Andy Pettitte's retirement and Jamie Moyer's elbow injury suggest the 300-game winner has followed the Sunday doubleheader and buffalo nickel into the dustbin of history.
Moyer had 267 victories when his elbow blew out last summer. Pettitte retired earlier this month with 240 victories after flirting with the idea of returning to the Yankees for another season.
Moyer, who most recently wore the uniform of the Philadelphia Phillies, vows to resume his pursuit of 300 wins in 2012 –- but he’ll need to recover from Tommy John surgery and avoid the vagaries of time. He will turn 49 well before next season starts. Even though Moyer is lefthanded, what general manager could justify signing an injured, aged pitcher no matter which arm he uses?
Pettitte had the Yankees offense to support his quest. But he opted to follow the lead of Mike Mussina, who who had 270 wins when he left the game to spend more time with his family. Additionally Pettitte faces a summer that could include his testimony against former teammate Roger Clemens, who has denied using performance-enhancing drugs.
With Pettitte and Moyer out of the picture, probably for keeps, the leading active winner is ancient knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, with 193. Even such luminaries as Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia are light-years away.
In fact, the 2011 Bill James Baseball Handbook says no active pitcher has even a 50 percent chance of reaching the magic number. Halladay, according to James' calculations, has a 42 percent chance of reaching 300. He enters this season at age 34 with 169 wins. Here are some projections by James:
Sabathia, age 30, 157 wins: 38 percent
Tim Hudson, age 35, 165 wins: 4 percent
Lee, age 32, 102 wins: 3 percent
Wakefield, age 44, 193 wins: 1 percent
Before he passed away a few months ago, Hall of Famer Bob Feller insisted the 300 Club is closed for good. “I think Randy Johnson is the last one we’ll have, at least for the foreseeable future -- until they get rid of that pitch count nonsense,” said Feller, whose four-year wartime military service prevented him from winning more than 266 games. “A pitcher should be in good enough condition to finish his ballgame. That’s the kind of pitcher I would want on my team -- a man who could hold a one-run lead through the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.”
Virtually all of the 10 living 300-game winners agreed. “It takes 15 wins a year for 20 years or 20 wins for 15 years,” said Don Sutton, who crashed the 300 Club with only a single 20-win season. “More and more pitchers are coming out prior to the decision of a ballgame. People in baseball seem content to use more pitchers, pay more money, and get less out of their investment.
“I don’t think anyone else will win 300. Pitchers don’t go nine innings because the environment does not encourage it. We glorify 200 innings pitched and a 4.50 earned run average. That level of performance is not conducive to winning 300 games.”
Like Sutton, the one-time Dodgers ace who has spent nearly a dozen years as a Braves broadcaster, Texas Rangers president Nolan Ryan thinks the 300 Club will never add a 25th member.
“Winning 300 games is a bigger challenge today than it was for me,” said Ryan, who holds career records for strikeouts and no-hitters. “In Texas, we asked our pitchers to work deeper into games. We felt each time we went to the bullpen, we lessened our chances of being successful. If you go to the bullpen three or four times, there’s a better chance one of those relievers won’t be on that night. And the more you use them, the greater chance you have of wearing down the bullpen for the second half of the season.”
Greg Maddux, with 355 wins, remains the leader among 300 Club members still living. The others, in
alphabetical order, are Steve Carlton, Clemens, Tom Glavine, Johnson, Phil Niekro, Gaylord Perry, Ryan, Tom Seaver and Sutton. Hall of Famers Bob Gibson, Jim Palmer, Don Drysdale and Juan Marichal are conspicuously absent.
Even the list of men who came close is short, with Tommy John (288), Bert Blyleven (287), Robin Roberts (286), Ferguson Jenkins (284) and Jim Kaat (283) the only men to come within 20 of the elite club.
Winning 300 is a big deal; every eligible member of the 300 Club has been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, with Maddux, Glavine, Clemens and Johnson still needing to wait five years after their retirement.
According to Kaat, whose bid fell short when he spent his final years in the bullpen, “I think the bar (for Cooperstown) should be 250 wins. What Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine and Randy Johnson did in a five-man rotation has really been remarkable. I’m glad I pitched in a four-man rotation. I wouldn’t have known what to do with myself with that extra day’s rest.”
There’s no question that the 300 Club is an exclusive group. There are fewer 300-game winners than there are members of the 500 Home Run Club or 3,000 Hit Club.
“Randy Johnson may be the last,” Jenkins said of the lanky lefty who reached the magic circle while pitching for the San Francisco Giants in 2009. “Because of the situation of not having run production and the age factor, unless somebody really comes along and puts a lot of 20-win seasons together, Randy could be it. You have to put up some big numbers.”
-- Dan Schlossberg is a former Associated Press sportswriter and the author of 35 books, including "The 300 Club: Have We Seen the Last of Baseball’s 300-Game Winners?"