300-Win Club is Closed for Good
Put it in ink: the 300-game winner has gone the way of the buffalo nickel and Sunday doubleheader.
The late-winter retirements of Randy Johnson and Tom Glavine mean that none of the 300-win pitchers are still active, although 10 are still alive: Steve Carlton, Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux,Â Phil Niekro, Gaylord Perry, Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, and Don Sutton, in addition to Johnson and Glavine.
Who’s next in line? The educated answer suggests nobody.
Jamie Moyer, an ancient mariner who hopes to celebrate his 50th birthday in a big-league uniform, is closest to the magic circle but would have to keep pitching long after he starts collecting Social Security.
Andy Pettitte, who keeps hinting at retirement, is next, but he’s getting long in the tooth too and says he wants to spend summers with his family — just as Mike Mussina did a few years ago when he left the majors with 270 wins on his resume.
John Smoltz? He can’t get a decent contract, decide whether he’s a starter or closer, or last long enough to vault over the gold-colored barrier. He spent too many years nursing elbow and shoulder injuries and throwing ninth-inning heaters out of the Atlanta bullpen.
Reaching 300 is a worthy goal; every eligible pitcher with 300 wins has been enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Maddux, Glavine, and Johnson are certain to follow five years after their retirements, while Clemens could parlay those seven Cy Young Awards into a Cooperstown plaque — if allegations of steroids abuse are disproven.
So many greats never made it: Bob Gibson, Jim Palmer, Ferguson Jenkins, Robin Roberts, and Bob Feller are just a few of the Hall of Fame denizens who got there without winning 300.
Asked about finishing with 266, Feller immediately deferred to the nation’s wartime needs. The pitcher, who won eight battle stars in the Navy during World War 2, said, “I didn’t win 300 games but we won World War 2 and that was a little more important.”
Tommy John, who closed with 288, would have made it if he wasn’t the first victim of Tommy John surgery. Surely, he could have won another dozen games in that year he missed.
Jim Kaat, with 283, would have been there too if Whitey Herzog hadn’t exiled him to the St. Louis bullpen late in his career. And Bert Blyleven, with better batting support, could have coasted to Cooperstown on the strength of his 60 shutouts. He came close to election earlier this year.
What makes 300-game winners as unlikely as 30-game winners? Consider the fact that pitchers routinely worked in four-man rotations and finished what they started — at least until managers decided to deploy an array of relief pitchers and yank top starters after seven innings. Blyleven had more shutouts than most current pitchers will have complete games.
Things were vastly different before World War 2, when legends like Walter Johnson, Grover Cleveland Alexander, and Lefty Grove all managed to crack the 300-win circle. Johnson even topped 400, joining Cy Young (511) as the only men at that level.
Warren Spahn, who worked exclusively after World War 2, would have been there too if he hadn’t lost so many years to the war. The only player to win a battlefield commission, Spahn won 363 games, mainly because he reached 20 wins in 13 different seasons. These days, few men win that many games in a single campaign.
The next time anyone wants to know the name of the best lefty in baseball history, Spahn’s name should be mentioned first. He had more wins than any southpaw and only 10 less than Alexander and Mathewson, who are tied at 373. Spahn wanted the ball every fourth day and hated to come out.
On July 2, 1963, at the age of 42, he threw 210 pitches in a 16-inning, 1-0 defeat at the hands of Juan Marichal’s Giants. Willie Mays, who hit his first home run against Spahn, also hit one that day.
Other quick notes on 300-game winners (with full details in the book):
- Phil Niekro was the only man to throw a shutout for his 300th win
- Roger Clemens got his 300th on Friday the 13th
- Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver were teammates with the ’69 “Miracle” Mets
- Walter Johnson’s last appearance, as a pinch-hitter, came in the same game in which Babe Ruth hit his 60th home run (1927)
- Greg Maddux (354) has more wins than any living 300-game winner
- Don Sutton had only one 20-win season en route to 324 victories
[Editor’s Note: The writer is the author of a forthcoming illustrated hardcover, The 300 Club: Have We Seen the Last of Baseball’s 300-Game Winners? The book is due from Ascend April 15 but may be purchased online at ascendbooks.com.]