year. With 138 wins at 31 he can still yet get to 300, but he'll need to step it up on his consistency (which would go under quality.) And there's the rumor that he may retire once his contract runs out. Roy Oswalt is a consistent winner who had back to back 20-win seasons in 2004-05. He seems to have recovered nicely from an injury-marred 2009 season, posting a 2.78 ERA in 11 starts, but since he is on the sinking ship that is the Astros, he only has a 3-7 record. He's looking for a trade, but is a year older than Buehrle but only has 140 wins, so it may not be enough for him to simply leave the Astros.

And then there are two players that seem to pop up most frequently in 300-win discussions. They ranked 2 and 3 respectively on the Washington Post list, and would probably be 1 and 2 now, after Johan Santana's disastrous foray onto the DL late last year. Roy Halladay is usually the first name that pops up on prospective 300-game winners, probably because he is perhaps the best pitcher in the game. More importantly, he has a great work ethic. The latter quality is definitely instrumental, as so many pitchers that reached 300 have been defined by their amazing work ethic: Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, and Randy Johnson to name a few. A strong work ethic has not only helped those men to become quality pitchers, but it also allowed them to sustain it for an extended period of time. Of course, Halladay just reached the halfway point this year, and he is already 33. He is certainly ahead of the Big Unit's pace, but he's still far behind that of most of the rest of the recent 300-game winners. He should be able to sustain his production for several years, but it will be interesting to see how long. With 141 wins and his 30th birthday still a month and a half away, C.C. Sabathia is keeping good pace with the likes of Clemens and Maddux. He's been in the Majors for 10 years, he has reached double digit wins every year so far, he seems to be getting better with age, AND he's playing for the Yankees, who helped Randy Johnson win 17 games despite an ERA over 5.00 in 2006. He seems to have everything lined up to make a serious run for 300. Yet some people are still hesitant. Why? It's because of his work ethic, or lack thereof. It isn't that he's a lazy bum like David Wells, but some people are already questioning his ability to pitch effective for another ten years, especially since he is closing in on the 300-pound milestone. If he can prove to critics that his body can handle it, he can eventually get to 300, but if not, then he won't have the necessary longevity, which in this day and age may be the most important essence.

And then there are those with fewer than 100 wins, which is essentially a crapshoot, just because how a pitcher performs before getting this mini-milestone has virtually nothing to do with whether or not he'll get to 300. I mean it's easy to watch somebody like Jeff Weaver puff and wheeze to finally get his 100th win in a relief appearance and rule him out. On the other hand, there is the cautionary tale of Dwight Gooden who was only 24 when he won his 100th game in 1989, but then struggled with drugs and arm problems that stalled his career. He never even reached 200 wins. So yes, there are several terrific young pitchers like Justin Verlander (70 wins at 27), Zack Greinke (51 wins at 26), Tim Lincecum (45 wins at 25), and Ubaldo Jimenez (41 wins at 26), but trying to see which of those will eventually get to 300 wins is essentially a shot in the dark. One person worth mentioning is Felix Hernandez. He made it into the majors at 19, and after a couple good but not great years, he finally came into his own last year with 19 wins and a 2.49 ERA. He is one of the best young pitchers in the game, and with 61 wins at the age of 24, he certainly has great pace. However, that could mean everything, or it could mean nothing. The much maligned Bert Blyleven had 95 wins at the end of his age 24 season, AND he pitched into his 40s. Yet he fell short with 287 wins, which is why it took him 14 tries to get into the Hall of Fame. His critics say he didn't have the quality. His supporters say he didn't have the luck. But whatever the reason is, the truth is winning 300 is no easy task, and one that's almost impossible to predict early in one's career.

Moyer, Pettitte, Zambrano, Garland, Santana, Buehrle, Oswalt, Doc Hallady, C.C., and King Felix. It's possible that all of them will get 300 wins. It's possible that none of them will get 300 wins. I personally think Pettitte, Sabathia, and Felix have the best shots, but they're still a long way away from the 300-win milestone, and anything could happen. The joke is that the next 300-game winner is still on a Little League field somewhere, or it could be the guy that was rumored to make his major league debut today: Stephen Strasburg. It would have been awesome if Strasburg did end up being the next 300-game winner, and for him to have made his major league debut on the anniversary of the last time somebody reached the milestone. Alas, his debut has been pushed back to June 8. No matter who ends up being the next person to reach the milestone, one can never forget those who had completed the long journey to 300 wins. And for Randy Johnson, he reached the milestone a year ago today, on June 4, 2009. Nothing can take that away.

Happy anniversary!

Sources: Like all of the other entries, Baseball-Reference.com has been an indispensable resource. I've used the game logs and the play by play in completing the second section of this post - the one about the rest of Randy Johnson's career, and their play index has allowed me to find the win leaders of those younger than a certain age - which was useful in the last section. Other than that, most of the rest were observations from my own life, which I didn't really need any references except to check on the dates. And if anybody wants to check the authentication of the memorabilia I have, go to the MLB Authentication page and search BB 942495 for the game-used baseball, go to Tristar Authentic and search 7032222 for the autographed ticket stub (the site seems to be down), and go to PSA/DNA and search C88456 for the baseball autographed by 300-game winners.

And happy birthday Aiden!

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