Baseball's best-ever pitchers are maybe the ones that just retired
By ANDREW MORRIS
College Contributor Network
Last week, one of the best Hall of Fame induction classes ever in baseball was announced.
The 90's and 00's boys of Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio were chosen to enter the hall by the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) that has recently been under heavy criticism for what many think is a faulty selection process.
49 writers left Pedro Martinez off their ballots. 49 people who write about baseball for a living left one of the most dominant pitchers ever off their ballots. One baseball writer, Dan LeBatard, even gave away his vote to a deadspin.com fan vote last year as a statement of how broken the process is.
But this article isn't to compare the Hall of Fame voting process to Swiss cheese, even though Randy Johnson somehow didn't get voted in by 15 people. I want to make this article more positive, to move things in the other direction, and talk about how deserving and spectacular the newly inducted pitchers are.
Separate from other sports, baseball typically gravitates around a concept that historical players can be, and sometimes are, better than the players that play the game today. By any other sport's measures or criticisms, statistically, athletes today are much stronger, faster and skilled than the athletes of days past. It's this that keeps the game of baseball eternal and special. Even if the athletes in baseball have beefed up, there's no real difference in stats from 1965 compared to 2006.
Knowing that, Johnson, Martinez, Smoltz and all the other phenomenal pitchers of this most recent generation in baseball are the best to ever pitch. What we just glanced over and appreciated was the Renaissance of pitching. It flew right past everyone. However, this goes against any other standard ranking in baseball I know. Almost every credible baseball ranking is centered on the pitchers that threw before the 1940's. Lefty Grove, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Cy Young, etc. Maybe it's because baseball fans, even Americans sometimes, are hyper-nostalgic. Or maybe it's the Deadball Era – when the ball wasn't engineered in an offensively minded way - the pitchers in that day had stats that went into the stratosphere.
So how can this most recent group of retired pitchers possibly be any better? For starters, these guys were pitching against the stream. That is to say, the prime of their careers came in the Steroid Era. They never had the Deadball Era working for them. Pitchers then battled with guys that put up some of the best power and hitting numbers ever. Teams were hitting a home run per game on average, scoring more runs than ever, and even still, these hurlers dominated.
For arguments sake, the group of pitchers that I'll include is Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Roger Clemens. I should put the robotic, unmerciful Mariano Rivera in this but for now it'll just be those guys. Five of the six included guys in the last two years are first ballot Hall of Famers – a feat that has never been seen before in baseball. Point one right there.
Let's look at Pedro for example. Even though he had a much shorter career than most other pitchers, he finished with higher stats than most of those people. The '99 season he had is, to me, the best season of pitching ever. With a sneaky fastball and one of the best changeups in history, he smoked anyone and everyone. A league-leading 23 wins, league-leading ERA of 2.07 (is that real?), league-leading 313 strikeouts and a league-leading WHIP of 0.923. In 213.1 innings, Pedro gave up just 160 hits. Mercy. Please just go and watch the '99 All-Star Game, it's sensational. In '00, his ERA was a 1.74. There's not much better than that in any era of baseball, but let's remember that this was in the middle of the Steroid Era.
Randy Johnson speaks for himself. He's a 6-foot-10 pitcher that pumped gas to brilliant hitters then switched it up with off-speed pitches that were magical with their movement. He was a lefty, too. He was a part of the Mariners' team that saved Seattle and then really jumped out on the Diamondbacks. Second in strikeouts to only Nolan Ryan, Johnson won the World Series in 2001 leading the league in ERA (2.49), K's (372 – wow), and WHIP (1.009). Then the Big Unit had a better season the next year with more wins (24), a lower ERA (2.32) and more innings (260). Some say he's the scariest pitcher to ever play.
Greg Maddux was perhaps the most accurate pitcher in baseball during a time when hitters took advantage of any slight mistake pitch.
Roger Clemens, my vote for the best pitcher of all-time, even with the steroid allegations, had so many different qualities and they all were incredible. He combined power, control, movement, intimidation and sheer will. Go ahead and say his career is void because of the allegations, but I still stand by him. Seven MVP's, league leader in wins four times, ERA seven times, strikeouts five, WAR seven and shutouts six. He is well-deserving of a spot on the baseball pitchers' Mt. Rushmore. Any of these guys are.
American author Jessamyn West once said, "The past is really almost as much a work of the imagination as the future." Before becoming nostalgic or overly supportive of the pitchers long ago, don't be afraid to go ahead and call these pitchers the best of all-time too. They're now a part of history too.
Andrew Morris is a sophomore at Syracuse University. People refer to him in the third person and he has an everlasting love for Orange, Major League Baseball, the St. Louis Cardinals, Oakland A's, Golden State Warriors, and Indianapolis Colts. Follow him on Twitter: @Andrewmo123