When Grover Cleveland Alexander won his 300th game in 1924, Chicago Tribune beat writer Irving Vaughan didn't consider the stat important enough to mention in his game story. You can bet it will be mentioned in Monday's editions if the Cubs' Greg Maddux beats Philadelphia for his 300th career victory today. Because not only will the win assure Maddux of a place in Cooperstown, but it may very well make him the last pitcher to achieve the milestone.
"The bar of excellence for pitching has gone from 300 wins to probably 275 or 250," said Mets left-hander Tom Glavine who, with 259 career wins, is the closest active pitcher other than Maddux. "That's just a recognition by people that offense has been so enhanced over the last decade or so and it's harder and harder for pitchers to go out there and succeed at a high level."
But the emphasis on offense is only one reason why 300-game winners have apparently gone the way of flannel uniforms and the spitball. Five-man rotations have reduced the number of starts one gets while pitch counts and relief specialists have reduced the number of innings one will pitch. Add in that lucrative contracts are making careers shorter and you wind up with a pitcher such as Boston's Curt Schilling, a six-time All-Star and two-time runnerup for the Cy Young Award who has fewer career starts (359) than Alexander had wins.
"That's just an unconceivable number to me," Schilling said regarding 300.
While 300-game winners hadn't become commonplace by the time Alexander became one in 1924, they weren't that unusual either. Alexander was the 11th to reach that total. But only 10 men have done it since, with Roger Clemens, who won his 300th last year, the only one to do so in the past 14 seasons. All of which makes Maddux's desire to treat today like just another start laughable.
"You win as many games as you have over the years and now everything is supposed to change because you're going for 300?" he said. "It's not normal. I want to keep things as normal as possible."
Maddux, 38, got his start in Chicago but won 204 games with the Braves. And with five more victories he can extend to 17 his record of consecutive seasons with 15 or more wins. That, Maddux said, is what he's aiming at.
"When it's all said and done, yeah, you might look back and pat yourself on the back," he said.
"Personally, I would much rather win 15 games and have a chance to pitch in the postseason. That means more to me than winning 300. I know in order to do that I'll bypass 300 somewhere along the way. It's hard to say it's just another game, but it is."
PUBLIC TRIBUTE, PRIVATE MAN: Maybe it's his lifestyle of shying away from attention, but 28 years after he retired, Sandy Koufax remains one of the most popular former players. Koufax, 68, was easily the most heartily received of the record 50 Hall of Famers who attended last weekend's induction ceremony in Cooperstown. Told that fans wanted him to be more public, the former pitcher said, "I'm public in a private way."
EXPOS UP IN THE AIR: Washington area fans and officials could be in for a major disappointment by not getting the Expos for next season or any season. Commissioner Bud Selig told Peter Angelos, the Orioles owner, who opposes the Expos' relocation, that he would not do anything with the Expos that made Angelos unhappy.
Selig made that statement directly to Angelos at the All-Star Game in Houston. Some officials speculated that Selig would put the team in Washington anyway and make Angelos happy by giving him a large sum of money from the Expos sale.
"The answer is no," Angelos said when asked if money would do the trick. "You don't destroy a franchise in return for some kind of cash payment."