Please, please stop saying there will never be a 300-win pitcher again

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Perry 300.jpgOne of the reasons sports journalism gets disrespected so much is that it is standard operating procedure for sports writers to simply repeat evidence-free and even counter-factual assertions about things with little regard for how easily disprovable or unprovable the assertion may be. Case in point: the “no one will ever reach 300 wins again” meme, which gets repeated three or four times a year by people who should know better.

Today’s example: Tim Kurkjian, who writes an otherwise acceptable passing-of-the-torch article about the great pitchers of yesterday and today, but feels it necessary to end with this note:

With five-man rotations and pitch counts and loaded bullpens with
relievers who make millions, it’s going to be hard to find any pitcher
who will pitch long enough in a career, or pitch long enough in games,
to get to 300 wins.

People have been saying that we’ve seen the last 300 winner for years. They said it after Early Wynn did it. They said it after Nolan Ryan did it. They said it after Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine did it. And since last year they’ve been saying that Randy Johnson was the last of the breed. Cut. It. Out.

The last four 300 game winners all pitched in five man rotations and in the era of bullpen specialization. Only Greg Maddux had more than 36 starts in any one season. A five man rotation may cut down on wins per season, but in reducing workloads it may very well lengthen careers.  To cite these factors as bars to another pitcher winning 300 games is simply and inexcusably ignorant.

Sure, you can look around now and say that you don’t see any 300 game winners on the horizon, but that’s simply because (a) it’s rare; and (b) we tend not to think of someone as a 300 game winner until, you know, they win something like 250 games or so and there’s not anyone out there that really fits the profile at the moment (though I could totally see Sabathia doing it).

The thing, is, gaps in 300-game winners are really common. There were 20 years between Lefty Grove and Warren Spahn hitting the plateau. There was a bigger gap between Early Wynn doing it in 1963 and Gaylord Perry doing it in 1982. There was a big gap between Ryan in 1990 and Clemens in 2003 as well.  Indeed, I think the only reason that guys like Kurkjian like to say that there will never be 300 game winners again is because for a brief shining moment during their early adulthood — the 80s — a handful of guys who pitched through the low-offense, heavy pitcher use 60s and 70s made the mark. That was the historical exception, however, not the rule.

Someone will win 300 games again. It may not be a currently active pitcher, but someone will do it.  And I’m sure that the moment they do it, someone will say that we’ll never see it done again. 

Crowd honors Jose Bautista in his last Blue Jays home game

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Jose Bautista ran onto the field on Sunday afternoon, alone, in what was likely his last hurrah as a Blue Jays player. The 36-year-old outfielder signed a one-year, $18 million contract with the club prior to the 2017 season and is not expected to get his $17 million option picked up for 2018. During Sunday’s series finale, he got a fond farewell befitting a decade-long career as one of Toronto’s most prolific hitters, drawing standing ovations every time he stepped up to the plate.

The Blue Jays came out swinging against the Yankees, building an eight-run lead on Teoscar Hernandez’s first-inning home run and a smattering of hits and productive outs from Darwin Barney, Russell Martin, Josh Donaldson and Kendrys Morales. Bautista supplemented the drive with his own RBI single in the fourth inning, plating Hernandez on an 0-2 fastball from reliever Bryan Mitchell.

Later in the inning, he nearly scored a second run on a Kendrys Morales two-RBI single, but was caught at the plate on the relay by Starlin Castro.

It’s an encouraging end to what has overwhelmingly been a disappointing season for the Toronto slugger. Entering Sunday’s finale, he slashed .201/.309/.365 with a franchise single-season record 161 strikeouts in 658 plate appearances, numbers that somewhat obscure the six straight All-Star nominations, four MVP bids and 54-homer campaign he once enjoyed with the team. Even a bounce-back performance in 2018 likely wouldn’t command a $17 million salary, but there’s no denying his impact on the Blue Jays’ last 10 years, from his signature bat flip to his tie-breaking home run in the 2015 ALDS.

The Blue Jays currently lead the Yankees 9-2 in the top of the sixth inning. Expect a few more standing O’s before the end of the game.

Why more baseball players don’t kneel

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Bruce Maxwell was the first baseball player to kneel for the National Anthem. There may be others who do so, but I don’t suspect many will. Indeed, I’m pretty confident that the protests we’re seeing in the NFL today, and will see more of once basketball season begins, will not become a major thing in baseball.

Some will say it’s because baseball or baseball players are more patriotic or something, but I don’t think that’s it. Yes, baseball is a lot whiter and has a lot of conservative players who would never think to protest during the National Anthem or, for that matter, protest anything at all, but I suspect there are many who saw what Colin Kaepernick and other football players have done — or who have listened to what Steph Curry and LeBron James have said — and agreed with it. Yet I do not think many, if any of them will themselves protest.

Why? I think it mostly comes down to baseball’s culture of conformity.

Almost everyone in baseball comes through a hierarchy. Even the big names. Even if you are the consensus number one pick, you do your time in the minors. Once there, conformity and humility is drilled into you. This happens both affirmatively, in the form of coaches telling you to act in a certain way and passively, by virtue of all players being in similar, humbling circumstances. Bus rides, cheap hotels, etc. In that world, even if you are ten times better and ten times richer than your teammates, you fall in with the crowd because doing otherwise would be socially disruptive.

The very socialization of a baseball player is dependent upon them learning to talk, walk and carry themselves like all those who came before. No one is given special treatment. In the rare cases they are, it’s head-turning. Bryce Harper was a more or less normal minor leaguer, but since he got their earlier by bypassing his final years of high school, he was thrown at and challenged in ways no other minor league stars are. It does not take much for a guy to be singled out for punishment or mockery and even the superstars like Harper are not on solid professional ground as long as they’re still in the minors. Indeed, between a player’s education, as it were, in the minors and their pre-free agency residency in the majors, it can be a decade or more before a unique personality or a true showman is able to shine through, and by then few are willing. They’ve been conditioned by that point.

Even budding superstars can be roundly criticized for the tiniest of perceived transgressions or the most modest displays of individuality. Think about all of the “controversies” we have about the proper way to celebrate a home run or run the bases. If that’s a cause for singling out and, potentially, benching or being traded or being given a shorter leash, imagine the guts a baseball player has to have in order to do something like take a knee during the National Anthem. A guy with multiple MVP Awards would likely be in an uncomfortable spotlight over such a thing, so imagine how brave someone like Bruce Maxwell, who has barely 100 games under his belt, has to be to have done it.

CC Sabathia, a 17-year veteran, spoke out yesterday, but I suspect he won’t kneel for the National Anthem when he lines up with his teammates before the Wild Card game next week. Other ballplayers will likely wade into the fray in the coming days. But I suspect baseball’s very nature — it’s very culture — will keep ballplayers from following in the footsteps of the many NFL players who took a knee today.