Wednesday, September 04, 2013
300 Win Club - 125th anniversary
The pitching win has been one of the most contentious baseball stats in recent years. For most of the first half of the 20th century it had been the primary stat to judge a pitcher, as pitchers reaching the 20-win plateau have been much more celebrated by writers and baseball executives than somebody with 19 wins, no matter how much better the latter pitcher may be in "secondary stats" like ERA or strikeouts. Even in the 1980s it was still a quick and dirty way to assess a pitcher. However, people soon came to realize that the pitching win was dependent on a whole slew of factors, including run and defensive support. This year has seen the rise of the #killthewin movement to completely abolish the practice of assigning a winning pitcher to the game. Somebody even made a petition for President Obama to step in to do it, even though it has since been removed. I don't think it's ever going to happen completely, but needless to say the pitching win has taken a massive hit in its reputation.
Nevertheless, the pitching win is still at the heart of baseball's golden milestone for pitchers, the 300-win club. It is still relevant because while the usefulness of the pitching win has come into the question, the measurement of it hasn't changed much since the days of the National Assocation. There have been a few changes here and there along with some subjective decisions, but pitchers today get wins in the very much the same way as pitchers from the 1870s, and there will always be the hardy few with the talent, tenacity, and luck to get to 300 wins. That is why the 300 win club had been the most consistent rate of admission of the golden milestones, more so than 3,000 strikeouts, 3,000 hits, 300 saves, or 500 home runs.
I've written about the 300 win club numerous times in the past, but I'm going to do it again. Why is that? Why, it's because today is the 125th anniversary of the day Pud Galvin won his 300th game, thereby kicking off the 300 win club*. It would be almost years before Cap Anson becomes the first with 3,000 hits, almost 35 years before Walter Johnson christened the 3,000 strikeout club, almost 41 years before Babe Ruth would do the same with 500 home runs, and 93 and a half years before Rollie Fingers would create the 300 save club for closers.
*Of course, in the past Galvin was credited with reaching the milestone on October 1, 1888, but that did not take into account his four wins for the National Association, the precursor to the major leagues. When those four wins were accounted for, the date of the 300th win was pushed back to September 4, which also happened to be the anniversary my crush on Misty began.
So what am I going to do to celebrate this awesome anniversary? Well, I am going to be presenting the 24 members of the 300 win club. Most of what I'm about to write was taken straight from a thread about the 300 game winners I wrote back in 2005 on the defunct Nintendo NSider forums, with a few changes, including adding the two that reached the milestone since May of 2005. This list will be presented in chronological order by the date the pitcher reached the milestone, which with the exception of Galvin, were taken from the MLB.com's 300 win club page.
So, let's get started.
Pud Galvin - 365 wins
James Francis Galvin
September 4, 1888
Born: December 25, 1856 in St. Louis, MO
Died: March 7, 1902 in Allegheny, PA
Height: 5'8" Weight: 190 lbs officially, but may have been as high as 250 lbs
Other Stats: 310 losses, 2.85 ERA, 107 ERA+, 1,807 strikeouts, 57 shutouts, 83.6 bWAR
Hall of Fame: 1965
Teams: St. Louis Brown Stockings (NA) (1875), Buffalo Bisons (1879-1885), Pittsburgh Alleghenys (AA) (1885-1886), Pittsburgh Alleghenys / Pirates (NL) (1887-1889, 1891-1892), Pittsburgh Burghers (PL) (1890), St. Louis Cardinals (1892)
At first glance, Pud Galvin does not seem to be the type to be a dominating pitcher. He's short and stocky and one of his most famous photographs show him with a bat in his hand, making him look like one of the earliest sluggers in the sort. Nope, with his -9.9 hitting bWAR, Galvin is 100% pitcher, and perhaps one of the earliest pitching stars, if you don't count the tragic James Creighton. There were great pitchers before his time, but none of them had won over fans with the flair of Galvin. It could have been his teddy-bear like stature that won over fans, or maybe just the fact nobody blew away batters quite like him. Nobody threw as hard as Pud Galvin, and the hitters knew it. In fact, the nickname "Pud" was derived from the fact that he reduced opposing hitters to "pudding" with his blazing fastball. Yet the most distinctive thing about him was his durability. Sure, he pitched only 15 seasons, which seems like almost nothing nowadays, but this was in the day of the three-men rotations. Galvin's 15 seasons was the most of all the pitchers that reached 300 wins in the 19th century. And to this date he still ranks second in innings pitched and complete games, behind only Cy Young who took 18 seasons to set the record.
Galvin's career began as a teenager when he pitched eight games, including seven complete games in 1875 for his hometown St. Louis team in the National Association, like I said the precursor to the major leagues. He won four of those games, but wound up back in the minor league ball after that season. It took him until 1879 before he finally made it back, this time with the Buffalo Bisons in the old National League. And he instantly rose to become one of the top pitchers in any league. Only once in his first 11 seasons did he fail to win 20 games, including consecutive 46-win seasons in 1883 and 1884. He failed to reach 400 innings pitched in only two of those 11 seasons as well, which is quite interesting as nobody has reached 400 innings since the last time the Cubs won a World Series. Galvin also pitched two no-hitters in 1880 and 1884, but he was sold to the Pittsburgh Alleghenys of the American Association (the other, lesser major league) a year after his second no-hitter. Despite this sudden move, he would take to the steel city and become a star there for the rest of his career and even the rest of his life. Even when he defected to the renegade Player's League in 1890, he chose to remain in Pittsburgh.
But in 1888, two years before any thought of labor unrest, he was happily pitching for the Pittsburgh Alleghenys of the National League. It was a year of diminished offense. Galvin had put up a 2.63 ERA, which may look good, but it was still only league average. He wound up with a losing record of 23-25 for the season for the sixth place Pittsburgh franchise. However, on September 4 of that year he was facing off against the even more mediocre Hoosers of Indianapolis in the middle game of a five game set. A crowd of 1,400 watched as Hoosiers pitcher Henry Boyle was betrayed by his defense as he allowed three unearned runs on five errors as Galvin and the Alleghenys won 5-4, with the winning run coming in the seventh inning. It was Galvin's 300th win, including his four wins with St. Louis of the National Association. However, nobody really cared about wins much back then. You completed your games back then, so if your team won of course you'd get the win. There was no celebration and the teams went back at it a day later. But the seeds for history had been planted on that day.
In the end, Galvin's workload finally did him in. His totals dropped dramatically after defecting to the Player's League, and he was out of baseball by 1892. His fine career ended with 365 or 361 wins (depending on how you view the N.A situation). He played in a few other minor leagues and tried umpiring before giving that up and opening a saloon. Unfortunately, Galvin's business sense was not as good as his pitching, and he soon found himself broke. In 1902, Galvin contracted pneumonia that led to inflammation of his stomach. He couldn't afford treatment, so the pneumonia most likely evolved into sepsis and led to his death at the tender age of 47. And just like that, baseball lost one of its earliest stars.
Galvin's legacy has come into question in recent years, especially after Bill James left him out of the top 100 pitchers in one of his baseball abstracts. It's true that he still ranks fifth in wins, and could have won more, but he played for several offensively anemic teams that provided him scant run support in most of his career. He actually lost 20 games in his first ten full seasons, a streak that included two losing seasons. As a result, Galvin ended up with over 300 losses, becoming one of only two pitchers to get both 300 wins AND 300 losses. However, Bill James probably doesn't care about losses, instead focusing on the fact that Galvin's ERA was only 7% above the league average, still tied with Early Wynn for the lowest ERA+ among the 300 game winners. Plus there were reports that Galvin took several foreign substance in hopes of helping him reduce healing time from injuries, including a potion made from monkey testicle extract formulated by Charles Brown-Sequard, better known as the physician that described the effects of hemisection of the spinal cord. As a result Galvin's stature in the sport has diminished nowadays, but he will always live on as the first pitcher to win 300 games, and nothing can ever take that way from him.
Tim Keefe - 342 wins
Timothy John Keefe
June 4, 1890
Born: January 1, 1857 in Cambridge, MA
Died: April 23, 1933 in Cambridge, MA
Height: 5'10" Weight: 185 lbs
Other Stats: 225 losses, 2.63 ERA, 126 ERA+, 2,564 strikeouts, 57 shutouts, 88.9 bWAR
Hall of Fame: 1964
Teams: Troy Trojans (1880 - 1882), New York Metropolitans (AA) (1883-1884), New York Gotham / Giants (NL) (1885-1889, 1891), New York Giants (PL) (1890), Philadelphia Phillies (1891-1893)
Timothy John Keefe had taken a peculiar path to become the second 300-game winner in baseball history. The Civil War had taken place before Keefe had been ten years old, and its effect on his family was profound. Two of Keefe's brothers were killed, and his father was held as a prisoner of war for three years. Mr. Keefe soon returned to his family mentally unstable and began an abusive relationship with his young son. He especially hated the game of baseball, which he viewed as a waste of time, and it got to where young Tim got a beating when he was caught with a ball and bat. Tim eventually ran away to join the amateur leagues, and he eventually developed into one of the first major strikeout artists in addition to being a master pitcher. Keefe had an above average fastball, but the secret to his success was not attributed to his heat, but because he was one of the first true strategists on the mound. He realized that pitching is a mind game and that the pitcher must always have the upper edge. It wasn't long before Tim Keefe had become one of the premiere experts at changing speeds. Armed with a devastating "slow ball", Keefe become a prolific strikeout artist. While he never came close to surpassing Matt Kilroy's record of 513 strikeouts in a season, Keefe was the first pitcher to crack the 300 K mark three times, coming three strikeouts away from doing it a fourth time. He retired with 2,564 strikeouts, the 19th century record. But what made Keefe special, or at least why I'm writing about him over 80 years after his death, was his career mark of 342 wins.
After running away from home, Keefe bounced around various amateur and minor league teams. He was finally given a chance to prove himself in the majors when he was picked up by the Troy Trojans of the National League in 1880. Keefe ended his rookie season with a 6-6 mark that belied his sparkling 0.86 ERA. His winning percentage tumbled the next two years when he went 35-53 thanks to the anemic run support provided by the cellar dwelling Trojans. The Trojans were so bad that they were brought out after 1882, and Keefe was sent to the New York Mets of the American Association. Once again he lost 27 games, but this time he was able to win 41 as he completed his evolution to become one of the game's most dominant pitchers. From 1883 to 1888, Keefe never failed to win 30 games in a year, including a career best 42 in 1886. He returned to the National League in 1885 when he was sold to the Gothams of the National League in 1885. There he was reunited with former Troy teammate and fellow 300-game winner Mickey Welch. The two would remain teammates for nine seasons, setting a record for 300-game winning teammates that would stand for over 100 years. In 1888, Keefe strung together an impressive 19-game winning streak en route to a 35-win season. Even after 100 years this remains the longest winning streak within the confines of one season, although it was later tied by Rube Marquard who won 19 straight in 1912. Keefe's streak of 30 win seasons came to a close in 1889, when he won only 28 games in a season shortened by his staunch refusal to play due to contract disputes.
This distaste of the near-tyrannical powers wielded by the owners led Keefe to team up with many other teammates (including John Montgomery Ward, who pitched baseball's second perfect game) to form the Brotherhood of Base Ball Players. In 1890 the Brotherhood splt off to form the Player's League. With the promise of higher salaries and more freedom, the Player's League attracted hundreds of other dissatisfied players, including Pud Galvin. It was during this first Player's League season that Keefe picked up his 300th win. On June 4, 1890, in the midst of a winning streak that would eventually end at ten games, Keefe topped the Boston Reds 9-4. The game was literally a comedy of errors, as both teams combined for 14 errors. Of the game's 13 runs, only five of them were earned. Keefe himself made four errors, but escaped with the win with a three run first inning that eventually knocked out losing pitcher Kid Madden. Keefe is the only pitcher to achieve his 300th win in the Player's League, but would not be the last to get the milestone while pitching in a renegade league.
The Player's League folded after the 1890 after it received virtually no spectator support, but the New York Giants welcomed Tim Keefe back with open arms. However, Keefe suffered a thumb injury the year before and sported an un-Keefe-like 5.24 ERA after eight games, and the disgusted Giants sold him to the Philadelphia Phillies, where he would end up for the rest of his career. In 1893 the pitching rubber moved back to the current 60 feet 6 inches distance, and Keefe went 10-7 with a 4.40 ERA. Keefe decided it was time to give his arm a rest. After leaving professional ball, Keefe tried umpiring, but decided it was no fun to be hated by players. He went on to go into coaching instead, and coached baseball at prestigious universities including Harvard, Princeton, and Tufts. He also worked in real estate in the off-season. In the end Keefe died of complications from heart failure in 1933. His career achievements were mostly forgotten until the Hall of Fame Veterans committee recognized his efforts in 1964. He even made an appearance on card #417 in the Topps 1979 set listing the career strikeout leaders at the end of the 1978 season. He was still in the top ten at the time, but now he isn't even in the top 25. However, his position in the top ten of the all-time wins list still appears safe.
Mickey Welch - 307 wins
Michael Francis Welch
July 28, 1890
Born: July 4, 1859 in Brooklyn, NA
Died: July 30, 1941 in Concord, NH
Height: 5'8" Weight: 160 lbs
Other Stats: 210 losses, 2.71 ERA, 113 ERA+, 1,850 strikeouts, 41 shutouts, 63.8 bWAR
Hall of Fame: 1973
Teams: Troy Trojans (1880 - 1882), New York Gothams / Giants (1883-1892)
Before Mickey Mantle, before Mickey Cochrane, heck, even before Mickey Mouse, there was Smiling Mickey Welch. Michael Francis Welch was a jovial, outspoken man that got along with almost everybody: teammates, fans, newspapermen, and even the owners themselves. Never blessed with a commanding fastball or decent control (he led the league in walks on three consecutive seasons and held the record for wild pitches for over a century), Welch was forced to adapt with experimentation and strategy. His experimenting helped him to develop a change-up and a screwball in addition to the standard fastball and curveball. And he would study hitters and target their weaknesses using these breaking balls and off-speed pitches, and he would get them out more often than not. But the other players wouldn't mind that much thanks to Welch's friendly personality. His popularity gave him the freedom to become different. He was clean shaven in an era where most player wore big, bushy mustaches. And his charisma helped him to become one of the first pitchers to negotiate a stipulation to his contract, one that would allow him to pitch every other day with no exceptions, which surprisingly enough actually reduced his workload. Yes, it was a very different game back then.
Welch became a professional ballplayer early in his life, getting his first stint in the minors at the tender age of 17. Three years later he was in the majors pitching for the hapless Troy Trojans alongside fellow future 300-game winner Tim Keefe. But Keefe was an untested rookie, so Welch started 65 of Troy's 83 games and went 34-30. It was after this year that Welch negotiated the addendum to his contract that reduced his workload by letting him pitch every other day. However, the reduced workload didn't do him much good as he went 14-16 in only 33 starts in 1882. It was only one of two losing seasons he would have in his career. The Troy franchise was purchased following the 1882 season and renamed the New York Gothams. It was then that Welch's career took off. He won 25 games in his first season with the Gothams and followed it up with three straight 30-win season, including a career best 44 wins in 1885, the year he was reunited with Keefe. Welch also added a 300 strikeout season to his resume when he struck out 345 batters in his 39-win 1884 season. His workload and win totals dropped in 1887 after a third starter was added to the rotation, but his effectiveness remained consistent. He won 22 games that year and contributed 26 and 27 more during the next two seasons as he and Tim Keefe led the franchise now known as the Giants to their first two pennants. In the latter season he was credited as being the first pinch hitter when he was sent to bat for teammate Hank O'Day in the fifth inning.
Before the 1890 season, Welch was given an offer by teammates on the Giants, including Tim Keefe, to deflect to the Player's League. Welch declined the offer, citing his loyalty to the National League franchise that gave him the chance to play as an untested 20-year-old rookie in 1880. Other players had been criticized beyond belief for sticking in the National League, but Welch's popularity among players served him well as he continued to play in the National Leagues unscathed. However, by now his pitching wasn't what it used to be. Welch was not as rubber armed as some of his contemporaries and only made 37 starts en route to 17 wins. One of these wins came on July 28, when the Giants won 4-2 over the Pittsburgh Infants. Welch allowed two early runs, but shut out the Infants the rest of the way as the Giants rallied against Infants starter Kirtley Baker in the seventh. It was, for our purposes, Welch's 300th win*. It came only 54 days after former teammate Tim Keefe reached the milestone, making it the shortest game between 300-win victories in baseball history. Only on one other occasion had two pitchers made their 300th win in the same season. They probably got a lot more acclaim after their milestones than Keefe and Welch did back in 1890.
*Some sources list Welch as winning his 300th game on August 11, 1890. Those same sources credit him with more than 307 wins. Ah, the joys of retroactive scorekeeping.
Welch was reunited for the second time with Tim Keefe after the failure of the Player's League, but both pitchers were feeling the effects of pitching complete games every other day. Welch appeared in only 22 games and went 5-9 (although other sources including Elias Sports Bureau credit him with 6 wins and 12 losses). He came back for the 1892 season, but allowed nine runs in five innings in his only start. The Giants rallied to give Welch a no-decision, but he decided to call it quits. After his career ended, Welch became a member of the Elks Lodge, where he served as a steward for many years. He was also invited to return to his beloved Giants by manager John McGraw to serve as a ballpark attendant in Polo Grounds. Welch entertained baseball fans in the bleachers with his sunny personality and his endless supply of baseball stories. Welch served in that position up to the 1941 season when he developed gangrene in his foot, most likely from chronic peripheral vascular disease, while visiting his grandson in New Hampshire. Septic shock most likely set in from the diseased foot, and he died in a hospital in New Hampshire at the age of 82 on July 30, less than a week after watching Lefty Grove become the twelfth member of the prestigious pitching milestone he joined 51 years earlier. Despite living beyond the dedication of the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939, Welch would not gain induction until 1973, the last of the 300-game winners to be selected by the Veterans Committee.
Old Hoss Radbourn - 309 wins
Charles Gardner Radbourn
June 2, 1891
Born: December 11, 1854 in Rochester, NY
Died: February 5, 1897 in Bloomington, IL
Height: 5'9" Weight: 168 lbs
Other Stats: 194 losses, 2.68 ERA, 119 ERA+, 1,830 strikeouts, 35 shutouts, 73.5 bWAR
Hall of Fame: 1939
Teams: Buffalo Bisons (1880), Providence Grays (1881-1885), Boston Beaneaters (NL) (1886-1889), Boston Reds (PL) (1890), Cincinnati Reds (1891)
Charles Gardner Radbourn may have been the earliest born of all the 300 game winners, but he also had the shortest career and the shortest life of the 24. Radbourn, known by his nickname of "Old Hoss," lived a life that is still shrouded in mystery, where it is difficult to separate truth from myth. All we have are his statistics, which tells us that for one extraordinary season, Radbourn was in a league of his own. He is still renowned for his rampaging 1884 season, the year he established the single season record for wins in a year. Armed with a gracious underhand motion, a devastating curveball, and the only member of the rotation for the second half of the year, Radbourn clawed his way to an insurmountable 59 wins. Because of this magical season, Radbourn is recognized as the king of durability, although this title may be slightly inappropriate. He never led the league in starts and innings pitched outside of this glorious 1884 season, and he faded much quicker than most of his contemporaries. Yet even though he did not have the long career of many of his peers, Radbourn was still a consistent winner. He combined his excellent curveball, often cited as one of the first great curveballs in baseball hstory, with a potpourri of pitches and pinpoint control to string together a 309-win career that did not begin until Old Hoss was well past the age of 25.
Radbourn, known for his entire career as Charley Radourne (with the extra E on his surname), tried many odd jobs before finally joining a barnstorming team in Illinois at the age of 23 to begin his professional career. He played mostly in the outfield, but pitched enough to impress the Buffalo Bisons, who offered him a contract. Yet he never did get to pitch alongside the young Pud Galvin. Arm trouble kept him from the mound, and a .143/.143/.143 batting line led to his release. However, the Providence Grays saw promise in Radbourn so they offered him a contract, this time as a pitcher. By that time, Radbourn was 26 years old but he still won 25 games in his first season. He improved on that with 33 wins in 1882, including one where he broke an 0-0 tie with an 18th inning home run, and an impressive 48 games in 1883. He also pitched in 69% of their games. Management feared for Radbourn's arm and increased the workload of second line starter Charlie Sweeney in 1884, who performed well, much to Old Hoss's chagrin. However, Sweeney was suspended after a rift with management, and Radbourn went on to pitch the last 27 games and ended the year with 59 wins (against 12 losses) and 441 strikeouts. Some sources even credit him with 60 wins that year. Providence won the pennant so Radbourn pitched all three games en route to the championship. He was a champion in 1884, but it also completely changed his career. During the off-season his arm was so sore he couldn't even lift it to comb his hair. Radbourn went back to a 2-man rotation in 1885 but his record fell to 28-21. Some say this was from the aftereffects of his 1884 season while others believed it was due to the banning of his favorite underhand delivery. At any rate, Radbourn was shipped to the Boston Beaneaters after that year.
Radbourn made history in 1886 when he flicked off the photographer in a team photo, being credited as the first man to show off his middle finger in a picture. He performed well with Boston with the exception of a 7-16 year in 1888, but he did not get along with management. So he happily made the jump to the Player' League in 1890 and pitched brilliantly for the Boston Reds, going 27-12. This set him up for a final year with the Reds, this time in Cincinnati, but he was mediocre, putting up an 11-13 record with a 4.25 ERA, over 20% worse than league average. One of these wins was on June 2, 1891 against his former team. The game was a madhouse. The Reds scored three runs in the first after which future 300-game winner John Clarkson took over in relief for Boston, but Radbourn gave those runs back in the second. The teams went back and forth until Boston took the lead for good with three runs in the sixth. It was Radbourn's 300th win. This was the only time a future 300-game winner was credited with the loss in another pitcher's 300th win. On only one other occasion did a losing pitcher end up with as much as 200 wins. Radbourn was also the first time to reach 300 despite being older than 25 the day he got his first win. He would not be the last.
Radbourn was released by the Reds in August and he decided to call it quits. He went back to his home in Bloomington, Illinois and opened a saloon. Radbourn was contemplating a return to the game he loved, but became horribly disfigured in a hunting accident. The vain Radbourn was devastated. He shut himself up and began drinking heavily. By 1897 he had contracted the Treponema pallidum spirochete, which worked its way into his brain and killed him after putting him in a coma. Yet although his life had ended, the memories of his superhuman 1884 season lives on. Jack Chesbro was only able to muster up 41 wins in 1904, a mark that still stands as the single season win record in the modern (post-1900) era. Nobody has since come close to Chesbro's record, making Radbourn's record as unreachable as Cy Young's 511 wins. Thanks to his record he became the fifth 300-game winner to gain entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame. And he still lives on beyond the grave with his popular Twitter account where he reminisces about the good old day of headhunting and two-men rotations.
John Clarkson - 328 wins
John Gibson Clarkson
September 21, 1892
Born: July 1, 1861 in Cambridge, MA
Died: February 4, 1909 in Belmont, MA
Height: 5'10" Weight: 155 lbs
Other Stats: 178 losses, 2.81 ERA, 133 ERA+, 1,978 strikeouts, 37 shutouts, 85.7 bWAR
Hall of Fame: 1963
Teams: Worcester Ruby Legs (1882), Chicago Cubs (NL) (1884-1887), Boston Beaneaters (1888-1892), Cleveland Spiders (1892-1894)
John Gibson Clarkson is without a doubt the most obscure member of the 300 win club. People may still remember Pud Galvin, Tim Keefe, and Mickey Welch because they are frequently mentioned as being the first, second, and third members of the 300-win club. Old Hoss Radbourn is still remembered for his 1884 season and his Twitter account. And Kid Nichols is still recognized for his record seven seasons with 30 wins. And with all his achievements, Clarkson's name still remains obscure. When Roger Clemens won his 300th game, YES Network had displayed the picture of all of the other 300 game winners, all of them except one. John Clarkson was for some strange but tragic reason left out of this historical parade. Yet Clarkson is one of the most unique members of this exclusive group. Sure, in many ways he is like the pitchers that has been previewed and will be previewed. He had great control of an assortment of pitches: a curveball, a change-up, and a nasty pitch he called a drop-curve that resembled a sinker. He was calm, quiet, but handsome and with a light sense of humor. He knew hitters' weaknesses and aimed at those areas with his precise control. Yet what makes him special is his peculiar character trait, that John Clarkson operates on positive reinforcement. Legends state that Clarkson's pitching prowess would appear whenever he is complimented, but he would become a nervous wreck, losing all control and often refusing to pitch. The degree of which this is true is most likely greatly exaggerated, but it is still a distinctive trait. That and the fact he wore a shiny belt buckle to blind the eyes of hitters.
Clarkson was born to a wealthy family that loved baseball. He had two brothers and two cousins that made it into the big leagues. He made a brief appearance with the Worcester club in the National League in 1882, but went 1-2 in three games before going back to pitch in the minors. Clarkson was eventually discovered by baseball pioneer Cap Anson, who owned the Chicago Cubs franchise. Anson signed young Clarkson, who won 10 of 13 starts for Chicago, a brilliant performance that foreshadows his spectacular 1885 season, one that ranks up there with Old Hoss Radbourn's 1884 as one of the best pitching performances of all time. Clarkson made 70 starts and finished with 53 wins against only 16 losses with 308 strikeouts and a no-hitter, which Radbourn never achieved in his magical season. His 53 wins is still second all time, but he was not able to lead his team to a victory in the championship series. Still, he remained equally effective in his next two seasons though a lighter workload limited him to 36 and 38 wins. He was sold to the Boston Beaneaters in 1888 where he became teammates with Old Hoss himself. When Radbourn missed most of the year due to a dispute, Clarkson was thrust into the role of a primary pitcher, winning 33 games. This successful performance convinced Boston management to retain Clarkson as their primary pitcher, and he reveled in his new role, winning 49 games against 19 losses and the pitching Triple Crown.
The next year was 1890 when many players were making the jump to the Player's League. Clarkson was invited to join, but he declined, and ended up signing a huge contract with Boston. The club was so happy that they tasked him to resign some other players. Players lashed out at him, claiming he was the owners' lackey. Clarkson was distressed by this. He still went 26-18, but his ERA of 3.27 was the highest in his career to that point. He also pitched in only 44 games, likewise the smallest amount up to that point, although it was partially because rookie Charles Nichols joined him in the rotation. Clarkson bounced back a year later, but he had a slow start in 1892 so Boston sent him to the Cleveland Spiders. Clarkson pitched well with his new team, though his appearances were limited due to the rise of another hot young star named Denton Young. Clarkson still won 17 games with his new team, including his 300th which came on September 21, 1892. Pitching against Pittsburgh at home, Clarkson was down 2-1 going into the ninth, but two walks, a sacrifice, and a two-run single by Ed McKean, one of only two hits that Pirates pitcher Adonis Terry would allow, gave Clarkson his 300th win.
In 1893, the pitching mound was moved back to the present 60 feet 6 inch distance from home, and Clarkson would never reach his former glories. He won only 16 games in 1893 and eight in 1894 while his ERA rose dramatically. He retired in mid-July 1894 after struggling with the memories of a horrible hunting accident that ended the career of his friend Charlie Bennett. Some believe that Clarkson wasn't bad pitching from 60 feet, but his performance was undermined by players still fuming over Clarkson's betrayal of the Players League. Clarkson played for only 12 seasons, but was teammate with three future 300-game winner, which is still a record. Clarkson kept himself busy in his life after baseball, opening a cigar store in Bay City, MI and still traveling to the east coast to coach baseball at Harvard and Yale. However, his life ended in tragedy. He had always suffered from depression exacerbated by alcohol abuse and in 1905 he suffered from an ill-defined psychiatric breakdown that left him paranoid and living in the past. He was sent to an insane asylum where he would remain until 1908, when he was transferred to a "psychiatric facility" that was really another asylum. There he contracted pneumonia and died early in 1909. Clarkson's life would come to a tragic end, but his pitching records still remained. In 1963, the Baseball Hall of Fame finally took note of them, and the Veteran's Committee finally welcomed John Clarkson into its laurels.
Kid Nichols - 361 wins
Charles Augustus Nichols
July 7, 1900
Born: September 14, 1869 in Madison, WI
Died: April 11, 1953 in Kansas City, MO
Height: 5'10" Weight: 175 lbs
Other Stats: 208 losses, 2.96 ERA, 140 ERA+, 1,881 strikeouts, 48 shutouts, 116.6 bWAR
Hall of Fame: 1949
Teams: Boston Beaneaters (1890-1901), St. Louis Cardinals (1904-1905), Philadelphia Phillies (1905-1906)
Charles Augustus Nichols is one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history, although his name is largely forgotten today, and most certainly perhaps the foremost pitcher of the 1890s. All of the earlier 300-game winners had enjoyed their greatest success in the 1880s and had been at the twilights of their careers when the 1890s came around, but Nichols was fortunate in he was born late enough that he never had to deal with the underarm delivery, which was banned before his professional career began. Pitching with an overhand delivery had given Nichols the ability to manipulate pitches in ways that were much harder using the underhand and sidearm deliveries employed by earlier pitchers. Nichols was able to get more speed and movement on his fastball, making him one of the premiere fastball pitchers of his era. He combined his key pitch with precision, accuracy, and the ability to deliver the ball where the hitter cannot hit it. Nichols also developed a natural no-windup delivery that threw off the hitters' timing, making him even more devastating to face. Nichols rode this talent to a record seven seasons of 30 or more wins, two more than Cy Young. Considering nobody reached 30 wins in 45 years, it's easy to conclude nobody is going to break the record anytime soon.
Nichols, known as "Kid" for his youthful appearance, was a hotshot youngster from Kansas City that found early success in amateur leagues. He was was signed at the age of 17 after being denied a year earlier. At the time, minor leagues were still independent leagues with no affiliation with major league franchises, so Nichols enjoyed enormous success in the minors for a good three years. His major league career began in 1890, when one of his former minor league managers, Frank Selee, brought him over to the Boston Beaneaters, who would eventually evolve into the powerhouse of the National League thanks in no small part to Kid Nichols. Nichols won 27 games while pitching alongside future 300-game winner John Clarkson. He improved to 30 wins a year later as the Beaneaters jumped in the standings from fifth to first. Boston shipped the nervous Clarkson to the Cleveland Spiders a year later as Nichols came into his own. He won 30 games for the second straight season while he and pitching mate Jack Stivetts led Boston to their first 100-win season. Even after the pitcher's mound was moved back to the present distance of 60 feet 6 inches, Nichols remained hot, hitting the 30-win plateau in five of the next six seasons. The only exception came in 1895 when "Kid" was only able to muster 26 wins, although that was mostly due to the sudden disappearance of the offense that turned Boston into a powerhouse. The run support returned a year later and he went on to enjoy consecutive 31-win seasons while leading Boston to two straight pennants. His role was reduced in 1899 to accommodate that of a rising star by the name of Vic Willis, but he still won 21 games to put him three wins away from 300. His 297 wins in the 1890s is still the record for most in a decade.
On January 1, 1900, the world warmly welcomed the 20th century, having no idea the vast changes that the next 100 years would bring. For some people, the future was a disappointment a 1900 felt no different from 1899. One man that felt a difference was Kid Nichols. He suffered a dramatic slump to open the season, and was unable to get the third win until July 7, and that's if you accept that he won 34 games in 1893 instead of 33 listed in some sources. He allowed 11 hits to the Chicago Orphans, working on a ten-game winning streak, but he escaped with four runs while the Beaneaters exploded for 11 runs off of opposing starter Nixey Callahan, including seven in the second inning, thus showing that baseball is truly a team effort. Nichols was still only two months away from his 31st birthday, making him the youngest pitcher to reach the 300-win plateau, breaking the record set by his former teammate John Clarkson eight years earlier.
Nichols finished the 1900 season with a 13-16 record, his first losing record in the majors. He returned to form in 1901 to win 19 games in a valiant effort after many National League players had made the ump to the American Leagues. With their future riding on the arm of Willis, Boston management gave Nichols a contract far below that the former ace had been receiving. Insulted by the offer, Nichols chose instead to return to his home in Kansas City, where he was able to be a player-manager and a part-owner of the Kansas City Blue Stockings in the Western League. He went 47-19 in his two seasons as player-manager but the Western League quickly folded, and Nichols wound up with the St. Louis Cardinals as a player-manager. He won 21 games in a glorious return, but couldn't find the same success a year later, going 1-5 after only seven games and was told to hit the road. He joined the Philadelphia Phillies and won ten more games to close the 1905 season. He left the game for good after only four appearances in 1906. Nichols tried many business ventures after leaving baseball, finding some success coaching in college. It was then that Kid Nichols found his second calling: bowling. He had a knack at the game he discovered earlier in his career, and enjoyed a successful career as a championship bowler. He also became a part-owner of the largest bowling alley in Kansas City. Kid Nichols was alive and still bowling when he was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Old Timers Committee in 1949. He died four years later because of a cancerous tumor in his neck, but his legacy as one of the premiere pitchers in baseball history still remains.
Cy Young - 511 wins
Denton True Young
July 12, 1901
Born: March 29, 1867 in Gilmer, OH
Died: November 4, 1955 in Newcomerstown, OH
Height: 6'2" Weight: 210 lbs
Other Stats: 316 losses, 2.63 ERA, 138 ERA+, 2,803 strikeouts, 76 shutouts, 170.3 bWAR
Hall of Fame: 1937
Teams: Cleveland Spiders (1890-1898), St. Louis Perfectos / Cardinals (1899-1900), Boston Americans / Red Sox (1901-1908), Cleveland Naps (1909-1911), Boston Rustlers (NL) (1911)
Whenever anybody makes a list of the best pitchers in history, Cy Young's name would invariably come up. Whether or not he really was the best pitcher of all time is still under debate, but nobody combined talent, consistency, and durability as perfectly as Denton True Young. Some pitchers many have had better control, a quicker mind, or a faster fastball, but none of them had performed on the same level for so long and as successfully, and it is this balancing act that made Cy Young the winningest pitcher in major league history. Denton got his nickname Cy as a reference to the Cyclone* early in his life because his fastball was similar to that of the meteorological disaster, but he later added a wide variety of breaking balls and a vicious change-up to complete his arsenal of pitches. Over his 22-year career, Cy sported a record of consistency that rivals that of future 300-game winner Greg Maddux, but on a much larger scale Maddux may have had a longer streak of 15-win seasons (17), but very few pitchers have topped Cy's nine-year streak of 20-win seasons, and nobody has reached the 20-win mark more often (15 times, two more than Warren Spahn.) Yet what really allowed him to win 500 games is his longevity. No other pitcher in baseball history has the durability of Cy Young, not even Nolan Ryan and his 27 seasons. Pitching largely in an era of 2-3 men rotations, Cy still holds the record for games started, innings pitched, and complete games.
*Some assert that Cy was really short for Cyrus, a somewhat derogatory nickname for men from the country.
Cy Young's career is divided neatly in half. He pitched 11 seasons in the National League in the 19th century and won 286 games. He made the jump to the American League in 1901 and pitched in the Era of the Pitcher for another 11 seasons and managed 221 wins. With that he became the first man to win at least 100 games with both leagues. Young had been a hard-throwing farm boy with immense talent when he was signed by a minor league team at Canton, OH. When the league folded he was sold to the Cleveland Spiders for $300 and a new suit of clothes. His first start was against Cap Anson's Chicago White Stockings, who laughed at the new rookie. They stopped laughing as soon as the 23-year-old rookie held them to an embarrassing three hits. He would win nine games in his first season. Cy pitched wwll in Cleveland, winning at least 20 games for the rest of his time there, including a 36-win season in 1892 and 34 wins in 1893, when the pitching mound moved back. He also pitched a no-hitter in 1897. After the 1898 season, the owners of the Spiders purchased the St. Louis Browns, renaming them the Perfectos, and shipped all the talent from the Spiders. Young, already a 241-game winner, made the trip. The Perfectos had a winning record but finished fifth, while the threadbare Spiders went an astonishing 20-134 to become the worst team of all time. The Curse of Cy Young.
In 1901, Ban Johnson formed the American League to combat the National League. Cy Young was lured to the Boston Americans (also known as Pilgrims, later dubbed the Red Sox) with a $1,100 pay raise. He thrived in the new league, winning 33 games in 1901 and 32 in 1902. One of these wins was his 300th, which came on July 12, 1901 against Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics. Young allowed two runs in the first but settled down while his teammates bullied rookie John McPherson, making his major league debut, with five runs in four innings as the Americans hung on for a 5-3 win. Cy Young fell to 28 wins in 1903, but led the Americans to the first ever World Series victory where he won two games in the eight-game series. He won 26 games, pitched a perfect game, and won his 400th game in 1904. He fell to 13-21 in 1906, but came back to win 21 games in consecutive seasons and pitched a third no-hitter. In 1908 he struck out his 2,565th hitter to overtake Tim Keefe to claim the all-time strikeout title.
Young returned to where his career began in 1909 when the Pilgirms dealt him to the Cleveland Naps (later Indians, but the city of Cleveland was so in love with Napoleon Lajoie they named their team after him). By then his career was winding down. He still won 19 games in 1909 at the age of 42, but only managed seven wins in 1910, including his 500th on July 19. He also picked up his 300th loss, becoming the second man with 300 wins and 300 losses. He won three more games with the Naps in 1911 before getting released. He was signed by Boston where he won his final three games. When he retired, Cy Young held virtually every pitching record, but his accomplishments were ignored as the American public was dazzled by the achievements of Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson. When the first Hall of Fame vote came up in 1936, Cy Young was listed on 49% of the ballots, far below the 75% needed for election. He was finally elected in 1937, but he barely earned 75% of the vote. But the Hall of Fame vote didn't concern him. Cy worked on his farm in rural Ohio following a short managerial career and was always more than happy to talk about the old days until his death in 1955 of a heart attack. When an award to honor the pitcher of the year was created a year later, the owner decided to name it after the legendary Cy Young. Not only did he have a catchy name, but his legacy of 511 wins would never be duplicated. There will never again be a pitcher with his combination of talent and durability.
Christy Mathewson - 373 wins
June 13, 1912
Born: August 12, 1880 in Factoryville, PA
Died: October 7, 1925 in Saranac Lake, NY
Height: 6'1" Weight: 195 lbs
Other Stats: 188 losses, 2.13 ERA, 135 ERA+, 2,507 strikeouts, 79 shutouts, 95.3 bWAR
Hall of Fame: 1936
Teams: New York Giants (1900-1916), Cincinnati Reds (1916)
Baseball was a popular sport over its first 30 years of professional play, but it had always lacked one thing: a superstar. The 19th century was full of great players that were very popular, but none of them were a superstar idolized by the entire masses. (No, I don't consider Cap Anson or King Kelly to be superstars.) Baseball found its first superstar in the form of Christy Mathewson, a handsome, college-educated gentleman that stood as the shining star in the brutal world of early baseball. Mathewson embodied Frank Meriwell, the virtuous hero of a popular baseball serial at the time. His only flaw seemed to be his arrogance, but his performance on the field justified that stance. He had a good grasp of the assortment of the standard pitches: the fastball, curveball, and change-up, and he had perfected a reverse-curve that made him one of the most dominating pitchers of the era. It is known today as a screwball, but players back then called it a fadeaway, for it seemed to fade away from the hitter's line of sight. He threw all those pitches with pinpoint precision. To top it off, Mathewson had the intelligence rarely seen in early baseball. He was book-smart, having been educated at Bucknell, and was known to be a terrific checkers player. And he was smart on the field. It was Christy Mathewson that coined the phrase "You can learn little from victory. You can learn everything from defeat." And he compiled his observations on baseball in a book, Pitching in a Pinch, published in 1912.
Mathewson was a child of a wealthy farmer. He was a star athlete in three sports, and played in various minor league teams during the summer. He was purchased by the New York Giants, but was sent to the minors after going 0-3 as a 19-year-old. He was later drafted by the Cincinnati Reds, who mysteriously decided they would prefer to have fireballer Amos Rusie, who hadn't pitched in three years. The Giants had Rusie, so Mathewson was traded back to his old team, and this time he was there to stay. He was good but not great, going 34-34 in his first two full years but pitched a no-hitter. The old Giants managers tried him as a position player in 1902, but when new manager John McGraw arrived, he encouraged Mathewson to give it all he's got on the mounds. And Mathewson delivered, winning at least 30 games in the next three seasons and led the Giants to consecutive pennants alongside Iron Man Joe McGinnity in 1904 and 1905. The Giants refused to play the World Series in 1904, so Mathewson's first World Series came in 1905. And he made it count, throwing three complete game shutouts as the Giants easily topped the Athletics, who also had their eyes on the young Mathewson five years earlier. Mathewson won a career high 37 in 1908, but that year will always be remembered for one game that got away. The Giants and Cubs tied at the end of the regular season forcing a playoff (thanks to a legendary game that deserves a thread of its own), which Mathewson lost 4-2 against his nemesis Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown. The Cubs went on to win the World Series, after which they never won again: The Curse of the 1908 Giants.
Mathewson never failed to win at least 20 games in 12 consecutive seasons. His 300th win came in 1912. Some sources said it came on June 28, but for our purposes it came on June 13, 1912, a game against of all teams the Cubs. However, the Cubs started Larry Cheney instead of Brown, and the Giants wound up with a 3-2 win after Mathewson stranded the tying run at third base with no outs. Mathewson teamed up with Rube Marquard who won 19 games in a row to bring the Giants another pennant that year, but he suffered a rare mental lapse in the deciding game of the World Series against the Red Sox and ended up with the loss. After a 24-win season in 1914, Mathewson' arm began fading in 1915, as he went 8-14 in only 27 games. Mathewson was asked to manage the Reds in the middle of the 1916 season, so Giants management agreed to trade Mathewson to Cincinnati, where he got revenge against Three Finger Brown in his 373rd and final career win. His 2.13 career ERA remains the lowest of any of the 300-game winners.
Mathewson continued to manage the Reds, turning the pitiful Reds from a cellar dweller to a .500 club, but his managerial career ended when he enlisted to fight in the Great War in 1918. He was assigned to train recruits on how to put on gas mask, and was unfortunately exposed to mustard gas during a drill, permanently injured his lungs. He went on to coach for the Giants after the war, but was bothered by a nasty cough. Doctors discovered that in his weakened state, Matty had contracted the Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria. Mathewson moved to a sanitarium, where he stayed for a few year to recuperate. As soon as he showed improvement, he went and took on the role as being the president of the Boston Braves in 1923. The stress turned out to be too much for him, as his health steadily worsened and eventually had to return to the sanitarium. There were no drugs like Isoniazid available at the time, and the tuberculosis would eventually kill him at the age of 45. His death crushed not only the baseball world, but also the nation for they had lost one of their most beloved sports heroes. In 1936, 11 year after his death, Mathewson was one of the first five men that were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. It may be arguable now that there were better pitchers than Matty, but there's no denying that he was one of baseball's finest gentlemen and earliest superstars.
Eddie Plank - 326 wins
Edward Stewart Plank
September 11, 1915
Born: August 31, 1875 in Gettysburg, PA
Died: February 24, 1926 in Gettysburg, PA
Height: 5'11" Weight: 175 lbs
Other Stats: 194 losses, 2.35 ERA, 122 ERA+, 2,246 strikeouts, 69 shutouts, 86.5 bWAR
Hall of Fame: 1946
Teams: Phildelphia Athletics (1901-1914), St. Louis Terriers (FL) (1915), St. Louis Browns (1916-1917)
Early in baseball history, everybody threw right-handed. The reason why there were so few southpaws in the 19th century is unclear, but it could have been that anybody that threw left-handed was pressured to convert into a right-hander. The two earliest southpaw pitching greats rose to prominence in the 1900s, and they were both members of the powerful rotation for the Philadelphia Athletics. Rube Waddell was a lovable but self destructive fireballer that struck out 300 batters numerous times but flamed out as dramatically as his rise to fame. His teammate Eddie Plank was a silent and serious loner that remained consistent on his way to 300 wins despite not making his debut until the age of 25. Plank was one of the early masters of mind games, dawdling as much as he can between pitches, leaving both the batters and the fielders behind him on edge. He also had a habit of talking to himself in a nasal but booming voice that everyone in the ballpark could hear. He employed a rocking motion in his delivery that threw off the hitters' timing as well as his defense. Those were just a few of his methods of wearing down the batter mentally, and he would get at them physically with his assortment of pitches that he threw sidearm in a way that made it appear the ball was coming in from first base. He also had masterful control and a brilliant pickoff move that made him one of Connie Mack's most dependable winners.
Plank was born in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania about a dozen years after the legendary battle. He was a boy with natural talent but no opportunity to develop it until he enrolled at Gettysburg College. Under the direction of coach and former major leaguer Frank Foreman, Plank developed into a formidable hurler. He often faced off against Christy Mathewson of Bucknell, but he never won a match. Foreman knew Connie Mack personally and recommended the young lefty. Mack was in need of players for his new American League team, so he signed Plank without ever watching him pitch. (He also tried to sign Mathewson but that deal fell through.) Plank jumped immediately to the majors and impressed Mack immensely, winning 17 games as a 25-year-old rookie. He only got better and won 20 games every year from 1902 to 1907 except 1906, when he suffered an arm injury and won only 19. He was joined by Waddell and Chief Bender to form one of the greatest rotations in the American League. The tremendous trio led the A's to the pennant in 1905, but suffered three shutouts in the hands of Plank's old college nemesis Christy Mathewson. Plank pitched well from 1908 to 1910, but failed to get to the 20-win plateau, but he came back to win 23 games in 1911 and 26 in 1912. The A's won four more pennants in 1910, 1911, 1913, and 1914. Plank had to sit out the 1910 World Series due to arm problems, but he helped the team to World Series titles in 1911 and 1913, both times against the Giants.
In 1912 the owners still had complete control the players. That year, a few players formed the Fraternity of Professional Base Ball Players, a second attempt at unionization following the Brotherhood of 1890, but they were ignored by the owners. When a few businessmen formed the Federal League after the 1913 season, several players were more than happy to jump on. The 1914 season was a big success for the league, and they continued into 1915. After losing to the Miracle Braves in 1914, Connie Mack began disbanding his powerful team, letting go of anybody worth paying. Plank knew that this was about to happen, and was in talks with agents from the Federal League. Mack eventually waived him, allowing Plank to sign with the St. Louis Terriers of the Federal League for 1915. He was terrific in his new league, winning 21 games, including a 12-5 win over former Cub Ed Ruelbach and the Newark Pepper on September 11, 1915 for his 300th win*. He was the first left-handed pitcher to win his 300th game. He was the second pitcher to win his 300th game in a rogue league (after Tim Keefe) and the second to reach that mark despite beginning his career after his 25th birthday (after Old Hoss Radbourn). The Terriers won the 1915 Federal League title, but after the season the owners began reluctantly meeting the demands of the Fraternity, and the league disbanded. Plank went across town to the St. Louis Browns, where he would win 21 more games in two more season to end his career with 326 wins, at the time the most by a left-handed pitcher.
*Some sources don't count the Federal League victories, which would give Plank only 305 wins, meaning the milestone wouldn't occur until October 1, 1916.
After leaving the game, Plank returned to Gettysburg where he continued to do what he did in the off-season: work in the family farm while doubling as a tour guide for the Gettysburg battlegrounds. In 1918 he found out that he had been traded by the Browns to the Yankees despite his retirement request, but Plank did not report. He went on to pitch part-time in local independent leagues while operating a car dealership. In 1925, Plank found out that his old baseball rival Christy Mathewson had died of tuberculosis. Unbeknownst to him, he was the next 300-game winner on Death's list. Only a few months later Plank suffered a stroke from which he never recovered, dying after three days. He was only 50 years old. When Hall of Fame voting began, virtually no voters showed any interest in the master of the long ballgames. He never received 27% of the vote and it took the Committee on Old-Timers to vote in baseball's first great southpaw in 1946. His record for wins by a lefty would stand for another 16 years after that.
Walter Johnson - 417 wins
Walter Perry Johnson
May 14, 1920
Born: November 6, 1887 in Humboldt, KS
Died: December 10, 1946 in Washington DC
Height: 6'1" Weight: 200 lbs
Other Stats: 279 losses, 2.17 ERA, 147 ERA+, 3,509 strikeouts, 110 shutouts, 152.3 bWAR
Hall of Fame: 1936
Teams: Washington Senators (1907-1927)
Whenever baseball historians discuss the best pitcher of all time, their choice usually ends up being Walter Perry Johnson, a choice that is surprising for fans. Critics of Johnson flame him for his .599 winning percentage and his lack of pitching strategy. It's true that he was a one-pitch hurler for much of his career, but what a pitch it was. "The Big Train" had one of the fastest fastballs of all time, and he pitched with such an easy sidearm motion that the hitters would be caught off-guard by the speed of the pitch. As a result, he became on of the first great strikeout artists. Moreover, he was a perfect gentleman both on and off the field. He was kind, modest, and got along with everybody, even the surly Ty Cobb. He refused to throw directly at a batter, which was a common tactic used by pitchers to assert their dominance. As a result, the more daring hitters would crowd the plate to get a better part of the strike zone, thinking that they'll eventually get a pitch that they can hit. More often than not, they won't.
Johnson was born on a farm in Kansas but moved early in his life to California. He was signed by the Washington Senators in 1907 and made his debut later that year against Ty Cobb and the Tigers. Even though Johnson ended up with the loss in his debut, his impressive showing still amazed the Georgia Peach. But the Senators were the laughingstock in the new American League, and Johnson was 32-48 over the next two seasons despite a 1.94 ERA that was 23% better than league average. The numbers suggested he would improve, and he did in 1910, going 25-17 with 313 strikeouts to become only the second man to reach 300 since the mound was moved back in 1893, after only Rube Waddell. Under the leadership of Clark Griffith, the Senators moved up to second place in 1912 and 1913, as Johnson posted 33 and 36 wins respectively. Johnson hit the 300-strikeout mark again in 1912, and while it fell to 243 in 1913, it was still enough for him to win the pitching Triple Crown. Despite his amiable personality, Johnson was not afraid to demand a better contract, and even signed with the Federal League in 1915, although he later backed out of that contract and stayed with Washington, never failing to win 20 games over the rest of the decade.
Johnson became the most popular man in baseball, cheered by fans even on the road. However, in 1920 he suffered from a sore arm and he pitched in only 21 games, going 8-10 but reaching two important milestones. On May 14, 1920, Johnson relieved Eric Erickson in the sixth with the bases loaded while nursing a 6-4 lead. He struggled, allowing a run on an infield single, and three more on a single by Ty Cobb and an error by Sam Rice. He finished off the Tigers in the sixth and shut them out the rest of the game while the Senators rallied, with Johnson driving home the tying run in the seventh and singling in the ninth off of reliever Hooks Dauss (himself a future 200-game winner), setting the stage for Joe Judge's walk-off single for the 9-8 win. It was his 300th win, the only one to come in a relief appearance. A few weeks later, he pitched his only no-hitter that was an error away from a perfect game. By the beginning of the 1924 season, Johnson had won 354 and reached the 3,000 strikeout mark and was contemplating retirement, but he went 23-7 and the Senators topped to win the pennant. They went on to beat the Giants in seven games. That convinced Johnson to come back for another year, where he won 20 games, setting a record for the highest batting average by a pitcher (.433), and led the Senators to another pennant. Even though they lost, Johnson came back in 1926, going 15-16 but threw a 15-inning 1-0 shutout against the Athletics on opening day and won his 400th game on April 27. In 1927 he had his leg broken by a line drive in spring training and went on to pitch worse than league average for the only time his career, and that led him to retire for good.
After retiring, Johnson embarked on a relatively successful managing career with the Senators and Indians. After that he retired to his farm in Maryland, where he enjoyed a life of public appearances, dabbling in politics. In 1936 he was one of the first five men to be elected to the Hall of Fame, although he earned the smallest vote percentage of the five, including Christy Mathewson. Yet today writers and historians are re-thinking their position and frequently putting Johnson ahead of Matty on lists of the greatest pitchers. In his 21-year career, all with the same team (the only 300-game winner to do so), Johnson sported a 417-279 record. His 2.17 ERA is the second lowest among 300-game winners, and his 147 ERA+ is the second highest, behind only Lefty Grove. And nobody has come close to matching his 110 shutouts. Baseball is a game of what-ifs, and many of them apply to Johnson. 26 of his losses came with a score of 1-0, although he won 38 by the same score. What if instead of playing his entire career with the lowly Senators, he played for a more solid team? Better defense and offense could have turned many of the 1-0 losses into victories. What if Johnson was not afraid to throw at batters? Could he have won 512 games? The world may never know. At any rate, Johnson was satisfied with his career up to his death from a brain tumor in 1946. His death devastated the entire nation, for they knew that they had lost one of the greatest men to have stepped on a baseball field.
Pete Alexander - 373 wins
Grover Cleveland Alexander
September 20, 1924
Born: February 26, 1887 in Elba, NE
Died: November 4, 1950 in St. Paul, NE
Height: 6'1" Weight: 185 lbs
Other Stats: 208 losses, 2.56 ERA, 136 ERA+, 2,198 strikeouts, 90 shutouts, 117.0 bWAR
Hall of Fame: 1938
Teams: Philadelphia Phillies (1911-1917, 1930), Chicago Cubs (1918-1926), St. Louis Cardinals (1926-1929)
Of all the tragic figures in baseball history, no man was more tragic than Grover Cleveland Alexander. He tasted success that very few others have experienced, yet succumbed to personal demons and fell into obscurity and poverty. The high expectations placed on his life were apparent even at birth. The son of a Nebraskan corn farmer, Alexander was named after the president of the time.* Alexander didn't have the smarts to achieve in politics like his namesake, but he did have the athletic abilities to bring him success in a different manner. "Ol' Pete" didn't throw as hard as Walter Johnson, but his fastball was intimidating nonetheless. It was his fine curveball, which he threw with unequaled accuracy that made him virtually unhittable. Moreover, Alexander possessed a fiery will that drove him to success even if he lacked his best stuff. Sadly, whatever control he had on his pitches he lacked for his own actions. No man in baseball was haunted by more demons.
*Incidentally, Cleveland was a good friend of future 300-game winner Pud Galvin when he served as sheriff of Buffalo where Galvin was the ace.
And yet in his glory days nobody was better on the mound. Alexander got his start pitching for a telephone company where he worked. His talents earned him a minor league contract, where he was hit by an errant throw. He remained unconscious for days and had double vision when he woke up. The double vision eventually went away and Alexander went back to dominating hitters, but he would go into seizures the rest of his life. The Phillies took a chance with this youngster in 1911, buying his contract for a mere $750. It was a gamble that paid off. Alexander set a modern era record by winning 28 games in his rookie season. The Phillies hired Pat Moran as manager in 1915, and under him Alexander enjoyed the best years of his life. That year he won 31 games and threw 12 shutouts as the Phillies won their first and only pennant until 1950, although they lost the World Series to the Red Sox. Even though Philadelphia finished second in 1916, Grover had his best season, winning a career high 33 games and throwing 16 shutouts, a record that still stands today. He won 30 games in 1917 to become the last pitcher to win 30 games in three straight seasons, but owner William Baker figured his star pitcher would be fighting in the Great War, and traded him to the Cubs to avoid the salary dispute for 1918. Indeed, Alexander went off to the western front after only three games with Chicago. He survived the war but was left with severe PTSD and partial hearing loss.
Alexander had 235 wins through 1920, when he won 27 games, but he would never achieve the same brilliance in the remainder of his career. He reached the 20-win milestone only once more with the Cubs, winning 22 in 1923. He dealt with injuries in 1924 and pitched in only 20 games, going 12-5. His last win came on September 20, 1924 against the Giants. Grover pitched a complete game nail-biter that went into extra innings thanks to an run-scoring error by George Grantham, but the Cubs plated four runs in the 12th against rookie reliever Ernie Maun and Grover had his 300th win by a score of 7-3. Nevertheless, Alexander seemed to be past his glory days, so the Cubs sold him to the Cardinals in the middle of the 1926 season. That was a fortunate turn of events for Ol' Pete as the Cardinals won the pennant and faced the Yankees in the World Series. Alexander won both Game 2 and 6, and legends say that he went on a drinking binge in celebration of his Game 6 victory, although he denied the allegations. He was either nursing a hangover or just taking a nap in the bullpen the next day when the Yankees loaded the bases against starter Jesse Haines in the seventh. With two outs and a one-run lead, manager Rogers Hornsby called on his most experienced hurler to face the hot young rookie Tony Lazzeri. While Lazzeri hit a fly ball that just went foul, Alexander struck him out, and pitched two more shutout innings to get the save in a game that ended when Babe Ruth was caught stealing second.
Alexander enjoyed modest success after the series. He won 21 games in 1927, but the Cardinals finished second. He won his 373rd game in 1929 to tie Christy Mathewson for first on the National League win list and third all-time. Alexander struggled to stay in the game he loved. He tried a comeback with the Phillies in 1930 but failed to get a win. He pitched for several minor league teams, including the famous House of David team, but alcohol became his downfall. He was unable to hold a job or the woman he loved. In 1938, he gained election to the Hall of Fame on his third try, but the increasingly cynical Alexander thought nothing of the honor, as it didn't put money on the table. In the end, he found the most success being a sideshow attraction in New York. Come one come all to see Grover Cleveland Alexander, the box of baseball memories. Memories were all he had left, but even those would disappear like tears in the rain. He died penniless in St. Paul, Nebraska in 1950 of heart failure, most likely from cardiomyopathy brought on by years of drinking. Alexander may have been gone, but he was not forgotten. Two years after his death the film The Winning Team was made about his life with Ronald Reagen playing the lead character. Reagen would become chief executive 28 years later to complete the ironic circle. The film was forgettable, but what remains more memorable to baseball fans was Alexander's 373 wins and 90 shutouts, both ranking in the top three of all time.
Lefty Grove - 300 wins
Robert Moses Grove
July 25, 1941
Born: March 6, 1900 in Lonaconing, MD
Died: May 22, 1975 in Norwalk, OH
Height: 6'3" Weight: 190 lbs
Other Stats: 141 losses, 3.06 ERA, 148 ERA+, 2,266 strikeouts, 35 shutouts, 109.9 bWAR
Hall of Fame: 1947
Teams: Philadelphia Athletics (1925-1933), Boston Red Sox (1934-1941)
No man that ever stepped on the mound wanted to win more than Robert Moses Grove. As the antithesis of Walter Johnson, he had a fiery intensity that no other pitcher has duplicated. To win, you need good stuff and a good team playing behind you. "Lefty" certainly had good stuff. He built his early success as a hard throwing, left-handed fireballer, on par with the Big Train as far as speed goes. Later in his career, he developed a hard-biting curveball to compensate his fading fastball. He was not afraid to intimidate batters, knowing full well it is to his advantage to do so. And with the exception of a period of wildness early and late in his career, Grove had good control of his pitches. So he certainly had the talent, and he knew it. So whenever he loses, he knows it would be the team's fault, and he would explode into profanity-laden tirades after a loss. Mildly approachable after a victory, Grove becomes a maelstrom after a tough defeat. He would tear apart the clubhouse, cursing everybody from his fellow teammates to his manager. Teammates learned to stay far away from him, but they would play their best to avoid his wrath. And his managers put up with him because he delivers. His .680 winning percentage is the best among 300-game winners, and holds the record with nine ERA crowns.
Grove was a fearsome pitcher even during his early days. He pitched five seasons in the minors and won 111 games, including 109 with the old Baltimore Orioles owned by Jack Dunn, whose high asking price on the lefty kept him from reaching the majors. In the end Connie Mack was the only man to put down the $100,600 to purchase the 25-year-old southpaw. Everybody could see that he had good stuff, but he also had a wildness seldom seen even among rookies. It the end it took backup catcher Cy Perkins to tell Grove to calm down and take time to cool off between pitches. It worked, as Grove went on to win his first ERA title in 1926 with a 2.51 ERA. He won 20 games for the first time in 1927 and never failed to win 20 for the rest of his time with the Athletics. The A's of 1929-1931 were as scary as the Yankees from a few years earlier, and Lefty Grove was their ace. He won only 20 games in 1929, but won the ERA title while the A's won the pennant and the World Series against the Cubs. He won 28 games in 1930 and the A's repeated as World Series champions against the Cardinals. 1931 was easily his career win, as he went 31-4 and had a 16-game winning streak. He posted a career-low 2.06 ERA, led the league in strikeouts for the seventh time in his seven season, and won his second straight pitching Triple Crown. He won the first BBWAA MVP award, besting Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. He even threw his most famous tantrum that year after losing a 1-0 heartbreaker on an error to break his winning streak. However, the A's lost to the Gashouse Gang Cardinals in seven games.
Grove won 49 games in 1932 and 1933, but the Athletics fell short of the pennant before Mack began his peculiar habit of dismantling his team. Grove was traded to the Red Sox alongside two teammates for $125,000. He suffered an arm injury before the season that resulted in an 8-8 record. When he recovered, he found that the fastball that had brought him so much success had faded, so he learned to throw a couple of devastating breaking balls and went on to win 20 games in 1935. He was re-united with his old friend Jimmie Foxx in 1936 and won three more ERA titles. However, by 1940, the year he turned 40, it was clear that he was slowly fading. By then milestones had become a big deal, and nobody had reached 300 wins since Grover Cleveland Alexander in 1924. Grove had 286 big league wins and was more than determined to be the next, but he went 7-6 with a 3.99 ERA to put him at 293. His quest became an obsession in 1941. He reached 299 in early July, but then lost in his first two attempts at 300. Too tired to bicker, Grove just looked ahead to his next start, which came on July 25, 1941 against the defending champion Indians. The Indians took a 4-0 lead after three innings, but the Red Sox clawed back. The score was tied 6-6 in the eighth inning when Grove's old friend Jimmie Foxx slugged a two-run triple off reliever Al Milnar to secure the win. Grove lost his next three starts before deciding to retire, putting his record at 300-141, but it no longer mattered. He had become the first in almost 17 years to win 300, and the 12th overall.
The milestone may have been special for Lefty, but it was not a guarantee for the Hall of Fame. He never gained a clear majority in his first two years on the ballot. And when he was finally elected in 1947, he had fewer votes than the great screwball master Carl Hubbell, who had only 253 wins. Yet the attitudes on Grove's career would change. When baseball celebrated the 100th anniversary of the first professional team in 1969, Lefty Grove beat out Sandy Koufax, Eddie Plank, and Warren Spahn for the title of the best southpaw. (Walter Johnson was the winning pitcher for righties.) Yet by then the only contact Grove had with the game was whenever he decided to coach youth baseball. Now mellowed by age, Grove also managed a bowling alley and served as a police chief in his peaceful days after retirement. He died in 1975 of a heart attack, but his legacy as the most intense and one of the best pitchers of all time lives on.
Warren Spahn - 363 wins
Warren Edward Spahn
August 11, 1961
Born: April 23, 1921 in Buffalo, NY
Died: November 24, 2003 in Broken Arrow, OK
Height: 6'0" Weight: 172 lbs
Other Stats: 245 losses, 3.09 ERA, 119 ERA+, 2,583 strikeouts, 63 shutouts, 92.6 bWAR
Hall of Fame: 1973
Teams: Boston / Milwaukee Braves (1942, 1946-1964), New York Mets (1965), San Francisco Giants (1965)
People remember Warren Spahn for his distinctive leg kick, where he would lift his right leg up over his head to give him the momentum to hurl the ball towards the plate. He wasn't the only pitcher to employ a leg kick of that caliber, as Juan Marichal had much more lift to his leg, but no pitcher since Cy Young had been able to combine talent, consistency and durability as well as Spahn. He could consistently throw all of his major pitches for strikes and at different speeds, as he coined the phrase "Hitting is timing, pitching is upsetting timing". He was also a serious, thinking man's pitcher that studied all of the scouting reports on hitters. He was skilled with the bat, as his 35 home runs is second all time among pitchers. Most of all, Spahn was consistent for a long time. He won at least 15 years every year but one over a period of 17 seasons, and still won 14 in that one exception. He won 20 games a total of 13 times, including six years in a row. And Spahn was durable. He didn't get a chance to start regularly until past his 25th birthday, but still managed to be among the league leaders in innings well into his 40s, and even pitched 16 innings in a game at the age of 42.
Spahn was an accomplished pitcher in high school and smart enough to get an offer from Cornell. He chose to sign with the Boston Braves instead and found himself in the majors at 21 in 1942. Legends state that Spahn refused to throw at Pee Wee Reese in a game against the Dodgers, and was sent to the minors by manager Casey Stengel, although his 5.74 ERA in four appearances was probably more critical to the decision. Later that year he enlisted to fight in the war overseas, seeing action in the Battle of the Bulge. He returned in 1945 with several decorations and a 2nd Lieutenant's stripe. After staring death in the eye, baseball seemed easy in comparison. He posted an 8-5 record with a 2.94 ERA in his first year back with the Braves as a 25-year-old, and would win at least 20 games in four of the next five season. He won only 15 in 1948, but led the Braves to the pennant with veteran Johnny Sain, where they would lose to the Indians. The bubble broke in 1952 when the Braves sank to seventh and Spahn went 14-19 despite a 2.98 ERA that was 22% better than league average. Braves management could tell that they were no longer wanted and moved the franchise to Milwaukee. Spahn excelled in his new home, winning 23 games while achieving a career low 2.10 ERA in 1953, and would win 20 games in all but one season between 1953 and 1961.
In 1957, Spahn helped the Braves to their another pennant, leading the team with 21 wins and a 2.69 ERA while winning his only Cy Young award. He struggled in the World Series, but teammate Lew Burdette dominated the Yankees and led the Braves to a seven-game Series victory. Spahn won 22 games in 1958 as the Braves won another pennant. He was much more effective in the rematch against the Yankees, but lost Game 6 in the 10th inning as the Yankees rallied back from a 3-1 deficit to win the title in seven. At the end of the 1958 season Spahn had 246 wins and within striking distances of 300, last reached 17 years earlier by Lefty Grove. Spahn was already pushing 38, but he silenced all doubters and kept winning. He threw a no-hitter at 39 in 1960, and another one seven months later at age 40. And on August 11, 1961, Spahn and the Braves faced the Cubs and a promising young starter named John Curtis. Both men pitched well, and the game remained tied 1-1 into the eighth inning when Gino Cimoli hit a home run into left field. Spahn made the 2-1 lead hold up to win his 300th game. It was 20 years and 17 days since Grove won his 300th game, a record time between milestone victories.
Spahn continued to pitch effectively. He won 23 at age 42 in 1963, not including the now-legendary game where he traded zeros with Juan Marichal for 15 innings before allowing a walk-off home run to Willie Mays, who had hit his first home run off Spahn 12 years earlier. In the end, Spahn's 43-year-old body began feeling the effects of almost 5,000 innings of strain. He fell to 6-13 in 1964 and was sold to the sad sack Mets for 1965, where he was reunited with his old pal Casey Stengel. He spent time in both New York and San Francisco before he was released by the Giants with 363 wins, sixth most all time and the most ever by a lefty. Spahn tried to make a comeback, pitching in Mexico and the minors, but in the end he gave up and had a successful career as a manager of the minor league Tulsa Oilers. This comeback pushed his Hall of Fame eligibility back to 1973, when he was elected by a good majority. The induction came a few months after his 52nd birthday, making him the oldest member at the time to gain induction in his first year on the ballot, a record later broken by Nolan Ryan. He continued to work as a pitching instructor in baseball and served as a scout before retiring to his cattle ranch in Oklahoma in 1981. He still remained a lovable figure of the Braves' glory days in Milwaukee and continued to make public relations appearances until his death a month after the end of the 2003 season. By then he had seen eight more pitchers make his way into the 300-win club, but none of them came close to passing his career total of 363 wins.
Early Wynn - 300 wins
Early Wynn, Jr.
July 13, 1963
Born: January 6, 1920 in Hartford, AL
Died: April 4, 1999 in Venice, FL
Height: 6'0" Weight: 190 lbs
Other Stats: 244 losses, 3.54 ERA, 107 ERA+, 2,334 strikeouts, 49 shutouts, 51.6 bWAR
Hall of Fame: 1972
Teams: Washington Senators (1939, 1941-1944, 1946-1948), Cleveland Indians (1949-1957, 1963), Chicago White Sox (1958-1962)
Intimidation was a tool many pitchers used to find success in the major leagues. There's no better way to keep a hitter from getting a hit off you than to make them scared of you. Plus, it keeps a hitter back in the box and gives them access to less of the strike zone. Bob Gibson is perhaps the most famous intimidator, but there one man that used this factor just as well if not better: Early Wynn. While "Gus" was amiable off the field, he would turn into another person on the mound. He glared and snarled ferociously at hitters. They were his mortal enemy, and it was his job to keep them from rising up in rebellion. He had an assortment of breaking balls and off-speed pitches that brought him success, but when he needed a pitch to assert his dominance, he always went with his fastball. He never threw directly at a batter, but had just enough history of a lack of control to give hitters the fear that one of his brushback pitches would actually connect with their bodies. Wynn also possessed a determination that allowed him to continue even in the face of injury. On one occasion he wanted to stay in the game even after a line drive hit him in the chin, knocking out seven teeth, and he pitched most of his career with gouty arthritis. All this aided Early Wynn on his long quest towards 300 wins.
Wynn began his professional career with the Senators fresh from the farm at the age of 16. He made two brief appearances in the majors at age 19 before becoming a permanent member of the rotation two years later. Relying mostly on his fastball, Wynn was underwhelming during his stay in Washington, although he did go 18-12 in 1943 to help the Senators finish second. He missed the 1945 season while serving in military service, but by the end of the 1948 season, Wynn's career record was a pitiful 72-87 record with a 3.94 ERA 8% worse than league average. Washington lost patience with their youngster, who would turn 29, and shipped him to Cleveland. In Cleveland, Wynn came under the tutelage of master pitching coach and 223-game winner Mel Harder. He learned to control his breaking balls and change-ups, and evolved into one of the most dominant pitchers in the American League. He became a key member in a rotation that also featured Bob Feller and Bob Lemon. With that formidable pitching staff, the Indians became frequent contenders. From 1951 to 1956, they never finished below second and Wynn never finished below 17 wins, including four 20-win years. He tied for the league lead in wins in 1954 after the Indians won 111 games to win the pennant, although they were swept by the Giants in the World Series. Manager Al Lopez left Cleveland after the 1956, and both Wynn and the Indians suffered. He went 14-17 in 1957 and Cleveland fell to fifth.
The Indians traded Wynn to the White Sox in after the 1957 season where he was reunited with his old manager. He initially struggled to relocate his stuff, but when he did he became one of the best pitchers in the league. In 1959, Wynn won 22 games, leading the league, and the White Sox won the pennant, five games ahead of the Indians. He won the Cy Young award that year and finished third in MVP voting behind teammates Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio. Wynn pitched eight shutout innings in the first game of the World Series against the Dodgers, but was knocked around in Game 4 and 6 as the White Sox lost. In 1961, Warren Spahn was approaching the 300-win mark, and Wynn knew he too had a chance. He pitched well, but popped a tendon and was out for the rest of the season and had to watch Spahn reach the milestone from the sidelines with 292 wins. He won seven games 1962 to give him 299 wins, but lost his last three starts. The White Sox released him at the end of the year, inviting him back as a non-roster invitee. He did not make the team and waited for another team to give him a year-long contract. In the end he got one from his old team the Indians, who inserted him into their rotation. But the 1963 Indians were only the shadow of the powerhouse teams from the 1950s, and Wynn pitched five great games only to find himself at 0-1 with a 1.96 ERA. On July 13, 1963, he faced the Kansas City Athletics and pitched a stinker. He allowed four runs in five innings before leaving the game having reached the minimum required for a win. But for once his teammates were able to give him run support, scoring five runs off A's starter Moe Drabowski. Indians reliever Jerry Walker came on and pitched four shutout innings as the Indians tacked on two insurance runs and Wynn ended up with a 7-4 victory: his 300th win.
He wanted to get to 301, but was inserted into the bullpen after the triumphant milestone and could never get that elusive relief win. He retired after the year tied with Lefty Grove to become Cleveland's pitching coach. He went on to become a manager in the minors, a scout, and finally a broadcaster. Wynn became first eligible for the Hall of Fame in 1969, but received only 27% of the vote. Then writers came to realize how special 300 games was, and Wynn's support rose every year before finally gaining election in 1972. He retired to his home in Florida, where he prided himself on becoming the last 300-game winner until Gaylord Perry reached it almost 19 years later. He was a wise investor and owned a heavy construction company. Wynn died after a series of strokes in 1999, almost 36 years after he hit the milestone that he worked so hard to reach.
Gaylord Perry - 314 wins
Gaylord Jackson Perry
May 6, 1982
Born: September 15, 1938 in Williamston, NC
Height: 6'4" Weight: 205 lbs
Other Stats: 265 losses, 3.11 ERA, 117 ERA+, 3,534 strikeouts, 53 shutouts, 93.7 bWAR
Hall of Fame: 1991
Teams: San Franciso Giants (1962-1971), Cleveland Indians (1972-1975), Texas Rangers (1975-1977, 1980), San Diego Padres (1978-1979), New York Yankees (1980), Atlanta Braves (1981), Seattle Mariners (1982-1983), Kansas City Royals (1983)
Gaylord Perry is Eddie Plank's heir apparent. Like the crafty lefty, Gaylord excelled in toying around with the hitter's mind and had a similar set of antics on the mound. He would make it a habit to brush his cap, adjust his uniform, and and rub the hair behind his ears before every pitch. Hitters would become edgy, for not only was time being wasted, but they were also never sure if Perry would decide to unload his infamous spitball or any other doctored pitch. Even though those pitches had been outlawed since 1920, many pitchers tried to sneak them the best they can. Perry was one of the best at the business. He admitted to doctoring some balls in an autobiography published early in his career, but he swore his cheating days were over. Instead, he maintained that the pitch that was giving the most headaches was a sharp-moving slider. Nobody knew what to think, and he almost went through his entire 22-year career before getting ejected near the end of it. But at the same time Perry was one of the most durable pitchers in baseball history, being one of the earliest pitcher to work out regularly. He would lift weights as well as work on his farm in the off-season, and was ready to start the season as fit as a bull. It would help him reach a milestone few have ever neared.
Perry and his older brother Jim were both successful on the mound in high school and Gaylord was signed by the Giants in 1958, two years after the Indians signed Jim. At the time, Gaylord was getting by with an impressive but inconsistent fastball, and struggled in the minors for several season. He became a full-fledged member of the Giants rotation in 1964. In 1966, pitching coach Larry Jansen taught him how to throw an effective slider. With his new pitch, Perry quickly became a standout pitcher. He won 21 games in 1966 and became the Giants' number two starter. He pitched his only no-hitter against the pennant-bound Cardinals in 1968. He won 19 games in 1969 and hit his first home run shortly before Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the moon. He tied Bob Gibson for the league lead with 23 wins in 1970, and finished second in Cy Young voting. He won only 16 games in 1971 and was thought to be in the twilight of his career, so he was dealt to the Indians, where he went on to win 24 games and his first Cy Young award. Perry won 21 in 1974, but made headlines when he wrote an autobiography titled Me and the Spitter, detailing his use of the illegal pitch. Following the publication he became the most controversial pitcher in the game, as his every move was scrutinized by opponents, but their attempts to catch him in the act always came up empty.
Perry pitched briefly with the Texas Rangers before moving on to the San Diego Padres in 1978. In San Diego he pitched his way to a 21-6 record, leading the league in wins and winning his second Cy Young award. He became the first pitcher to win one in both leagues*. He also recorded his 3,000th strikeout that year despite never being recognized as a strikeout artist. He returned to Texas in 1980, but they traded him to the Yankees before the end of the season. He became a free agent and signed with the Braves for 1981. He had 289 wins and seemed a likely candidate to get to 300 wins before the year was up, but the strike occurred when Perry was at 294. He would struggle in the second half, going 3-5. The Braves released him with 297 wins. At the time he was 43, but was still able to find a taker in the sad-sack Seattle Mariners. They signed him and the Ancient Mariner responded with 10 wins, with his 300th coming on May 6, 1982 against his old team the Yankees. Even at the age of 43 he pitched a complete game and won 7-3. His teammates provided the runs he needed with five in the third off Doyle Alexander, as he became the first man to reach 300 wins in almost 19 years.
*He would later be joined by Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, and Roy Halladay.
Perry was still one of the better pitchers for the young Mariners, and he continued pitching for them in 1983, but his 44 year old body was feeling the effects of a long career. He went 3-10 and the Mariners released him. He signed with the Kansas City Royals, and he would play a role in another memorable event. In a game against the Yankees, Royals star George Brett hit a home run to give the Royals a lead in the ninth, but he was called out for using too much pine tar on his bat. Brett was incredulous. The sticky pine tar won't help with home runs, but the rules state that any foreign substance cannot extend past a certain point on the bat. While Brett was arguing with the umpires, Perry snatched the bat and ran off with it. The incident created such a ruckus that AL president Lee MacPhail reversed the umpire's decision and the game was concluded later with Perry ejected. By then he had passed Walter Johnson in strikeouts, although Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton beat him to it. After such an amusing incident, Perry decided he's seen it all and retired at the end of the season with 314 wins. Jim had won 215 to set a record for brothers that was eventually broken by the Niekros. The spitball controversy always hung over Perry's legacy, and the baseball writers were reluctant to vote him into the Hall of Fame despite his first-ballot stats. But they relented and Perry entered baseball's ultimate shrine in 1991, a fitting honor for a tough competitor, questionable activity be darned.
Steve Carlton - 329 wins
Steven Norman Carlton
September 23, 1983
Born: December 22, 1944 in Miami, FL
Height: 6'4" Weight: 210 lbs
Other Stats: 244 losses, 3.22 ERA, 115 ERA+, 4,136 strikeouts, 55 shutouts, 84.1 bWAR
Hall of Fame: 1994
Teams: St. Louis Cardinals (1965-1971), Philadelphia Phillies (1972-1986), San Francisco Giants (1986), Chicago White Sox (1986), Cleveland Indians (1987), Minnesota Twins (1987-1988)
Steven Norman "Lefty" Carlton is remembered today for three things. First of all, he is remembered for being one of the catalysts that turned the Philadelphia Phillies from has beens to prominent contenders. Next, he is remembered for the self-imposed silence against the media that he practiced for the latter part of his career after being misquoted by members of the media. After all, actions speak louder than words, and no man was better at letting his actions speak for themselves than Carlton. His fluid windup and delivery has been recognized as one of the soundest in baseball, and his fastball and curveball were enough to shame most major league hitters. Yet as a perfectionist, Carlton was not satisfied until he perfect one of the most overpowering pitches in history: the slider, the last thing for which he is remembered. The slider starts out acting like a fastball but breaks down at the last second, and Carlton was its master. He frequently mixed his slider with his fastball to become only the second man ever to reach 4,000 strikeouts. And he combined it with an intense work out regimen that skewed towards Asian schools of thought. "Lefty" was a master at martial arts and the discipline that came with it. He would also strengthen his body by thrusting his hands through or jogging around in uncooked rice. It was indeed bizarre, but it made him one of the best pitchers in baseball history.
Signed by the St. Louis Cardinals out of high school, Carlton's abilities shined even in the beginning. He worked his way through the minor leagues and was in the rotation by late 1966. One of his first major appearances came in the 1966 Hall of Fame Game, when he serenaded inductees Casey Stengel and Ted Williams with a 10-strikeout outing against the Twins. Carlton pitched well in St. Louis. He pitched in two World Series, winning one in 1967 despite losing his only start on an unearned run. He tied a major league record when he struck out 19 hitters in nine innings in 1969, although he wound up with the loss. And he won 20 games in 1971, bouncing back from a 10-19 season when he still had an above average ERA. He wanted a bigger contract after the year, but the Cardinals decided to punish their young ace for his insolence by trading him to the pitiful Philadelphia Phillies for the popular Rick Wise. Phillies fans were upset at the deal, but they quickly warmed up to Carlton, who went 27-10 for the 59-97 Phillies with 310 strikeouts and a 1.97 ERA to win the pitching Triple Crown and his first Cy Young. He fell to 20 losses in 1973 and began his media silence around that time while the Phillies finished last again. However, that year a young rookie named Mike Schmidt entered the Phillies lineup. With Schmidt's bat and Carlton's arm, the Phillies were ready to begin their turnaround. In 1976 Carlton won 20 games while the Phillies won 101 to take their first division title. They repeated a year later while Carlton won 23 and his second Cy Young. He won only 16 in 1978 but the Phillies won the division again. Unfortunately, they failed to make the World series in any of those years, losing to the Reds and Dodgers
The Phillies welcomed Pete Rose from the Reds in 1979 and were prepared for a good showing in 1980 after an off year. Carlton went 24-9 to win his third Cy Young. The Phillies won their fourth division title in five years, and more importantly topped the Astros to win their first pennant in 30 years. They faced the Kansas City Royals, who also lost three straight LCS between 1976-1978. They Phillies could emphasize with the Royals, but they couldn't get caught up in emotions, and they triumphed in six games, with Carlton getting two wins. Carlton won his fourth Cy Young in 1982 after a 23-11 season. A year later he began a battle with Nolan Ryan over the career strikeout mark. Ryan would get there first, but Carlton had a much more important milestone to accomplish, to help the Phillies win another division title. He had a 15-16 record thanks to dismal run support, but on September 23, 1983 he faced his old team the defending champion Cardinals with a seven-game winning streak on the line. He struck out 12 batters in eight innings while the Phillies battered Cardinals starter Joaquin Andujar as Carlton walked away with a 6-2 win, the 300th of his career. His 12 strikeouts in a 300-win game is still a record. The Phillies eventually won the division and the pennant, but they lost the World Series to the Orioles.
Still, Carlton was going strong and people felt that he could last long enough to get to 400 wins. However, his career went off a cliff. He went 13-7 in 1984 but posted a roughly league average ERA. He won only one game in 1985 and was horrible in 1986 and the Phillies let him go. He signed with the Giants and stayed just long enough to record his 4,000th strikeout before he was released again. He bounced around with the White Sox, Indians, and the Twins in his last three seasons. He served in roles as both starter and reliever, and even saved a game fellow 300-game winner Phil Niekro early in 1987. He posted a 16.76 ERA with the Twins in 1988 and retired, having gone 29-45 since his triumphant 300th victory. Still, he had an impressive career. In addition to his 329 wins, he struck out 4,136 and won four Cy Young awards. His central role in the success of the Phillies franchise earned him an overwhelming 96% of the vote in the 1994 Hall of Fame elections, in which every vote was cast by the media, many of whom he ignored during his career. Indeed, action do speak louder than words.
Tom Seaver - 311 wins
George Thomas Seaver
August 4, 1985
Born: November 17, 1944 in Fresno, CA
Height: 6'1" Weight: 195 lbs
Other Stats: 205 losses, 2.86 ERA, 127 ERA+, 3,640 strikeouts, 61 shutouts, 106.3 bWAR
Hall of Fame: 1992
Teams: New York Mets (1967-1977, 1983), Cincinnati Reds (1977-1982), Chicago White Sox (1984-1986), Boston Red Sox (1986)
There have been many pitchers that studied both the arts and the sciences of pitching, but none of them had taken it to the level that George Thomas Seaver did. Not only did he studay the scouting reports of hitters before a game, but he also studied the mechanics of pitching, like what Ted Williams did for hitting. He analyzed every pitch, looking for the best way to grip or throw it to frustrate hitters. He studied the motions and the muscles involved in pitching and determined how to use each individual part of the body to deliver pitchers most effectively without wear or tear. Finally, he surveyed other pitchers to get a complete picture of pitching. With his broad knowledge on the subject, which he shared in his book The Art of Pitching, he became a sturdy and dependable moundsman. His scientific methods gave him durability as well as control of the delivery and location of his many pitches, and allowed him to become the cornerstone of the New York Mets in the late 1960s and early 1970s, turning them from hapless losers to championship contenders. He also took an optimistic outlook into playing the game, giving him the perseverance required to become a successful player. In many way he was like the second coming of Christy Mathewson: clean-cut, handsome, and smart. With his talent and image Seaver became one of the most popular pitchers of his time, and one of the best of all time.
Seaver grew up watching Robin Roberts and yearned to become a pitcher like his idol, but he performed poorly in high school. He spent two years in the Marines instead, where he built up his strength and discipline. He found success in USC under legendary coach Rod Dedeaux, and was eventually signed by the Braves. However, because his college season had started the contract was nullified. Seaver couldn't go back to USC because of the contract, so every team but the Braves was allowed to match the offer. The Mets, Phillies, and Indians entered a lottery for the prospect, and in the end the Mets were chosen out of a hat. At the time the Mets were terrible, so Seaver advanced quickly and found himself in the majors after only one season. in the minors. He quickly established himself as one of the best pitchers in the league, winning the Rookie of the Year award in 1967 by going 16-13 with a 2.76 ERA. By 1969 he won his first of three Cy Young awards when he went 25-7 to anchor a young pitching staff that included Seaver and other youngsters including Jerry Koosman and Nolan Ryan. They helped the formally dismal Mets to the division, the pennant and finally the World Series title. A year later Seaver tied a record with 19 strikeouts in a game, including a record 10 straight. In 1971, Seaver posted a career-low 1.76 ERA. He won his second Cy Young award in 1973 when he went 19-10 with a league-leading 2.08 ERA as the Mets won another pennant. Seaver pitched well in the World Series, but went 0-1 as the A's went on to win in seven. He won his third Cy Young with a 22-9 record and a 2.38 ERA in 1975.
He was the best pitcher in Mets history, but he felt that the Mets management was paying him far below what he was worth. The Mets were unhappy with Seaver's complaining, and they dealt him to the Reds in a stunning deadline deal. He won 21 games that year, but struck out only 196 batters to end a record streak of striking out over 200 in nine straight years. In 1978 he pitched his first and only career no-hitter after three other attempts were broken up in the ninth. His best season with the Reds came in the strike-shortened 1981 season. He went 14-2 with a 2.54 ERA as he led the Reds to the best record in baseball, but the Reds didn't make the playoff because they finished second in each half of the bizarre season, and he lost the Cy Young to the red hot Fernando Valenzuela. Injuries made his 1982 season one to forget, and the Reds traded him back to the Mets, but his triumphant return was far from dazzling. The Mets left him off their 40-man roster, and he was drafted by the White Sox, where boosted by a strong offense, he won 31 games in 1984 and 1985. On August 4, 1985, the Yankees were celebrating the career of Phil Rizzuto by retiring his number, but Seaver ruined the moment with a one-run gem in which he rang up seven strikeouts, including a crucial one against Dave Winfield representing the tying run in the eighth. The White Sox won 4-1 with all four of their runs coming against Joe Cowley in the sixth, and Seaver had his 300th win. The same day, Rod Carew got his 3,000th hit.
With the milestone behind him, Seaver was sensing that his career was coming to a close. With an ugly 2-6 start and a league average ERA to begin the 1986 season, the White Sox were traded him to the other Sox team, complying with his request to be near his home in Connecticut. There he imparted his pitching smarts to a promising young star having a great season. The Red Sox won the division, but a knee injury forced Seaver out of the postseason. He attempted a comeback with the Mets in 1987, but didn't make the team, and decided to call it a career with 311 wins and 3,640 strikeouts. After retirement, Seaver still finds joy in spreading his knowledge to help young pitchers with their career. In 1992, his popularity shone thruogh when he was elected to the Hall of Fame with the highest voting percentage ever, a mind-boggling 98.87%. Apparently fans and writers still think that the man they called Tom Terrific is a terrific fellow.
Phil Niekro - 318 wins
Philip Henry Niekro
October 6, 1985
Born: April 1, 1939 in Blaine, OH
Height: 6'1" Weight: 180 lbs
Other Stats: 274 losses, 3.35 ERA, 115 ERA+, 3,342 strikeouts, 45 shutouts, 97.4 bWAR
Hall of Fame: 1997
Teams: Milwaukee / Atlanta Braves (1964-1983, 1987), New York Yankees (1984-1985), Cleveland Indians (1986-1987), Toronto Blue Jays (1987)
The knuckleball is perhaps the most unique pitch in baseball. Held with the fingertips (thereby making the pitch a misnomer), the ball loses its spin and darts like a butterfly in any direction on its way to the plate. With the wind directing the ball's movement, not even the pitcher can predict the ball's path. The pitch is often avoided due to its unpredictability, but it does have advantages. For one thing, it frustrates hitters, who knows it's coming but still doesn't know where the ball would go. Furthermore, it is relatively easy on the arm, rarely rising above 70 MPH, and many knuckleball pitchers have pitched well into middle age. Charlie Hough won 216 games despite pitching in relief until he turned 30. Hoyt Wilhelm enjoyed his Hall of Fame career as a reliever until he turned 49. Tim Wakefield became a Red Sox icon with the knuckler, and R.A. Dickey won a Cy Young award last year throwing the pitch. Yet the most successful practitioner of the knuckleball is unarguably Phil Niekro. Niekro does have a fastball and a breaking ball, but the knuckleball was his bread and butter. His control did suffer, as he is third all time in walks and seventh in wild pitches behind mostly 19th century men throwing to catchers that did not wear gloves, but he always remained focused on the mound. He was a durable workhorse even for knucklers, throwing more innings than any pitcher since Walter Johnson. His durability and command of the knuckleball allowed him to reach 318 wins despite pitching mostly for a dreadful Braves team that finished above .500 only nine times during his career.
Niekro grew up poor in rural Ohio, and baseball was the only way to pass the time. His father taught him to throw the knuckleball. He was a tremendous athlete, being a basketball star in high school, and was signed by the Braves in 1958. However, he spent seven frustrating seasons in the minor leagues before making his debut at 25 and getting his first win at 26. He was used mostly in relief early on, and had only 31 wins in 55 starts by the time he turned 30, although he did win an ERA crown in his first year as a starter in 1967. His career took off in 1969 as he won 23 game and led the Atlanta Braves to the top of the division, but they were swept by Tom Terrific and His Miracle Mets. In 1973 he threw a no-hitter against the Padres. He won 20 games again a year later. In 1977, Niekro began a span of three seasons where he made over 42 starts and worked over 330 innings, during which he went 56-58 despite a 3.43 ERA that was 22% better than league average. In his age 40 season in 1979, he went 21-20 to become the first pitcher to lead his league in both wins and losses. Despite being on the wrong side of 40, he was still able to lead the Braves to a division title in 1982 when he went 17-4. Once again, they were swept in the NLCS.
In 1983, Niekro was 44 and went 11-10 with a 3.97 ERA that was below league average. He was at 268 wins, but the Braves didn't think that he had enough left to get to 300 wins and released him. The Yankees picked him up and Niekro thanked them by going 32-20 in two seasons. He earned his 3,000th strikeout in 1984, and reached a bigger milestone in 1985. Niekro was in the bullpen with 294 wins when Tom Seaver won his 300th game in Yankee Stadium, and he knew he could get to 300 wins before the end of the year. He won 299 by September 8, but went 0-3 in his next four games with a 5.34 with a ERA as the Yankees battled for the division crown against the Blue Jays. The Blue Jays clinched in the penultimate day, and Niekro was allowed to pitch the last game on October 6, 1985. The Blue Jays had rested most of their regulars, and Niekro responded by tossing an 8-0 complete game shutout, with the Yankees knocking around Blue Jays rookie John Cerutti making his first career start. Niekro went virtually the entire game without throwing his trademark knuckleball as a personal challenge, before using it against the last batter Jeff Burroughs to honor his father. It was quite an accomplishment for the 46-year-old Niekro, as he became the oldest pitcher to throw a complete game shutout (since broken by Jamie Moyer). This was also the only shutout for a 300-win game. Niekro's milestone win came only 63 day after Seaver's, making it the first time two men hit 300 in the same year since Tim Keefe and Mickey Welch did it in 1890. Niekro's brother Joe was on hand with the Yankees, having won his 200th game in July.
As joyous as his milestone was, Niekro was still below average for the 1985 season, and the Yankees released him. He pitched his last two seasons with the Indians and the Blue Jays before making one final appearance with the Braves. He was 48 years old when he and his famous knuckleball bid farewell to the majors, but he was not ready to leave the game behind. He became a manager for the Richmond Brave and a woman's team, and he dedicated his time and energy to do charity work and community service. Niekro went before the BBWAA in 1993 and debuted with strong support, but he spent five years on the ballot before finally getting voted in. He had no trouble becoming one of the inaugural members of the Braves Hall of Fame alongside Warren Spahn. Now the most famous wielder of the knuckleball is spending his time trying to train other pitchers like Wakefield and Dickey to throw his most famous pitch, but he will always be the greatest practitioner.
Don Sutton - 324 wins
Donald Howard Sutton
June 18, 1986
Born: April 2, 1945 in Clio, AL
Height: 6'1" Weight: 185 lbs
Other Stats: 256 losses, 3.26 ERA, 108 ERA+, 3,574 strikeouts, 58 shutouts, 68.7 bWAR
Hall of Fame: 1998
Teams: Los Angeles Dodgers (1966-1980, 1988), Houston Astros (1981-1982), Milwaukee Brewers (1982-1984), Oakland Athletics (1985), California Angels (1985-1987)
He's never won a Cy Young award. He's never led the league in strikeouts or wins, and he won 20 games only once. He's never won the World Series despite playing for five pennant winning teams. He's never pitched a no-hitter. It's very easy to talk about what Don Sutton hasn't done, making it easy to overlook what he has accomplished. He's gotten at least ten wins in a season 21 time over his career, two more times than Cy Young. His 21 seasons with at least 100 strikeouts is surpassed by only Nolan Ryan. His ERA in four All Star appearances is 0.00, and he put up a 4-1 record in five league championships. Nobody pitched with as much quiet consistency as Don Sutton. Sutton silently worked with his teammates to turn his team into challengers for division titles. Even if he has never been the best pitcher on the staff, nobody has proved to be more dependable. He reportedly never missed a starting assignment in a period of over 20 seasons, avoiding the DL by working out and taking care of his body. He excels in clutch games and keeps his team loose and upbeat with his sense of humor. Sutton is the type of player more important to a manager than one with better stuff but less dependability. That's not to say Sutton has bad stuff. He makes up for an average fastball with amazing control of his breaking balls and off-speed pitches, and some other pitches with something added. With his control and consistency, Sutton quietly accumulated 324 wins and 3,574 strikeouts.
Sutton pitched well in high school, but only the Dodgers were willing to risk on the frail-looking youngster in the last year before the draft. He rewarded their faith by dominating in the minors and became a regular starter in 1966, making his debut on April 14, the same day the Maddux family in San Angelo, TX had their second son. He pitched well, posting a 2.99 ERA despite a 12-12 ERA and striking out 209 batters. More importantly, he gained valuable lessons pitching alongside Sandy Koufax. When Koufax retired, the Dodgers lost their ace and fell to eighth. In an effort to stabilize the weakened pitching situation, manager Walter Alston switched to a five-man rotation in 1968. Throughout the 1970s, Sutton never dazzled and led his team in wins only twice, but he posted respectable numbers as the Dodgers came together to become perennial contenders once again. He was All-Star in 1972 and 1973. He missed the team for the third straight year in 1974, but he won 19 games for the second time as the Dodgers won their last division under Alston. Sutton pitched brilliantly in the LCS, and the Dodgers won the pennant, losing to the Athletics in the World Series. Sutton won 21 games in 1976 for his only 20-win season, but the Dodgers finished second. Alston retired after that season and was replaced by Tommy Lasorda. Sutton kept pitching reliably under his new manager and the Dodgers won two more pennants, losing to the Yankees both time.
Sutton won only 13 games in 1980, but his 2.20 ERA led the league, the only time he would do so in a Triple Crown category. He left Los Angeles after the year and signed with the Astros, where he started out poorly, but went on a 7-2 tear in the second half of the split season. The Astros went to the divisional playoffs, where they lost to his old team the Dodgers, who went on to win the World Series. The Astros traded Sutton to the Brewers in late 1982, and he went 4-1 to help them win the division, and saved Milwaukee from elimination in the ALCS with a crucial Game 3 win. The Brewers ended up winning the pennant, but lost the World Series to St. Louis. Sutton earned his 3,000th strikeout in 1983. With 263 wins at the time, win number 300 seemed like a possibility. He spent most of 1985 with the Athletics, but they traded him to the Angels, who were in the middle of a tight playoff race with the Kansas City Royals. He lost a crucial game against the Royals as the Angels lost the division, but atoned for that failure a year later by helping the Angels win the division with 15 victories. On June 18, 1986, Sutton pitched a 3-hit complete game against the Texas Rangers. One of those hits was a solo shot by Pete Incaviglia, but the Angels scored five runs off of Rangers starter Jose Guzman and Sutton wound up with a 5-1 win, the 300th of his career.
The 1986 season ended in heartbreaking fashion for the Angels against the Red Sox in the LCS. Sutton faced a hot youngster from Texas in his only start in Game 4 and wound up with a no-decision, although the Angels won the game to take a 3-1 lead, but the Angels couldn't get that fourth win. In 1988, he returned for one last season with the Dodgers. He retired in August after getting released, and watched as the Dodgers went on to win the division, the pennant, and the World Series. Sutton didn't care. Pitching was behind him and he was ready for life after baseball. He embraced life as a broadcaster, signing with TBS in 1989 to become an analyst for Braves games, where he got to watch a trio of young pitchers mature. Sutton remains one of the most controversial 300-game winners in the Hall of Fame. His lack of a dominant peak and a scuffball incident in 1978 hung over his legacy in his first year on the ballot. Still, the writers gave him the benefit of the doubt and he was elected in 1998. His role as a deserving Hall of Famer is still debated, but nobody can decry the work ethic that helped him earn a spot in two of baseball's most exclusive milestone clubs.
Nolan Ryan - 324 wins
Lynn Nolan Ryan, Jr.
July 31, 1990
Born: January 31, 1947 in Refugio, TX
Height: 6'2" Weight: 170 lbs
Other Stats: 292 losses, 3.19 ERA, 112 ERA+, 5,714 strikeouts, 61 shutouts, 83.8 bWAR
Hall of Fame: 1999
Teams: New York Mets (1966, 1968-1971), California Angels (1972-1979), Houston Astros (1980-1988), Texas Rangers (1989-1993)
When fans voted on the roster for the All-Century Team during the 1999 season, Nolan Ryan topped the balloting for pitchers. It solidified the fact that Ryan is quite possibly the most famous pitcher of all time. In a legacy that lasted for over a quarter century, Ryan performed superhuman feats that defied his age and dazzled fans all over the country. He put up enough numbers to make a solid case for being the most awesome pitcher ever: 324 wins, 5,714 strikeouts, seven no-hitters, and Galvinesque durability that allowed him to pitch a record 27 seasons. Ryan entered the world of professional baseball fresh out of high school and left it 28 years later as one of the most respected players ever to have walked the field. One thing that remained constant over the years is his fearsome fastball. The heater continued to hit the upper 90s on the radar gun even after he turned 45, but it was his development of a masterful curveball and the ability to change speeds that gave him his greatest success. He also had a serious work ethic that included a strenuous workout regime to keep him in top condition for a long time.
Ryan was drafted by the Mets in the 12th round of the first baseball draft of 1965. He spent three years in the minors trying to control his fastball, although with a brief appearance in 1966. He made it into the majors for good in 1968, joining a bright young pitching staff that included future 200-game winners Jerry Koosman and Tom Seaver. He was used both as a starter and a reliever with the Mets, and earned a save in the 1969 World Series, his only Series as a player. Ryan didn't like being a spot starter and asked to be traded, so the Mets complied, trading him to the Angels for Jim Fregosi. While with the Angels, Ryan learned to throw something besides his fastball and blossomed into one of baseball's biggest stars. He began striking out hitters at an overwhelming rate, surpassing 300 strikeouts from 1972-1974, including a modern-day record 383 in 1973. He also posted his three highest win totals in those years and threw three no-hitters, including two in that magical 1973 season. He added a fourth in 1975. By 1979, Ryan had won 133 games with the Angels and established himself as one of the most dominant pitchers in the game, but never sniffed the playoffs. That would change in 1979 as Fregosi of all people led the Angels to their first division title while Ryan posted 16 victories before losing to Baltimore in the LCS.
Ryan became a free agent in winter of 1979, and the Angels weren't willing to meet his demands, dismissing him as a .500 pitcher. He signed with the Astros for a then-record $1,125,000, the first player to break the million mark. He celebrated the occasion by recording his 3,000th strikeout as the Astros won the division. He was even better a year later, throwing his record-breaking fifth no-hitter and leading the league in ERA as the Astros advanced to the postseason. In 1983 he struck out Brad Mills to pass Walter Johnson as the new strikeout king in baseball. He struck out his 4,000th batter in 1985, and helped the team to another division title in 1986, after which they lost the LCS in a heart-breaker to the Mets. The rest of his stay with the Astros was rather dreary. In 1987, he led the league with a 2.76 ERA and had a league-leading 270 strikeouts, but he went 8-16 thanks to dismal run support. His win-loss record improved in 1988 but his ERA fell to below average. The Astros tried to give the new free agent a pay cut. Despite living in nearby Alvin, Ryan opted to sign with the Texas Rangers, where he experienced a revival in the new surroundings. He won 16 games in 1989 and struck out 301 to become the oldest pitcher to reach that mark. On August 22 he struck out Rickey Henderson to reach 5,000. A year later, he picked up his sixth no-hitter. However, there may have been a game that year Ryan treasured more than the no-hitter. It came on July 31, 1990 against the Brewers. The Rangers knocked starter Chris Bosio around for five runs, but two errors by Julio Franco in the eighth led to two unearned runs whittling the lead to 5-3, and Ryan had to leave the game after throwing 146 pitches. Franco atoned for his miscues by blasting a grand slam to left as the Rangers won the game 11-3. You can pitch multiple no-hitters, but you can get your 300th career win only once.
By 1991, Ryan had spent only three of his 25 seasons with the Rangers, but he was appreciative to that organization. He wanted to show them how important they meant to him, and he did so by throwing his seventh no-hitter in Arlington, a dominating start where he struck out 16 at the age of 44. He stuck around two more seasons and announced his intentions to retire after the 1993 season, where he still made headlines by putting young Robin Ventura in a headlock after the youngster charged the mound. After retirement, Ryan went back to his farm and continued to work in ranching and banking. In 1999 he debuted on the Hall of Fame ballot in one of the strongest ballots that included Dale Murphy, Carlton Fisk, Robin Yount, George Brett, and Ryan. Despite the stacked ballot Ryan still picked up 98.79% of the vote, second all time behind former teammate Tom Seaver. He continued to add to his legacy by assuming the presidency of the Texas Rangers in 2008, where he worked with GM Jon Daniels to turn the moribund franchise into perennial contenders, including two straight pennants in 2010-2011. This success will only serve to augment Nolan Ryan's status as one of baseball's greatest stars.
Roger Clemens - 354 wins
William Roger Clemens
June 13, 2003
Born: August 4, 1962 in Dayton, OH
Height: 6'4" Weight: 205 lbs
Other Stats: 184 losses, 3.12 ERA, 143 ERA+, 4,671 strikeouts, 46 shutouts, 139.4 bWAR
Teams: Boston Red Sox (1984-1996), Toronto Blue Jays (1997-1998), New York Yankees (1999-2003, 2007), Houston Astros (2004-2006)
He had the most success with the Red Sox. He had his greatest success with the Blue Jays. He won the World Series and achieved his biggest milestone with the Yankees. And he's a hometown hero with the Astros. After 24 seasons in the big leagues, Roger Clemens seemed to have done everything but pitch a no-hitter, but he has made up for it with his seven Cy Young awards. Much of his great success stemmed from the great command of his pitches: a blazing fastball, a fearsome curveball, and a wicked splitter, but he still painted the corners and changed speeds like a finesse pitcher. Moreover, he was a fierce competitor that is not afraid to use intimidation, and had an intense workout routine to stay in shape. He's had his share of controversies that has won him far more enemies than fans, but even those enemies concede that Clemens is one of the game's greatest pitchers.
Clemens was born in Ohio but moved to Houston, where he excelled in high school and college, helping the Texas Longhorns to a College World Series title in 1983. Later that year he was drafted by the Red Sox in the first round and made his debut a year later. Boston's newest pitcher had promise, but he got hurt. Clemens had shoulder surgery in 1985 and came back better than ever with a strong 1986 season. On April 29 he set a new record with 20 strikeouts in nine innings, and his career took off like a Rocket. He finished with 24 wins and won both the Cy Young and the MVP as the Red Sox won the division and the pennant. He started two games in the World Series, including the legendary Game 6 that ended in despair for Beantown. Still, that year he spent time with the legendary Tom Seaver, who provided Clemens with valuable lessons on pitching. He won a second straight Cy Young in 1987 and missed a third in 1990 despite 21 wins and a 1.93 ERA. That third Cy Young came a year later when he went 18-10 and led the league in strikeouts and ERA. Clemens went on a funk from 1993-1996, going 40-39 including two losing seasons. However, his ERA was 30% above average, and he led the league in strikeouts in 1996, including his second 20-strikeout performance. Still, Red Sox GM Dan Duquette thought the former ace was through, so Clemens signed with the Blue Jays.
Clemens developed and perfected his devastating splitter during that period, and with it he posted one of the biggest turnarounds ever. He won back to back pitching Triple Crown in back to back seasons and won back to back Cy Young awards to set a new record with five, and reached the 3,000 strikeout mark in 1998. Yet the Blue Jays performed poorly even with Clemens, so he was dealt to the Yankees. Clemens struggled in his first year in New York, posting a career high 4.60 ERA, but the Yankees won the pennant and eventually the World Series, the first in his career. He was also selected to the All-Century Team that year. A year later he got into a spat with the Mets' Mike Piazza. Early in the season Clemens hit Piazza in the helmet. While he denied doing it intentionally, Piazza had some choice words. The two teams would face off again in the World Series. In Game 2, Piazza broke his bat and the barrel flew towards the mound, where Clemens stood. He picked up the bat and threw it in Piazza's direction. Clemens claimed he was just throwing it out of the way, but few people believed him. The Yankees still went on to win the Series. Clemens won his sixth Cy Young award by going 20-3 in 2001, but the Yankees lost the World Series to the Diamondbacks in a heart-breaker. Clemens stood only 20 wins away from 300 after 2001. A mid-season injury ruined his chances to get it in 2002, but he would get it in 2003. He won his 299th game in May but failed in his first three attempts at the milestone. This turned out to be a silent blessing. In an interleague match against the Cardinals on June 13, 2003, Clemens struck out Edgar Renteria for his 4,000th strikeout, then watched as the Yankees battered starter Jason Simontacchi for five runs as he got his 300th win by a score of 5-2.
Clemens announced that he was going to retire after the season, but after losing the World Series to the Marlins, Clemens decided to sign with the hometown Astros. In his first season, Roger led the team to a Wild Card slot by going 18-4. He won his seventh Cy Young award, but lost the deciding game of the LCS to the Cardinals. He came back with a career-low 1.87 ERA in 2005, and won the 18-inning Game 5 of the division series by throwing three scoreless innings in relief. Then he helped the Astros win the pennant, though they lost the title to the White Sox. He came back mid-season the next two years with the Astros and Yankees, but by 2007 the 44-year-old Clemens was past his prime, and suffered through an injury-marred year as the Yankees was eliminated by the Indians in the division series. His year got even worse as he was named in the Mitchell Report as being a user of steroids and HGH. He denied those allegations and even went before Congress to testify. For his efforts Congress took him to court for perjury where Clemens was eventually acquitted, but he was guilty in the eyes of the public, and he became one of the faces of the Steroid Era. The writers took this stance as well, and he received only 37% of the vote in his Hall of Fame debut in spite of the statistics that place him as one of the best pitchers of all time.
Greg Maddux - 355 wins
Gregory Alan Maddux
August 7, 2004
Born: April 14, 1966 in San Angelo, TX
Height: 6'0" Weight: 170 lbs
Other Stats: 227 losses, 3.16 ERA, 132 ERA+, 3,371 strikeouts, 35 shutouts, 104.6 bWAR
Teams: Chicago Cubs (1986-1992, 2004-2006), Atlanta Braves (1993-2003), Los Angeles Dodgers (2006, 2008), San Diego Padres (2007-2008)
Of all the pitching superstars that has reached 300 wins, nobody seemed to fit the mold less than the mild-mannered Greg Maddux. He looks more like a software engineer than an ace pitcher, but Maddux stands as one of the best finesse pitchers to have ever played. Although he has never had a dominating fastball, Maddux learned to cope with this disability and use it to his advantage. He developed a devastating change-up as well as an excellent ability to throw breaking balls for strikes. He still used the fastball effectively by giving it movement that few people could replicate. His pinpoint control allows him to paint the corners of the strike zone with ease, and has even gotten some umpires to give him a wider strike zone. And he is one of the game's smartest players. He uses information about hitters' tendencies and physics to strategize on the best ways to get them out. Even if they do make contact, Maddux's brilliant fielding ensures that they don't get too many hits. Even if the Gold Glove is a worthless award, his 18 ranks as the most all time. With his skills he is one of the most consistent winners in history. Although he only has two 20-win seasons, partially due to pitching in an era of five-men rotations, his seventeen consecutive seasons with 15 wins is a record. It's no wonder that Maddux is the first pitcher with four straight Cy Young awards. Yet through it all Maddux has remained his old humble self with a team-first mentality. And with his pitching and leadership skills, his teams have been constant playoff contenders.
Greg and his brother Mike, who also played in the majors, developed their baseball skills in Spain before moving to Las Vegas. After a successful high school pitching career, Greg was drafted by the Cubs in the 1984 draft. He made his debut two years later as a pinch runner in a suspended 18-inning game, then entered the game in relief and prompted allowed a home run to Billy Hatcher. His debut was indicative of his early struggles, as he went 8-18 went an ERA above 5.00 in his first two seasons. The future wasn't looking too bright, but the Cubs decided to give the youngster one more chance in 1988, and he shocked the baseball world with an 18-8 record and a 3.18 ERA. A year later he would win 19 and help Chicago to a surprise division title. He won 20 games for the first time in 1992, tying Tom Glavine of the Braves for the league lead, and his 2.18 ERA and 199 strikeouts helped him win the Cy Young over Glavine. Yet the Cubs still finished fourth in the division. He felt he wasn't getting anywhere with the Cubs, so he tested the waters of free agency and signed with the Braves, spurning a higher offer by the Yankees because they were in the tougher AL.
Maddux joined one of the best pitching staffs with the Braves. He won 20 games again with a league-leading 2.36 ERA and won his second straight Cy Young. The next two seasons were shortened by the strike, but Maddux made the most of it, posting ERAs of 1.56 and 1.63 as he won the Cy Young unanimously both years. He tied Steve Carlton with four Cy Young awards, and became the first to do so in consecutive seasons. The Braves would trump the Cleveland Indians in 1995 for Maddux's first World Series win. It seemed like the Braves could contend for the World Series every year. Indeed, they won the division in every year of Maddux's tenure except the strike-shortened 1994. He also contributed with at least 15 wins each year, including 19 wins three times. Unfortunately, Maddux was never as successful in the postseason. He went 4-9 in the postseason between 1997-2003, and the Braves won only one pennant in that time, in 1999 where they were swept by the Yankees. Still, with his consistency he had 289 wins after the 2003 season. He became a free agent again before 2004 and signed with the Chicago Cubs, the team he had spurned 12 years earlier. Despite some uncharacteristic struggles, he still reached the 300-win milestone. On August 7, 2004, Maddux was facing the Giants. He allowed three runs in the first two innings, but the Cubs fought back against rookie Brad Hennessey, making his major league debut, and Maddux left with a 5-3 lead in the sixth inning. The bullpen and the offense held on to give Maddux an 8-4 win. It wasn't a pretty victory, but it was his 300th. As always, Maddux downplayed the accomplishment and asserted the importance of the Wild Card race.
Unfortunately, the Cubs lost the Wild Card to the Astros that year. However, Maddux was not the pitcher of old, who befuddled hitters while posting spectacular ERAs, but he was still league average. He struck out his 3,000th batter in 2005, but failed to get 15 wins for the first time since 1987. In 2006 he went 5-0 in April and fell off the cliff, going 4-11 with an ugly 5.77 ERA before the Cubs traded him to the Dodgers. He pitched well with his new team and led them to the postseason, where they were swept by Tom Glavine's Mets. Maddux signed with the Padres for 2007, but he posted a below average ERA for the first time in 20 years. He continued to struggle in 2008 and was dealt to the Dodgers again, where he won his 355th game to pass Roger Clemens to become the winningest living pitcher. He willingly went to the bullpen in the postseason, and the Dodgers went to the LCS before losing to the eventual champion Phillies. Maddux retired after that. While his late career was marred by league average performance, fans that saw him pitch would never forget the bookish looking fellow that became one of the greatest mound masters in history.
Tom Glavine - 305 wins
Thomas Michael Glavine
August 5, 2007
Born: March 25, 1966 in Concord, MA
Height: 6'0" Weight: 175 lbs
Other Stats: 203 losses, 3.54 ERA, 118 ERA+, 2,607 strikeouts, 25 shutouts, 74.0 bWAR
Teams: Atlanta Braves (1987-2002, 2008), New York Mets (2003-2007)
He was overshadowed for the majority of his career by his teammates, fellow 300-game winner Greg Maddux and the 200-win, 150-save John Smoltz, but make no mistake, the lefty from Massachusettes has fashioned together quite an impressive career for himself. Tom Glavine has won two Cy Young awards and the 1995 World Series MVP while being an important member of the Braves' formidable rotation for 15 seasons. While never blessed with a dominating fastball, he has learned to make it effective by changing speeds and mixing it up with a terrific change-up and breaking balls to flummox the hitter. And he delivers all of his pitches with precision, so much so that the umpires began giving him and fellow teammate Maddux a larger strike zone as a testament for his consistent location. He was also able to make adjustments late in his career to maintain his effectiveness. And most importantly, Glavine has been very durable, avoiding the disabled list until the last of his 22 seasons in the majors. And with all that he has reached the valhalla of pitching milestones.
Tom Glavine was born and raised in Massachusettes where he was a varsity star in hockey as well as baseball. He was so good with the puck that he was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in the 4th round of the 1984 NHL draft as well as the Atlanta Braves in the 2nd round of the baseball draft. Glavine ultimately opted for the mound instead.* The Braves were dismal and Glavine was able to advance up the minors quickly, making his debut late in the 1987 season. However, he was terrible in his first two seasons, going 9-21. He followed that up with two seasons where he went 24-20 but was around league average as the Braves finished last in three of his first four seasons. However, in the middle of the 1990 season, general manager Bobby Cox assumed the role of field manager, and things would be different for Glavine and the moribund Braves. Everything clicked for Glavine in 1991, as he went 20-11 while posting a 2.55 ERA that was a league-leading 53% better than the league average. The Braves also went from last to first and knocked off the Pirates in the LCS before succumbing to Jack Morris and the Twins in a World Series for the ages. Glavine won his first Cy Young for his efforts. He would reach 20 wins the next two seasons, while the Braves would win the division both years, but Glavine was instrumental in ending that streak in 1994.
*No loss for the Kings, as they drafted Luc Robitaille three rounds later.
He was the Braves representative for the player's union and played a major role in negotiations arguing against a salary cap. When players and owners couldn't come to a concensus the players chose to strike. As a key member of the players union, Glavine was especially vilified and was booed frequently when the game resumed. He silenced those boos and put up a solid season in 1995, helping the Braves reach and win the World Series, throwing eight one-hit innings in the deciding game. He was named the World Series MVP. He continued to pitch well with the Braves, leading the team to another World Series in 1996 with a win in Game 7 of the NLCS, but lost his only start against the Yankees. He went 20-6 with a career-low 2.47 ERA in 1998 to win a second Cy Young. He had an off year in 1999 but led the team to their fifth pennant during his tenure. He had one more 20-win season, winning 21 in 2000. Things were going well, but was about to get contentious again. He became a free agent after an 18-win 2002 season and was offered a two year contract from the Braves. He wanted a third year, but the Braves wouldn't give him one, so he signed with the Mets instead. He would later come to regret this decision, but he couldn't renegade on a contract, so he was going to the Big Apple.
Glavine initially struggled under New York's bright lights. He combined to go 20-28 with a roughly league average ERA in this first two seasons, but under the tutelage of Rick Peterson he changed his pitching style. His results improved and increased his win totals every year until he was at the doorstep of 300 wins after the 2006 season best remembered for the Mets' stunning NLCS defeat. He started off well in 2007 but struggled in May and June, losing against his buddy John Smoltz in Smoltzie's 200th win. On August 5, 2007, he started against the Cubs in Wrigley Field, which had been a house of horrors for 299-win pitches. But Glavine played well, even contributing an RBI single off Jason Marquis. The Mets offense took care of the rest as they beat the Cubs 8-3 to give Glavine his 300th win. Mets fans cheered this accomplishment, but the cheers didn't last. The Mets were going for their second straight division title, but were tied with the Phillies before the last day. The Phillies won and it was up to Glavine to save the season. He didn't make it out of the first inning, and then infuriated Mets fans when he said he was disappointed but not devastated. Glavine went back to Atlanta, where he suffered through an injury marred 2008 season including two DL stints. He had off-season surgery but signed an incentive-laden contract for 2009. He was in the middle of rehab when the Braves inexplicably released him on June 3, 2009. They denied it had anything to do with the bonus for making the team. Nobody believed them, but there was no lasting ill will. Glavine is now working as a special assistant to the Braves and doing occasional sportscasting work as a beloved Braves icon. Not bad considering he could have been playing a different sport the entire time.
Randy Johnson - 303 wins
Randall David Johnson
June 4, 2009
Born: September 10, 1963 in Walnut Creek, CA
Height: 6'10" Weight: 225 lbs
Other Stats: 166 losses, 3.29 ERA, 135 ERA+, 4,875 strikeouts, 37 shutouts, 104.3 bWAR
Teams: Montreal Expos (1988-1989), Seattle Mariners (1989-1998), Houston Astros (1998), Arizona Diamondbacks (1999-2004, 2007-2008), New York Yankees (2005-2006), San Francisco Giants (2009)
Randall David Johnson was more of a sideshow freak than a potential 300 game winner. The 6'10" giant out of USC set a record in his first major league appearance, but it had nothing to do with his pitching, which was good but not great. "The Big Unit" had an electric fastball and a biting slider, but didn't have the command to throw them consistently. He had flashes of brilliance, throwing a no-hitter in his third season while walking six batters in the same game. It took a chance meeting with a future 300-game winner to help Randy make the mechanical adjustments that would finally turn him into arguably the most dominant left-hander of all time. He was able to paint the corners with his pitches, but would rather dare hitters to catch up with his blazing heater or his diving slider, cited as the best since 300-game winner Steve Carlton. More importantly, he had the inner will to always strive to be the very best, a trait instilled in him by his father. These would allow him to overcome back problems that would incapacitate a lesser man. He would become one of the game's best strikeout artist, and ultimately one of the game's top winners.
Young Randy excelled in both baseball and basketball in high school. He was drafted by the Braves in 1982 but chose instead to go to USC, where he pitched for legendary coach Rod Dedeaux. He was a second round draft pick by the Expos in 1985 and this time he signed. In the minors he displayed the unhittable stuff but also the control problems that would come to define his early years. When he made his major league debut with a win in 1988, he set a new record for being the tallest player in major league history. He threw well, winning three of his first four starts, but was terrible in 1989. The Expos lost patience and traded him to the Mariners in the deal for Mark Langston. Randy performed better in Seattle, going 46-44 with a league average ERA and averaged over 219 strikeouts, but walked 486 in his first three and a half seasons. Late in the 1992 season he met with 300-game winner Nolan Ryan and pitching coach Tom House. The two told Randy that he was landing on his heels, throwing him off. He made the adjustment and the results were impressive, with an 18-strikeout performance against Ryan's Rangers. That winter he lost his father to a heart attack. It devastated him, but it also instilled in him the desire to be the very best, like no one ever was.
Randy Johnson had his breakout year in 1993. Gone was the quirky fireballer profiled in Sports Illustrated, having been replaced by a man with a fierce determination, but he kept his wicked mullet. He won 19 games and struck out 300 hitters while finishing second in the Cy Young race. He would finish first in a magical 1995 season when he went 18-2 and led the Mariners to the division title and all the way to the ALCS, where they lost to the Indians. He missed most of 1996 with severe back issues, but came back with his first 20-win season in 1997. The Mariners traded him in a stunning deadline to the Astros in 1998, where he dominated, going 9-1 and reaching the 300-strikeout plateau for the second time, but split across two leagues. He entered free agency and signed a massive deal with the Diamondbacks, and this paid off for Arizona. He went 81-27 in 1999-2003 with a 2.48 ERA, averaging over 350 strikeouts a year, including a 372-K performance where he set the all-time record for K/9. He led Arizona to a 2001 World Series title where he was named co-MVP with Curt Schilling, then won the pitching Triple Crown a year later with a 24-5 record. And he won four straight Cy Young awards to tie Greg Maddux. Randy missed most of 2003 due to injury, but he bounced back once again with a dominant 2004 season that included a perfect game against the Braves. His record was only 16-14, but that's because the Diamondbacks were absolutely awful, going 51-111, by far the worst in the majors. They shed payroll in the off-season and traded Johnson to the Yankees.
He didn't make any new friends in his new home, pushing a cameraman out of the way in the streets. Things weren't much better on the field. He had back to back 17-win seasons but posted a league average 4.37 ERA, including a 5.00 ERA in 2006. He wanted back in Arizona and the Yankees were more than happy to comply with his request. Randy's back acted up again in 2007 and had two surgeries, leaving him with 284 wins. People doubted that he could come back from that, but he proved them wrong, going 11-10 to put him at 295 wins. 300 wins seemed inevitable, but the Diamondbacks were reluctant to resign Randy, now 45, so the Giants swooped down and signed him for a one year deal. He struggled initially, but later settled down and pitched a gem on June 4, 2009 against the sad-sack Washington Nationals. He allowed one unearned run in six innings and made a spectacular play while the Giants patched together two runs against young Nationals phenom Jordan Zimmermann. The bullpen held the lead, and the Giants tacked on three insurance runs as Randy won his 300th game by a score of 5-1. A month after the milestone he tore his rotator cuff while swinging a bat. He rehabbed aggressively and still made it back to the field, but only as an ineffective reliever. He announced his retirement at the end of the season just 125 strikeouts short of 5,000. Still, he had proved himself to be one of the best pitchers in the history of the game, allowing him say to his father that he did his very best.
The Near Misses
You have to a great pitcher with talent, luck, and durability to get to 300 wins, but not all great pitchers get to 300 wins. With only 24 300-game winners and thousands of men that have pitched in the majors, there are plenty of great pitchers that might have not had enough talent, luck, or durability and have fallen short of 300 wins. Here is a list of some of the most notable.
Bobby Mathews is perhaps the closest man to 300 wins, and suffered from the fact that he pitched in an era when nobody cared about milestones. He was a workhorse with the National Association that won 131 games in five seasons, then continued his success in the National League. He won 166 games in the National League before flaming out at 297 wins total. But with an ERA+ of 104 that is worse than Pud Galvin and Early Wynn he wouldn't have been a very inspiring member. Tommy John is the modern era pitcher that came the closest. He was a soft-tossing lefty that won 124 games in 12 seasons before injuring the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow in 1974. Not wanting to retire, he went to Dr. Frank Jobe who replaced John's UCL. He came back from the surgery and threw 14 more seasons as a soft-tossing lefty, winning 164 games in 16 seasons before getting released with 288 wins in 26 seasons having changed the landscape for all pitchers. Bert Blyleven came to California by way of Canada from the Netherlands and fell in love with the game and Sandy Koufax. He adapted a curveball just like his idol, and used it to dominate the game from age 19 to age 41, striking out 3,701 batters, still fifth all time. He also won 287 games and could have made it to 300 if not for some mediocre run support and injury-marred seasons.
Robin Roberts was one of the most dynamic young pitchers with the Whiz Kid Phillies of the 1950s. He won 20 games six years in a row, topping out at 28 in 1952, but soon felt the strain of such a heavy workload. He would spend the rest of his career bouncing between above and below league average and ultimately retired at 39 with 286 wins. Tony Mullane was another 19th century pitcher who didn't give a darn about milestones. He did care about his salary and the ambidextrous pitcher sat out the entire 1885 season and retired with 284 wins. Ferguson Jenkins came from Canada to the majors and established himself as the best pitcher ever from Canada. He was a consistent winner, winning 20 games six years in a row and even winning 25 with the hopeless Rangers of 1974. He was a control pitcher that was the first to retire with over 3,000 strikeouts and under 1,000 walks. He also had 284 wins. Jim Kaat is now known for being a renowned sportscaster, but he also had an impressive 25-year career of his own. He was a star pitcher on the Twins in their early days after moving from Washington, but ended up in the bullpen, where he won a World Series ring with the 1982 Cardinals. He ended up with 283 wins. These are the men that came within 25 wins of the 300-win milestone.
Of course, there are several notable pitchers that retired with fewer than 275 wins. Red Ruffing was mediocre with the Red Sox, going 39-96 with a below league average ERA. Boston disgustedly sold him to the Yankees, where he excelled, not having to face the Yankees anymore. He became their ace, leading them to seven pennants including four in a row. He won 231 games with the Yankees and 273 overall. If he was just league average with Boston it's possible he could have reached 300. Mike Mussina was the ace of the powerful Orioles team of the 1990s before they fell into the depths of the Peter Angelos era. He later signed with the Yankees and had several great years, even if his ERA fell towards league average more often than not. He won 20 games for the first time in 2008 to put him at 270, but chose to retire instead of going on a protracted chase for 300. Jim Palmer was the Orioles ace before Moose, and the handsome 6'3" hurler was dynamic, winning 20 games in 80 season and headlining one of the great dynasties of all time. Of course, it helps to have had one of the all-time great defenses behind him. He suffered from injuries and retired with 268 games. He was elected to the Hall of Fame and tried to come back afterward, but decided to call it quits when an observer told him, "You'll never get to the Hall of Fame with those mechanics." Bob Feller was one of the best young fireballers in history. He stormed onto the scene at 17 and struck out his age. He became a full-time starter after graduating from high school and became a consistent winner winning 20 games three times before the war broke out. He left to enlist and missed three full seasons. He came back and posted 20-win seasons in his next two seasons after the war. He had a couple of good but not great years after that and retired with 266 wins at 37, firmly believing that the war cost him a chance at 300. Ted Lyons was a rubber armed ace for the White Sox. He pitched 21 seasons with a good ERA and retired with 260 wins. However, the White Sox were rather unimpressive offensively, and no less than Yankees manager Joe McCarthy has said that Lyons could have reached 400 wins if he had pitched for the Yankees.
"The Meal Ticket" Carl Hubbell was one of the most celebrated pitchers in the National League in the 1930s. He didn't make his debut until age 25, but dominated hitters with his screwball. He started the All-Star game in 1934 had one of the most impressive All-Star Game performances ever, striking out Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, and Joe Cronin in succession. The screwball put too much strain on his arm, and he retired at 40 with 253 wins. Bob Gibson was one of the most ferocious competitors on the mound. His fiery intensity and blazing fastball led him to six 20-win seasons, and an astounding 1.12 ERA that was the lowest since Dutch Leonard posted an 0.96 ERA in 1914. However, playing for racist managers he didn't get to come into his own until 25, and flamed out by 39 with 251 wins. Juan Marichal was a contemporary of Gibson's and befuddled hitters with a high leg kick. He was a workhorse and posted three seasons of 25 wins. However, his arm went out on him and he was mostly a league-average hurler after 31, finally retiring at 37 with 243 wins. Mordecai "Three Finger"Brown lost a finger and had another one deformed after mining injury that was a blessing in disguise. The late-bloomer didn't make it into the majors until 26, but still dominated with an unprecedented curveball helped by his deformed hand. He won 239 games in 14 seasons and his 2.06 ERA is still the lowest by a 200-game winner.
Whitey Ford was the ace of the Yankees powerhouse teams of the 1950s and 1960s. He dominated batters with an assortment of pitches, including his famous scuffball, but suffered early in his career from Casey Stengel's platoon system, as he only pitched against the powerful teams. He retired with 236 win and his .690 winning percentage is still the highest for a 200-game winner. Pedro Martinez stood only 5'11", a small figure in an era of giants, but he had one of the greatest change-ups in the history of the game. He used it to post dead-ball numbers in a slugging environment, posting a 1.74 ERA in 2000 that was almost two runs lower than his closest competitor. However, his body broke down early like the pitchers of the dead-ball era and he retired at 37 with 219 wins. Eddie Cicotte was a star pitcher for the White Sox in the 1910s who unfortunately did not get along with owner Charles Comiskey. Comiskey promised a bonus if Cicotte can get 30 wins in 1919, but the knuckleballer got to 29 wins he was benched using the World Series as an excuse. It didn't help as the incensed Cicotte took part in the World Series plot and was banned for life while he was pitching the best baseball in his career. He had only 209 wins. Don Drysdale teamed up with Sandy Koufax on the Dodgers to form the best one-two pitching tandems in baseball history. The fierce competitor excelled in the role, even setting a new record with 58 straight scoreless innings (since broken.) However, he broke down a year later and retired at 32 with 209 wins.
There are several great pitchers that didn't even get 200 win worth mentioning. Dazzy Vance was one of the greatest strikeout artists in the 1920s. He led the league in seven straight seasons and turned the sad-sack Brooklyn Bums into contenders. However, he didn't get his first win until 31. He may have pitched until 44, but retired with 197 wins. Ed Walsh was one of the game's first great spitballers, and perhaps the best of all time. Using skills and a Perryesque mind games, Walsh flummoxed hitters with a disintegrating pitch that helped him put up a 1.82 ERA that is the best all time. Unfortunately, his arm gave up on him and he was through being an effective pitcher at age 31. Dwight Gooden was one of the most dynamic young pitchers the game had ever seen. He came on with a splash at 19 and struck out 276 in only 218 innings. He had a season for the ages at 20, going 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA. Unfortunately, it all went downhill from there as "Doc" suffered through arm troubles and later a drug problem and ultimately wound up out of baseball at 35 with only 194 wins.
Sandy Koufax is usually the fan's choice for the best pitcher of all time. He was a mostly ineffective league-average starter over the first seven years of his career, but he made a mechanical adjustment and all of a sudden became the best pitcher of his generation. Using an overpowering fastball and an unhittable curveball, he dominated over the last six seasons of his career, winning 25 games three times, leading the league in ERA five times, and striking out 300 hitters three times, including a modern-day record 382 in 1965 that was since broken by Nolan Ryan. He also threw four no-hitters. Unfortunately, he suffered from arthritis in his pitching elbow and chose to retire at his peak rather than risk spending the rest of his life in pain. He had only 165 wins. Dizzy Dean was another popular star that retired early. He was a fireballer out of Arkansas that took the baseball world by storm with his fastball and zany antics. He led the league in strikeouts in four straight seasons and became the last 30-game winner in the National League in 1934. Unfortunately, he had his toe broken by a line drive off of Earl Averill in the 1937 All-Star Game. He tried coming back too early and adjusted his mechanics, which led to his premature retirement at 31 with 150 wins.
One of the greatest questions baseball fans like to play is to ask who will be the next member of these great milestone clubs. The 300-win milestone has certainly become one of the most difficult to reach, with only four members since 2000, compared to five for 3,000 hits (but with A-Rod threatening to make it six), five pitchers with 3,000 strikeouts, nine members of the 500 home run club, and 14 closers with 300 saves (more than half of the 300-save closers.) The cynic say that there would be no more 300 game winners, what with the rise of the specialized relievers whose specialty is giving up leads, the five-man rotation, and the sky-high salaries. However, I believe there will always be 300-game winners. Nobody thought that Clemens and Maddux had a shot back in 1997, and they ended up with over 350. People counted out Tom Glavine after his miserable 2003 season and Randy Johnson after his back surgeries in 2007, but they made it. The point is there will always be somebody that will be great long enough to get 300 wins. The question is who would it be? Getting to 300 wins is not about dominating early in your career, it's maintaining your dominance for an extended period of time. Med school has often been compared to a marathon instead of a sprint, and getting to 300 wins is the same way. The history books are full of pitchers that start out as great young pitchers but couldn't maintain it. Heck, we profiled a couple of them in the last paragraph. Still, it's much easier to point to the hot young pitchers with the fast start that can reach 300 wins if they hang on long enough because the second half of a player's career is unpredictable. With that said, here are some of the top candidates for 300 wins.
Jamie Moyer and Andy Pettitte are the two closest pitchers to 300 wins. It's pretty safe to say that Moyer probably won't get there. He hasn't retired officially, but he is 50 years old and is stuck at 269 wins after a miserable return last year. Still, you never know. Pettitte is still pitching for the Yankees at the age of 41. He's been league average this year, but he has 255 wins. He's still not sure about his future, but if he decides to pitch until age 46 like Randy Johnson he will get 300. Tim Hudson is at 205 wins, but he is 38 and fractured his ankle. He should be able to come back without losing effectiveness, but he's been about league average this year and we don't know how much longer he wants to play. Roy Halladay was one of the leading candidate for 300 wins when I did the "Who's Next" game back in 2010, but since a dominant 19-6 season in 2011 he's been awful. He is still at 202 wins and may get to 300 if he can rediscover his stuff, but he was so bad that it's questionable whether or not he can. C.C. Sabathia may still be the most likely. He started out young, at the age of 20, and has been consistent throughout his career. However, he too has been awful this year, putting up a 4.91 ERA that is bad even during the height of the slugging era, but he still has 12 wins thanks to his pitching deep into games and the Yankees' vaunted offense. He is at 203 wins and is still only 33. He is still on good pace for 300, even if he only manages to return to league average in the future.
Among active pitchers with 150 wins, most of them don't stand a chance. Bartolo Colon won 14 games this year, but he's 40, has only 185 wins, and hasn't pitched well since coming off the disabled list last month. Barry Zito (164 wins at 35) and Roy Oswalt (163 wins at 36) are pretty much done. Javier Vazquez may attempt a comeback, but with 165 wins and 2,536 strikeouts he's much more likely to challenge 3,000 strikeouts than 300 wins. That leaves Mark Buehrle as a potential 300-game winner. He's been a consistent winner in his career, reaching double digits in wins every year since his abbreviated rookie year in 2000, and is working on a fifth straight year with exactly 13 wins, which he might break by winning more than 13 games. He has 185 wins at the age of 34. He may have to pitch until his early-40s to get the last 115 wins, but Buehrle has the easy motion that could lead to effectiveness late in his career. Of course, he has been playing the retirement game for a long time now, but I don't think he's really serious about it. He could be a major contender for 300 wins.
Among pitchers with over 100 wins, there are a few names worth mentioning. Justin Verlander has been one of the game's best pitcher since his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2006. He's finished well above 15 wins in most of his career, plus an absolutely magical year in 2011 when he won 24 games and took home the Cy Young and the MVP. Of course, he's also had an awful year in 2008 and a down year this year, which he still has an ERA 17% above league average. He has 136 wins at the age of 30, so if he can avoid these down years, then 300 wins is still on the horizon. Felix Hernandez is another young pitcher with a bright future. He made his debut at the tender age of 19 and has now matured to one of the best pitchers in the American League with excellent ERAs and fantastic strikeout numbers. Unfortunately, it takes much more than pitching to get wins, and Felix not only plays for one of the worst offensive teams in the Mariners, but he's signed a contrast extension with them. So despite his excellent stats he's won 15 games only once. Still, he has 110 wins at the age of 27, and 300 wins is still a distinct possibility, but he'd better hope his team can wake up and start giving him some 20-win seasons. Or he can pitch until he's 46, that works too. Some other intriguing names include Jered Weaver, the Angels ace with 110 wins at 30 and Zack Greinke, the former Royals ace now plying his trade with the Dodgers with 105 wins at 29.
The under 100 win crowd is a hodgepodge of promise that will inevitably result in false hope. Jon Lester has been both a savior and a pariah in his tenure with the Red Sox. He beat cancer to become a consistent winner, but was a major player in Boston's 2011 collapse and was awful last year. Still, he's bounced back nicely this year. He is at 98 wins at 29. Matt Cain was certainly a terrific young pitcher who was hurt by poor run and bulllpen support. He's been awful this year but there's hope for him to bounce back. He's at 93 wins at 28. His teammate Madison Bumgarner has been a steady presence in the Giants rotation since helping them win a World Series by shutting down the Rangers in Game 4 on Halloween 2010. His record hasn't exactly reflected his ERA, but he's still only 23 and at 47 wins. He could get to 300 if he can keep it up for another 18 seasons. And there are numerous rookie (or near-rookie) pitchers with unfounded potential: Jose Fernandez, Shelby Miller, Matt Harvey, Zach Wheeler etc. Of course best pitcher with under 100 wins is none other than the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw. He burst on the scene at the age of 20 in 2008 and struggled, but quickly improved to become the best pitcher in the majors. He won 21 games and the pitching Triple Crown at 23 in 2011, and is working on a third straight season with an ERA title and 220 strikeouts. He's at 75 wins at the age of 25. If he can keep this up and maybe challenge Lefty Grove's record for ERA titles, then he's a lock to 300. Of course, if he hurts his arm or decides to retire at the age of 37 then he'll fall short. That's what makes the 300-win milestone so unique. It's not exactly a list of the best pitchers in major league history, but it's a list of pitchers with the talent and the tenacity to grind year to year, putting their teams in positions to win time and time again. And that's why it's special.