Byline: Dan Daly, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
"Unless former teammate Tom Glavine pours it on in the next few years, Maddux will be the last pitcher to win 300 games for a long, long time. Perhaps forever." - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"Greg Maddux is about to squeeze into the 300-win club and slam the door behind him." - Chicago Sun-Times
"[T]he 22nd, and perhaps last, 300-game winner in the major leagues ..." - Sports Illustrated
Stop, stop, stop. If there's anything we've learned about athletes over the years, it's that they don't like to be told they can't do something, whether it's hitting 60 homers or winning three straight NBA titles or holding all four major golf championships at the same time. Suggest that a number is unreachable, that a feat is impossible, and they'll find a way to prove you wrong - even if they have to take steroids to do it.
"Last" is a dangerous word for sportswriters to use, especially in Maddux's case. After all, people have been proclaiming the death of the 300-game winner for ages. In 1941, when Lefty Grove notched No.300, Fred Lieb predicted in the Sporting News that Grove might be the last to reach the milestone. Nice try, Fred. Eleven pitchers won 300 games before Lefty, and 10 have won 300 since.
It was the same 22 years later, when Early Wynn joined the 300 Club. After Wynn's historic victory, Bill James reminds us in his "Historical Baseball Abstract," "somebody asked him if he was upset that Warren Spahn had beaten him to [it]. Not at all, said Wynn; he was delighted. Because Spahn got there first, he said, [Wynn] would always be the last pitcher to win 300 games."
Wynn was only off by eight (so far).
The "experts" have wonderfully logical reasons for anointing Maddux "The Last." They talk about the five-man rotation and the increasing use of bullpens and the offensive tilt of the game and blah, blah, blah. What they forget is that racking up 300 victories is a profoundly illogical achievement; it defies the laws of probability, the laws of physics (particularly those that apply to the shoulder and elbow areas) and even Vernon Law (who managed a mere 162 wins). A 300-game winner is a freak of nature, and every so often, whether we like it or not, our gene pool produces another one.
The "experts" are also leaving out what I like to call the Cool Hand Luke Factor. There will always be athletes who are oblivious to human limits, who will announce "I can eat 50 eggs" . …