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Best Baseball Pitchers Ever
A list of the best baseball pitchers of all time would have to include Walter Johnson; Lefty Grove; Grover Cleveland Alexander; Cy Young; Warren Spahn; Christy Mathewson; Kid Nichols; Bob Feller; and Satchel Paige. Since most folks these days are not familiar with these men, I have produced a list of the best baseball pitchers since the 1960s.
Jim Palmer finished his career with the lowest lifetime Earned Run Average (2.86) of any American League pitcher since Whitey Ford (2.75) retired in 1966. Palmer pitched his entire career (1965-1984) for the Baltimore Orioles, who won six championships during that time. Palmer is the only pitcher to pitch in the World Series in three different decades. He won 20 games or more in a season eight times, on his way to a career record of 268-152. An outstanding fielder, he won 4 Gold Gloves, in addition to his 3 Cy Young Awards. He was born in New York City; moved to California at age nine; and graduated from high school in Scottsdale, Arizona. Today he is the television commentator for the Orioles. Palmer once said: "The only thing Earl (Weaver—his manager) knows about big-league pitching is that he couldn't hit it." Teammate Mike Flanagan once said of him: "Cakes (Palmer) has won two-hundred forty games, but it took a picture of him standing in his underwear to get nationally known."
Sandy Koufax (Los Angeles Dodgers 1955-1966) only won 165 games (only 87 losses) and therefore cannot compare with the others on this page in career victories. His career was cut short from overuse and he retired at 30, pitching his final few seasons with arm pain. Sandy is on this list because he was an awesome pitcher. He is the youngest player (36) ever named to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Koufax was the first pitcher to win 3 Cy Young Awards and first to throw 4 no-hitters. He went 27-9 his last season with a 1.73 ERA—no left-handed pitcher has won more games or posted a lower ERA since—and won 25 games or more 3 times. Koufax, born and reared in Brooklyn, finished his career with more strikeouts (2,396) than innings pitched—the first to do so. He once said: "Pitching is the art of instilling fear." Longtime opposing manager Gene Mauch said of Koufax: "He throws a 'radio ball,' a pitch you hear, but you don't see."
Bob Gibson was known as the meanest man in baseball when he dominated for the St. Louis Cardinals from 1959 to 1975. He is from Omaha, Nebraska, and lives there today. He is a pitching instructor for the Cardinals.
Gibson has a career ERA of 2.91 and a record of 251-174. He was a great fielder, winning 9 Gold Glove Awards. Twice Gibson was the Most Valuable Player of the World Series and twice he won the Cy Young Award. In 1968, Bob posted a modern record low ERA of 1.12, while winning 22 games with 13 shutouts. He so overwhelmed batters that MLB lowered the pitching mound the following year to give hitters a chance.
Gibson was the first National League pitcher to reach 3,000 strikeouts. He once said: "In a world filled with hate, prejudice, and protest, I find that I too am filled with hate, prejudice, and protest."
Hank Aaron had this to say about Bob Gibson: "Don't dig in against Bob Gibson, he'll knock you down. He'd knock down his own grandmother if she dared to challenge him. Don't stare at him, don't smile at him, and don't talk to him. He doesn't like it. If you happen to hit a home run, don't run too slow, don't run too fast. If you happen to want to celebrate, get in the tunnel first. And if he hits you, don't charge the mound, because he's a Gold Glove Boxer."
Pedro Martinez is from the Dominican Republic. Still active—he pitched in the 2009 World Series—Pedro has posted the best winning percentage (.687) of any pitcher in over 50 years, with 219 wins versus only 100 losses. He has a career ERA that is a startling 2.93—pitching in the highest scoring era of baseball history. Martinez has struck far more batters (3,154) than innings pitched with few walks (760). Though of relatively small stature (5'10"), he has had a career far superior to his peers. While he has pitched for five teams, he is best known as a member of the Boston Red Sox. In 1997, Martinez became the first right-hander in 85 years to strike out over 300 batters and post an ERA under 2.00 in the same season. His best year was 1999, when he went 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA and 313 strikeouts—and he followed that with 18-6, 1.74 in 2000, winning his 3rd Cy Young Award. Former teammate Tom Glavine said this about Martinez: "Pedro’s a great competitor. He stares at hitters and pumps his fist when he pitches, but that’s all part of his competitive nature. After the game, he’s back to being humble. He’s always respectful of his opponents." Pedro Martinez: “I actually realized that I was somebody important, because I caught the attention of 60,000 people, plus the whole world watching a guy that if you reverse time back 15 years ago, I was sitting under a mango tree without 50 cents to pay for a bus.”
Steve Carlton, who hailed from Miami, pitched most of his career (1965-1988) for the Philadelphia Phillies. He ranks second all time in Major League Baseball for both victories (329) and strikeouts (4,136) by a left-hander. Carlton, simply known as "Lefty" by Phillies fans, was the hardest working, best-conditioned baseball player of his generation. He is the last pitcher to win 27 games in the National League (for a team that only won 59 games—an all-time record 46% of his team's wins); and last to pitch over 300 innings in a season in MLB. Carlton was the first pitcher to ever win 4 Cy Young Awards. He was a fine fielder and an excellent hitter. His 144 base-runners picked off is by the far the all time MLB record—nearly double the 2nd place total. Richie Ashburn, former great center fielder for the Phillies, said this about Carlton: "Lefty was a craftsman, an artist. He was a perfectionist. He painted a ballgame. Stroke, stroke, stroke, and when he got through (pitching a game) it was a masterpiece." A quote from Lefty: "It (not talking to the media from 1974 through the end of his career) was perfect for me at the time. It took me two years to make up my mind. I was tired of getting slammed. To me it was a slap in the face. But it [his silence] made me concentrate better. And the irony is that they wrote better without access to my quotes. It's all quotes, anyway, and it all sounds the same to me. After that they wrote better and more interesting stuff. I took it personal. I got slammed quite a bit. To pick up the paper and read about yourself getting slammed, that doesn't start your day off right."
Tom Seaver is considered by some to be the best baseball pitcher of all time. His career spanned from 1967 to 1986, mostly with the New York Mets. His career ERA of 2.73 is the lowest of our era. Seaver, from Fresno, California, finished with a lifetime record of 311-205—including many seasons with mediocre teams—with 3,640 strikeouts and 3 Cy Young Awards. Tom received the highest ever percentage of the vote when he became eligible (five years after retirement) for election to the Hall of Fame. Tom Seaver said: "A good professional athlete must have the love of a little boy and the good players feel the kind of love for the game that they did when they were little leaguers." His teammate Cleon Jones said of "Tom Terrific": "But Tom does everything well. He's the kind of man you'd want your kids to grow up to be like. Tom's a studious player, devoted to his profession, a loyal cat, trustworthy - everything a Boy Scout's supposed to be. In fact, we call him 'Boy Scout'."
Greg Maddux is the only pitcher in the history of Major League Baseball to win at least 15 games for 17 straight seasons. In 1995, he became the only pitcher to ever win 4 straight Cy Young Awards. Maddux, born in Texas, spent much of his childhood in Madrid before graduating from high school in Las Vegas, where he still lives today. He began his career with my beloved Chicago Cubs but is best known for his time as an Atlanta Brave. Greg Maddux has won 355 Major League games—the most in over 50 years—against 227 losses. He has only walked 999 hitters in over 5,000 innings, while posting a career ERA of 3.16 over 24 seasons (1986-2008). Maddux went 19-2 with a 1.63 ERA in 1995. He is the best fielding pitcher in baseball history, winning 18 Gold Gloves. Maddux may be the most brilliant man to ever throw a baseball. Hall of Fame hitter Wade Boggs said this about him: "It seems like he's inside your mind with you. When he knows you're not going to swing, he throws a straight one. He sees into the future. It's like he has a crystal ball hidden inside his glove." Maddux makes it sound simple: "I try to do two things: locate my fastball and change speeds. That's it. I try to keep as simple as possible. I just throw my fastball (to) both sides of the plate and change speed every now and then. There is no special food or anything like that, I just try to make quality pitches and try to be prepared each time I go out there."
Randy Johnson, from California, is 6'10" and for most of his career could throw the ball 100 miles-per-hour. The Big Unit. Johnson has won five Cy Young Awards—only one baseball player has won more. He is still pitching in the Big Leagues at 46 years of age. Johnson has pitched for six teams but is best known as a Seattle Mariner. He has struck out more batters per nine innings than any pitcher in the history of the game. His 4,875 strikeouts are 2nd all time behind Nolan Ryan—tops for all left-handers. Johnson's lifetime record of 303-166 gives him one of the highest winning percentages ever (.648). Many left-handed hitters give up before they step into the batter's box. His fierce demeanor has made him the most feared pitcher since Bob Gibson. In 1995 he went 18-2—the second best record for a season in baseball history. At age 40 Johnson threw a perfect game—the oldest player ever to do so. Johnson struck out 373 batters in 2001—a feat only bested by two pitchers in the modern era. Randy Johnson once said: "I had a long conversation with Steve Carlton. He told me that on the days he pitched, he felt it was his responsibility to make everyone around him better, to lift his teammates. That's what I try to do." His longtime catcher Dan Johnson said: “He's Randy Johnson for a reason."
Roger Clemens is the greatest pitcher who ever lived. Only "The Rocket" has won 7 Cy Young Awards—and he is the oldest pitcher to ever win one. While he pitched for four teams from 1984 to 2008, he is best known as a member of the Boston Red Sox.
In 1986, Roger Clemens won the Most Valuable Player Award—still today the only starting pitcher to do so since 1971.
In 1986, Roger became the first pitcher to strike out 20 batters in a game—a feat he repeated ten years later. His career record is 354-184 with a 3.13 ERA and 4,672 strikeouts.
Roger Clemens: "I am intense, no question about it. Every time I toe the rubber, it's no different for me than it was in the World Series. That might be somebody's only chance to see me pitch. They might have driven four hours to get there. I'm going to be out there if I can help it." Derek Jeter said about Clemens: "Roger is in another world when he's pitching. He's there, but he's not there."
Other pitchers I considered for inclusion include: Whitey Ford; Gaylord Perry; Robin Roberts; Juan Marichal; Ferguson Jenkins of my beloved Cubs; Nolan Ryan, the all time strikeout leader; Phil Niekro; Don Sutton; and Tommy John. I did not include any relief pitchers in this survey, believing they are of a special category that I may address later.