Randy Johnson recently won his 300th game. To accumulate 300 wins is a major achievement. Most baseball fans think of Johnson as a great pitcher and include him on any list of the all-time greatest. If asked, most fans would probably point to his 300 career wins as proof of Johnson’s greatness. Others will talk about the time he won 3 games in one World Series.
Every pitcher who has won 300 or more games is in the Hall of Fame. Someday Johnson will be too. The tall left-hander is a lock to be elected, almost certainly on the first ballot. Nevertheless, he’ll be the oldest ever first ballot inductee, past his 50th birthday when he does finally join the immortals in the Hall. You see, he’s still pitching at age 46 and a player must be retired for 5 years before he becomes eligible to be voted in.
Baseball is a game of statistics and standards, yardsticks that remain forever constant. The mark of excellence for pitchers has always been to win 20 games in a single season. Randy Johnson has done that. He’s been a 20 game winner three times. Johnson has won 20 games or more in 3 different seasons. That means in 19 other seasons he did not win 20 games.
As for the one World Series in which he was the winning pitcher 3 times – if you think that should get you into the Hall of Fame what do you say to this list of pitchers, each of whom like Johnson, won 3 games in a single World Series – but they never made it to Cooperstown: Bill Dineen, Deacon Phillippe, Babe Adams, Joe Wood, Red Farber, Harry Brecheen, Lew Burdette and Mickey Lolich?
Since he’s played for 22 years and won 300 times, it will come as no surprise that in nearly half the seasons in which he competed he failed to win as many as 15 games. Do the math. While 20 wins is a mark of excellence, the measure of a “good pitcher” is pegged at 15 wins a season. So, in 10 separate seasons Randy Johnson was not only not “excellent,” he was something less than “good.”
In 4 different seasons Johnson actually lost more games than he won. That’s “bad.” In his last season pitching for Seattle his record was 1-10. That's right - he won only once and was the losing pitcher for his team ten times. Hall of Fame?
In the history of Major League Baseball 369 pitchers have won 20 games in a single season. That is remarkable since almost 6,000 pitchers have played on Major League teams. How does Randy Johnson stack up against the other 20 game winners?
Okay – but certainly he’s not up there among the greatest of the game.
There are 23 pitchers who’ve had more 20 game seasons – consecutively – than Randy Johnson has had in his entire 22-year career. Four of those pitchers – Wes Ferrell, Dave McNally, Urban Shocker and Dave Stewart – won 20 or more games 4 seasons in a row and none of them is in the Hall of Fame. Johnson won 20 games 3 times in his whole career, not in consecutive seasons.
How about the three 20 game seasons Johnson did put together? How does that number look?
Wes Ferrell (a household name?) won 20 games in 6 different seasons – that’s twice as many times as Randy Johnson. And for the games really greatest – well, there is no comparison. Johnson’s three 20 game seasons seem hardly worth a mention against Christy Mathewson and Warren Spahn who won 20 games 13 times each; or Walter Johnson’s 12 times. Ferguson Jenkins, the great Cubs right-hander, won 20 games in a season 7 different times- 7 times! - and look how long it took for him to be elected into the Hall of Fame.
How does Randy Johnson’s record of 3 times compare with these 5 time 20 game winners: Carl Mays, George Mullin, Deacon Phillippe and Hugo Vaughn? You probably never heard of any of them. None are anywhere near being in the Hall of Fame.
The Hall of Fame is for greatness, not goodness. Here’s what greatness looks like: Christy Mathewson won 20 games in 12 straight seasons; Walter Johnson had 10 consecutive 20 game seasons; Lefty Grove did it 7 straight times. Jim Palmer won 20 games or more 4 times in a row – twice! It was only 1974 that kept Palmer from registering 8 straight 20 win seasons.
Randy Johnson is a good pitcher – maybe a very good pitcher – one who managed to hang on long enough to rack up 300 wins. He may end up pitching in 4 different decades. Longevity is interesting, but it doesn’t make you one of the all-time greats, unless your list is very long.