North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Why 350 means everything

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Even if it doesn’t seem like it, 350 is a very important number.

By winning his 350th game on Monday, Roger Clemens joined one of the most elite clubs in baseball history – one so elite that it has had just 7 other members over a century.

So elite that he’s the first new member since 1965 and the only one still alive.

So that win is a very big deal. Especially when you consider that only one other active pitcher, Greg Maddux, is even close to him – and Maddux benefited from pitching in the National League, never having to face the DH and never pitched in cozy Fenway Park – something that Clemens did for good portions of his career.

It’s an even bigger deal when you look at today’s top pitchers. Unlike home runs, where it’s not uncommon for a leader to hit 40, even 50 in a season, wins keep going down and down.

With the modern specialization of pitching, it is doubtful that we will ever see a 350 game winner from today’s crop. Last season, for example, we didn’t even have a pitcher who won at least 20 games for the first time since 1995. In the last 10 seasons, we haven’t had a pitcher win more then 24 games.

However, we have seen a player hit 72 home runs in one season.

Could any of today’s pitchers ever hit 350 wins? The closest are Greg Maddux, who has already 340 wins, and Tom Glavine, at 297. Both of those pitchers are nearing the end of their careers (they’re both 41) and are unlikely to catch Clemens. There’s only one active pitcher who is under 40 and has close to 300 wins – Mike Mussina, who has 243 – at the age of 38.

But what about today’s young, fresh pitchers? Well, let’s take last season’s top pitcher for the American League: Cheng-Ming Wang. Wang, who won 19 games for the Yankees at the age of 26, has a total of 27 wins coming into this season. For him to get to 350 wins, he would have to have 18 seasons of at least 19 wins. Then, when he’ll be 44 years old, he’ll just hit 350 wins . To ask him to be that good, for that long, is just not a possibility.

So, if this is the final season for Clemens, 350 wins looks like the cherry on top of the sundae of his career. It adds to his resume as the greatest pitcher of his generation, and perhaps the greatest pitcher of all time. Sure, he has a reputation as a hired gun, going where the money is. He’s even burned some bridges behind him, in Boston, Toronto, Houston and arguably in New York.

Were he somebody else, this could be a fatal flaw.

But this isn‘t somebody else; this is somebody who‘s career reads like a wish list for pitching. From the seven Cy Young awards, his multiple times leading the league in wins and ERA to his World Series rings, his career is the gold standard that pitchers will be judged against in the future. By every definition he is a hall of fame player – there are far, far lesser players in the hall of fame.

But still, those accomplishments can be repeated. A pitcher wins the Cy Young and a team wins the World Series every season. It’s possible to win 20 games in a season or to have back to back Cy Youngs.

However, 350 is still a very large number, and is one we may never see again – hence it’s importance.

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Written by M.

July 3, 2007 at 10:27 pm

Posted in baseball, MLB

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