Catching up … with Greg Maddux?
The places a couple innings of old baseball can take you
So I’ve begun to put the word out.
On Facebook, on Twitter, I’ve announced my not quite imminent departure from The Norman Transcript (but not, perhaps, The Norman Transcript’s pages, for I’m hoping it will subscribe to me and take advantage of me as a columnist with great frequency and, having rehired for me, will be in a better position to turn out a great sports section), and the initial response has been terrific. Many friends have chosen to go down this road with me.
Having not left The Transcript yet, I can’t just rip off an 800-word column that could just as well go in The Transcript’s pages, but I’m hot to offer something and on the off-chance you’re a baseball fan — or were before it all became strikeouts, home runs and a million pitchers — maybe we can have some fun here before we really begin taking on the other things we’re going to take on.
I was going to begin this transition with, “So I watched Greg Maddux pitch a couple of innings on Monday,” only that would have been a lie, because I didn’t get to see him pitch at all. What I did was stop for a bit at MLB Network, which I highly recommend, and watch a couple innings from the game Maddux earned his 300th win (or at least got credit for it)
Looking over the pitcher’s right shoulder, the typical center-field shot from back in the day, before they figured straight on was better than a parallax view — they figured out ketchup bottles faster than that one — you might think you’re watching a game from old Candlestick Park for all the mesh fencing behind the plate, only you’re not. Indeed, the game was played in the same park the Giants play in now, then called SBC Park. They just hadn’t made it beautiful from every angle yet.
Maddux was out after the fifth inning and it was a very un-Maddux-like game.
He gave up seven hits and four runs, all of them earned. He threw 82 pitches, enough for him to notch a complete game at the height of his powers and he even walked more batters (4) than he struck out (3). Still, he exited with the lead and Jon Leicester, nor Kent Mercker, Mike Remlinger, Kyle Farnsworth, or LaTroy Hawkins gave it up, leaving Maddux to accomplish what only 13 other pitchers in the history of the game (since 1900, anyway) had ever done.
But here’s what blew me away.
The game was played in 2004.
Time runs together as you get older, and for the life of me, I could not recall if Maddux hung it up after that season, hung on for another two years, another four, anything. I just couldn’t remember.
So I looked at his baseball reference page and the first thing I noticed was 2008 was his last season and he spent it with two teams, the Padres and Dodgers, so put that trivia question in your pocket, because the greatest pitcher of our lifetime, unless you take Nolan Ryan, to win all of his games honestly, without the juice — we see you, Roger Clemens — did not retire as a Cub nor Brave, but as a Dodger after going 22-24 as a Padre in 2007 and most of 2008, before finishing up in Chavez Ravine (Dodger Stadium for you lapsed baseball people).
The second thing I saw was, get this, 355 wins.
It’s one more than Clemens, the last to achieve the mark before Maddux. It is 50 more than Tom Glavine, the first to achieve the mark after Maddux (as a Met, for crying out loud) and it is 52 more than Randy Johnson, who did it as a Diamondback and who remains the last to do it and the only one to do it since Glavine.
The number alone is insane.
It’s insane, too, that the only pitchers ever to win more games than Maddux not only predated just about every pitcher any of us has seen in our lifetime, but all but one were either contemporaries of Babe Ruth or predated him: Cy Young, 511 wins, 1890-1911; Walter Johnson, 417, 1907-1927; Grover Cleveland Alexander, 373, 1911-1930; Christy Mathewson, 373, 1900-1916; Warren Spahn, 363, 1942-1965; Pudd Galvin, 361, 1875-1892; Kid Nichols, 361, 1890-1906.
Only Spahn came after Ruth.
Want another great trivia question?
Name every player Spahn and Maddux both struck out?
I don’t know, but there could be a few, Spahn finishing in ’65 and Maddux entering in ’86 and both pitching their careers in the National League. Pete Rose isn’t. His last season was Maddux’s first and though Maddux’s first complete game — Sept. 7, 1986: 11 hits, three runs, all earned, four strikeouts, three walks … holy cow — came against the Reds, it was not one of the 72 games in which Rose appeared for Cincinnati his final season.
Sorry, got off the track.
That number — 355 — in the context of today’s game, is beyond insane and unthinkably bonkers.
Three current pitchers have achieved 200 wins.
Justin Verlander 226. Zack Greinke 219. Jon Lester 200.
Lester, 37, is reportedly mulling retirement. Greinke, 38, is not under contract but appears ready to continue playing and Verlander, also 38, just agreed to a two-year extension with the Astros after missing all of 2021.
Even if all three of them pitch five more full seasons, earning the precise number of wins they picked up in their last five full seasons — throw out the 60-game 2020 pandemic season — Verlander would finish with 293 wins, Greinke also with 293 and Lester with 270.
But they’re not going to do that, because they’ll be in their 40s if they’re pitching at all … and nobody’s really coming up behind them.
Max Scherzer’s 37 and sitting on 190. Clayton Kershaw’s 33 and sitting on 185, but hasn’t started 30 games nor thrown 200 innings since 2015. Adam Wainwright, 40, is sitting on 184 and may or may not come back to the Cardinals and the next guy on the list is 36-year-old David Price, who’s won 155, but only 12 in ’19 and ’21 combined after opting out of 2020.
Greg Maddux won 355.
It’s not that it will never happen again. It’s that no pitcher to have entered the bigs since 2010 is likely to even get within 100 wins (and maybe not 150) of Maddux.
What he did was impossible.
But he did it.
Monday, I watched about 20 minutes of a game played more than 17 years ago.
Sports is a gift.
Because it gave me all that.
Hope you enjoyed it.
Not much “Oklahoma” in this one, I know, but I’ve still got to leave a job to get to this one fully. Hope this proved nice in the meantime.