When ESPN.com ran a poll last week asking who the greatest 300 win pitcher of this generation was, I thought there would be a landslide winner. And I was right. Only the winner wasn’t Randy Johnson, as I thought it would be; it was Greg Maddux, the control-master who won 355 games before retiring following last season.
Put simple, this shocked me.
300 wins is 300 wins, so I’m not trying to put down any of the four guys on the list. I mean, you can’t really lose when deciding between a Mercedes and a Porsche. Roger Clemens would have received more votes had he not ruined his public image in the past year. Tom Glavine certainly goes down as one of the most reliable pitchers of any era. And Maddux is arguably the smartest pitcher in the history of the game.
But The Big Unit is clearly the Lamborghini of this group, the standout among standouts. No pitcher, heck no player, was as dominant in an era that will otherwise only be remembered for homeruns and steroids. As Barry Bonds was shattering baseball’s most sacred records at the plate, Johnson was winning four Cy Young Awards in a row, striking out over 354 hitters-per-season from 1999-2003.
Considering the time it took place, I’d argue that no pitcher in history had a better four-year stretch than Johnson did at the beginning of this decade, and that includes the four consecutive Cy Young Awards Maddux won from 1992-95.
The fact that Maddux wasn’t an overpowering figure probably subconsciously played a role in most voters’ decisions. We identity with a short right hander who wears glasses more than we do with the incredibly imposing Johnson. If, like me, you were a pitcher who lacked a fastball as a kid, Maddux was your hero, the exception to the rule that you needed to throw gas to be successful.
But Johnson was the head-turner. He was the pitcher everyone dreamed of being with the fastball everyone dreamed of having. His 2001 postseason is still one of the most unforgettable runs I’ve ever seen, when he went 5-0 over the course of the NLCS and World Series to lead Arizona past the Yankees in seven games.
Again, it’s not as though I want to downplay what Clemens or Glavine or Maddux accomplished. It’s that Johnson might very well be the best pitcher in the history of the game and he certainly should be recognized as the best of this era.