300-game winners just keep coming

Muder_90.jpgBy Craig Muder

For a generation of baseball fans, Randy Johnson’s win over Washington on Thursday night marks a moment they may not see again.

But history suggests that — while another 300-win pitcher may be at least a decade away — Johnson will not be the last man to reach pitching’s holy grail.

6-5-09-Muder_Johnson.jpgJohnson became just the 24th pitcher to record 300 big league victories, and his countdown to immortality has officially started. Of the 23 other pitchers with 300 wins, 20 are enshrined at the Baseball Hall of Fame. The other three — Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux — are not yet eligible.

But along with the comparisons to baseball’s best-ever pitchers, Johnson’s milestone has brought out the naysayers: Those who insist that this 300-game winner will be the last.

After five pitchers — Gaylord Perry, Steve Carlton, Tom Seaver, Phil Niekro, Don Sutton — joined the 300-club in the 1980s, many pundits insisted that they were the last of their breed. The decline of the complete game combined with the rise of relief pitchers would surely mean the end of the 300-winner, they said. 

And yet, the 300-game winners kept coming. Nolan Ryan in 1990. Roger Clemens in 2003. Greg Maddux in 2004. And Tom Glavine in 2007.

In fact, the four pitchers to reach the milestone since 2000 represent the most for any decade — save the 1980s (5) and the 1890s (4) — in baseball history.

6-5-09-Muder_JohnsonAction.jpgSure, a few years may pass before the next 300-game winner emerges. Jamie Moyer is second behind Johnson on the active list with 250 wins, but Moyer is already 46 years old. Next up is 36-year-old Andy Pettitte with 220 wins. In fact, only two active pitchers under the age of 30 have at least 100 victories: Jon Garland and CC Sabathia.

Yet baseball history is full of long gaps between 300-game winners — even back in the complete-game era. From 1964-1981, no pitcher joined the 300-win club. And in the 36-year span from 1925-1960, only Lefty Grove reached the milestone.

So while Randy Johnson’s performance on Thursday should be celebrated, it should also be a reminder. History happens every day in baseball — something that won’t change any time soon.

Craig Muder is director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

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