It hasn’t been easy going through this process every year. I’ve been frustrated at times, and I’ve been angry. But that doesn’t get you anywhere. After awhile you just learn to accept it. I think I’ve gotten to the point where I’m kind of numb this time of year. The sad part is that I think I do have Hall of Fame numbers, but I feel like I have to defend them because people want to pick them over, and almost belittle what I’ve done. That to me is the negative part of this time of year.
This is not to rag on the writers in any way, shape or form. Over the years some players have come out and said the writers shouldn’t have a Hall of Fame vote because most of them have never played the game on such a high level. But it’s a system that’s been in place a long time, and the writers have earned their vote through their own longevity in the game. This is the way it has been throughout history so I’m not against it.
Have there been flaws in the system? Yes. Can a writer choose to not vote for anyone? I guess that’s their right. All I ask is that the writers take a good long look at my stats. Not just at my wins and losses, but at the entire body of work. Compare me to other pitchers who are already in the Hall of Fame, particularly those from my era.
I believe that my numbers stack up against anyone.
WHERE ARE THE WINS?
When talk of my Hall of Fame candidacy comes up, usually people like to point at my career win total of 287 as a reason I shouldn’t be elected to Cooperstown. The so-called magic number of wins for automatic induction is said to be 300, and obviously I come up short in that department.
But in my opinion, wins are one of the hardest things to come by, and a pitcher can only do so much to control whether he wins a game. You can control your walks, you can control your strikeouts and your innings pitched. You can control whether you go nine innings by the way you approach a game. But one thing you often can’t control is wins and losses. It’s very difficult.
When I first came up in 1970 at age 19, I won my first game 2-1. My second game I lost 2-1. So after two starts, I had allowed three runs in 14 innings (1.93 ERA), but was just 1-1. That just shows you how hard it is, and it made me work harder. Maybe that’s why I was able to pitch 22 seasons in the majors, because I was so stubborn.
If you allow one run, but your team doesn’t score any runs, then you can’t earn the win. If your bullpen gives up a lead after you leave the game, then you can’t earn a win. Wins are a product of your team as a whole, and while the starting pitcher plays a significant role in who wins the game, he is not the only factor. The starter can only control so much.
Case in point: I lost 99 quality starts (at least six innings pitched while allowing no more than three runs) in my career, more than all but four pitchers since 1954. And I had 79 other quality starts in which I had no-decisions. That’s 178 quality starts in which I did not earn a win, yet people knock me for coming up 13 wins shy of 300.
Clearly, wins is a flawed stat, and I think observers of baseball are beginning to realize that. After all, this year’s Cy Young winners were Zack Greinke (16 wins) and Tim Lincecum (15). Both are great pitchers and deserving of the award, but neither led their league in wins.
One thing a pitcher can control is how far he lasts in each start. The better you pitch, the longer you last. This saves wear and tear on your bullpen, which in turn helps the starters who follow you in the rotation. Every time you pitch a complete game, your team benefits. That’s why I think complete games and shutouts are better stats to look at than wins.
I made 685 starts in my 22 seasons, and threw 242 complete games, so I went the distance in 35.3 percent of my starts. Compare that to Hall of Fame pitchers from my era and I stack up well. Phil Niekro completed 34 percent of his starts, Nolan Ryan 29 percent, Tom Seaver 35.7 percent and Steve Carlton 35.8 percent. Ferguson Jenkins (45 percent) and Gaylord Perry (44 percent) were the most impressive from my era in that department.
There are other negatives I often hear about my career: That I only played in two All-Star Games, and I only won 20 games once. But there are flaws in these arguments as well.
The All-Star Game, as you know, is played in July, in the middle of the season. So the voting for the game is based only on how a player performs in the first half of the season, not on their entire season. Did you know that I was 115-84 with a 2.93 ERA during my career after July?
As far as only winning 20 games once, well that gets back once again to how hard it is to win games. The year I won 20 games (1973), I made 40 starts and threw 25 complete games and a league-best nine shutouts. But I was barely above .500 at 20-17 despite having a 2.52 ERA. The next season, I was 17-17 despite throwing 19 complete games, three shutouts and compiling a 2.66 ERA. In 1985 I had a 3.16 ERA and led the AL in starts (37), complete games (24), shutouts (5) and innings (293 2/3). But despite all of this, I finished 17-16 on the season.
I was on some good teams in my 22 seasons, including two championship teams, the 1979 Pirates and the 1987 Twins. But I also played on a lot of teams that didn’t fare too well. Sometimes I felt like if I didn’t pitch a shutout, I wasn’t going to win the game. Everyone would like to have a strong Yankee offense behind them, but it doesn’t always work out that way. I don’t know how many times I sat on that bench and watched my team score five or six runs, then the next day when I was pitching I would lose 2-1. That was very frustrating, but there is not much you can do about it.
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