September 27, 2008: Greg Maddux, playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers at the age of 42, notches his 355th win in the final start of his career in a 2-1 decision over the Giants in San Francisco. With the victory, Maddux passed Roger Clemens and moved into eighth place on Major League Baseball’s career list. Maddux would become a first-ballot Baseball Hall of Fame inductee in 2014. Clemens, with Steroid Era allegations still hanging over his head, remains on the outside looking in.
Maddux thus completed a 23-year career that saw him become the first player ever to win the Cy Young Award in four consecutive years (1992-95). During that stretch with Atlanta he went 75-29 with a 1.96 ERA, capped by numbers of 19-2 and 1.63 during the Braves’ World Series championship season in 1995. Maddux is also the only MLB pitcher to win at least 15 games for 17 straight seasons, and he’s the only 300-game winner to log 3,000 strikeouts while walking fewer than 1,000 batters. And no pitcher in history was awarded more Gold Gloves than Maddux, who had 18.
Maddux had a very odd start to his big league career. He was called up by the Chicago Cubs on Labor Day weekend in 1986, and he was in the dugout for a September 2 game against the Houston Astros at Wrigley Field. The contest went into extra innings and was suspended due to darkness, as Wrigley wouldn’t have lights for another two years. It was resumed the following day. With the Cubs short on players, Maddux made his major league debut as a pinch-runner in the 17th inning. He then pitched the 18th inning—and took the loss.
But no pitcher in the past 57 years has notched more career victories than Maddux. In fact only one hurler has since 1924: Warren Spahn with 363 wins from 1942-65. The only players to reach 300 in the past 30 years are Clemens (354), one-time Braves teammate Tom Glavine (305) and Randy Johnson (303). With starters rarely going more than five or six innings in the modern game, it may never happen again.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)