Friday, June 05, 2009

The Big Unit wins #300

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Yesterday was Obama's big day in Cairo, obviously, but, in the sports world, or at least in the North American sports world, the big news yesterday, bigger (in my view) than Game 1 of the NBA Finals and Game 4 of the NHL Finals, bigger historically, was made in Washington, ironically enough, where one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history, The Big Unit, 45-year-old Randy Johnson, won his 300th game, with his San Francisco Giants beating the Washington Nationals (formerly my beloved Montreal Expos) 5-1.

I've always liked Randy Johnson, in part because he got his start with the Expos, drafted in the second round in 1985, then playing in just 11 games over two seasons for the Expos, 1987 and 1988. He was traded to Seattle in 1988, a short-sighted trade by a contender (yes, the Expos were perennial contenders back then).

And The rest is history.

Johnson flourished for the Mariners and, after a brief stint with Houston in 1998, with Arizona as well. And he was quite good for the Yankees in 2005 and 2006 (especially in 2005), just not good enough for New York, and certainly not good enough for the Yankees and the crazy expectations of both organization and fans alike. He went back to Arizona for 2007 and 2008, pitching well last year, and, while he's now just a five- or six-inning starter at best, he's been okay for the Giants this year, a solid member of a solid rotation.

Here, looking back, are some of his amazing accomplishments:

-- 5 Cy Youngs
-- 3-time 20-game winner (2-times 19, as well)
-- 6 seasons with 300+ Ks

And consider what he did at his peak:

-- From 1999 to 2002, he appeared in 35 games each year for Arizona. His records in those years: 17-9, 19-7, 21-6, 24-5. Ks: 364, 347, 372, 334. ERA: 2.48, 2.64, 2.49, 2.32. WHIP: 1.02, 1.12, 1.01, 103.

-- He had a down year, due to injury, in 2003. But he returned in top form in 2004. His record was only 16-14, again with 35 appearances, but he struck out 290, his ERA was 2.60, and his WHIP was a career-best 0.90, an incredible mark.

-- With Seattle in 1997, he went 20-4. Opponents hit just .194 against him, a career-best.

-- With Houston following an in-season trade in 1998, he went 10-1, striking out 116 in 11 appearances, with an ERA of 1.28, a WHIP of 0.98, and an opponents' batting average of .191. Of his 10 wins, four were complete-game shutouts.

-- He had control problems early in his career, walking as many as 152 in 1991 with Seattle, but after 1993, when he walked 99, the most walks he gave up in a season was just 77, in 1997, the year in which he went 20-4, struck out 291, and had an ERA of 2.28 and a WHIP of 1.05.

Truly, truly amazing.

We aren't about to see another pitcher reach 300 wins for a long, long time. No one who's close, or fairly close, is going to make it, and younger stars like C.C. Sabathia (122 wins) and Johan Santana (116 wins) need many more years of 15+ wins to have a shot. Even Roy Halladay, one of the two or three best starters in the league, a consistent stud over the past eight or so years, has only 140 wins. And a guy like Zack Greinke has a long, long way to go even to be considered for a possible run at 300. So we might be 10-15 years away from another one.

So Big Unit... Congratulations on reaching this impressive milestone. You are perhaps the last of an era, an era when 300 wins was possible, however remote, and you racked up many of those wins in what is now regarded, sadly, as the Steroid Era. While sluggers (and even non-sluggers) were juicing up and teeing off, you dominated. (And I hope, I really hope, you're not another Roger Clemens. Surely you didn't.)

Hats off. You've been one of the very best. And the Hall of Fame awaits.

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