CY YOUNG’S 511 WINS
The top annual awards for pitchers are named after Cy Young, and for good reason. Playing from 1890-1911, the right-hander not only won 511 games, he actually completed 749 of his 815 career starts (92 percent!).
Clearly, baseball was a far different game when Young pitched, and it’s difficult to imagine a pitcher making 40 or more starts (as Young did 11 times) or winning 30 games (five times) in a single season.
“We don’t pitch nine innings all the time,” says Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels, who has thrown 10 complete games in six seasons. “We’ve got set-up guys, we’ve got closers, and I think the teams are more evenly competitive. In order to get 500 wins you’d have to win, like, every start. So that’s not going to happen. (In Cy Young’s era) they’d have 40 or 50 starts a year, and they’d winning 30 or 40 of them.”
Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander, who has won 107 games in seven seasons, including a league-leading 24 this season, agrees.
“I don’t think Cy Young’s wins will ever be approached,” he says. “I happened to be in the clubhouse the other day, I think it was in L.A., looking at some old-time pictures and I saw a picture of Cy Young. How old did he pitch until? Man, he looked ancient! I don’t think guys can do that anymore and get away with it at this level.”
Verdict: 300 wins is generally considered worthy of automatic induction into the Hall of Fame. 511? That’s just not possible in the modern era.
NOLAN RYAN’S SEVEN NO-HITTERS
Nolan Ryan was a tour de force, a frightening force of nature hurling lightning bolts from the mound. He could paint the corner of the strike zone with that nasty fastball, and he could also be a unpredictable with his control, which made him even scarier. Hitters were never comfortable, and it showed on the mound. When Ryan was at his best, he was simply unhittable.
In addition to his talent for pitching, he also was amazingly durable, pitching 27 seasons in the big leagues. Pitching for the California Angels, he threw his first no-hitter on May 5, 1973 at age 26, his second coming just a couple months later. He was 44 years old and pitching for the Texas Rangers when he threw his seventh and final no-hitter.
Tim Roberts / AFP/Getty Images
Nolan Ryan threw a record seven no-hitters over the course of his 27-year career.
No one has come close to Ryan’s no-hit record. Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax threw four no-hitters, and no other pitcher has tossed more than three. Does that mean Ryan’s record is safe? Not necessarily.
“I think Verlander could do it,” says Hamels. “I mean, he’s got the stuff. The guys who’ve thrown no-hitters are guys who can throw 98 mph, guys who have four pitches. I think that possibly can happen. It’s a pretty impressive stat, but every generation there are guys who are unbelievable and Verlander is one of them.”
Verlander, 28, who threw the second no-hitter of his career in May, doesn’t dismiss the notion outright, but says there is a lot that is out of the pitcher’s control.
“The difficulties are that a lot of it has to do with luck and you can’t really control that,” he says. “You look at most well-pitched games – two, three, four hits in a game, a complete game shutout – and I’d say of those hits, a couple of them are probably pretty soft hits that just find their way in. That’s the way it goes a lot of times. If a guy is really on and he has good stuff, he’s going to be hard on hitters. That’s where the luck factor comes in. If you have really good stuff for long enough, and you pitch well for a long time, I think that’s how you start accumulating some no-hitters, because every now and again luck is going to be on your side as opposed to against you.”
Verdict: It will take a pitcher with great stuff, unusual durability, and the aforementioned luck, but it is possible this record could be broken. The end of the steroid era could give pitchers an edge, too.
NOLAN RYAN’S 5,714 CAREER STRIKEOUTS
If you play 27 seasons and possess the kind of heat that Nolan Ryan did, you’re going to rack up a lot of strikeouts. But Ryan piled them up at an amazing rate. Ryan led the league in strikeouts 10 times and whiffed at least 300 batters six times, including in 1989 at age 42. By comparison, Verlander leads all major leaguers with 250 strikeouts this season, and the last pitcher to surpass the 300-mark was Randy Johnson, who did it four straight seasons (1999-2002).
Not surprisingly, Johnson is second on the all-time list. But at 4,875, he needed to average 280 K’s a year for three more seasons to top Ryan, which would have had him pitching into his age 48 season. That’s a tall order, even for the Big Unit.
“That just goes to show you (how tough it is),” says Price. “You can’t get away with punching out seven or eight, you’ve got to be 12, 14 every game.”
Verdict: Is the strikeout record unreachable? “You never know,” says Verlander, who has 1,215 strikeouts in six full seasons. “Someone could come along some day and possibly approach that.”
Taking a look at some of the greatest catchers off all time.