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Former Braves president Stan Kasten promised Greg Maddux months ago that he would attend the game in which Maddux tried for his 300th career win. Kasten made the vow not only out of gratitude toward Maddux—who pitched for the Braves for 11 seasons—but also as a fan of baseball history. "It might be the last time we ever see 300," Kasten says.
The 300-game winner is on the endangered list, though Tom Glavine, Maddux's former rotation mate in Atlanta, has other ideas. The New York Mets lefthander is the next-closest active pitcher to 300, with 258 victories at week's end. Glavine, 38, has two years left on his contract with New York. Assuming four more wins this season (he had eight through the Mets' first 104 games), Glavine would need to average 19 wins over the next two years, or 13 over the next three, to get to 300.
"I have a shot," Glavine says. "Most people think I can pitch for four or five more years because of my style of pitching. That's probably right. Whether I mentally and emotionally want to pitch that long is something I'll have to decide."
If not Glavine, the next 300-game winner may not yet even be in the major leagues. The Arizona Diamondbacks' Randy Johnson (240 wins at week's end) ranks fourth among active pitchers, behind the Houston Astros' Roger Clemens (322), Maddux and Glavine. But Johnson, who turns 41 in September, is a long shot because he could average 15 wins a year at ages 41, 42 and 43 and still fall short.
The New York Yankees' Mike Mussina, 35, has 208 wins, one more than Clemens did at the same age. Mussina, however, has been sidelined with an elbow injury and has said he does not envision himself still pitching in his 40s. The Boston Red Sox' Pedro Martinez, 32, has the most wins (176) of any pitcher younger than 35, but he would have to average 15 wins a year while pitching until he's 41, an unlikely scenario given his injury history.
Conventional wisdom holds that winning 300 games is more difficult in this era because of the explosion of offense, the fixture of five-man rotations and the evolution of the specialized bullpen, which has led to the earlier removal of starters. But those theories may be inadequate. For instance, National League starting pitchers accounted for 69.8% of their teams' wins in 2003—down only slightly from 71.3% in 1993. And while the now-extinct four-man rotation did mean an extra six starts per season for a pitcher, the two greatest droughts of 300-win milestones occurred during spans in which the four-man rotation was used entirely (1925 to '40) or preponderantly (1964 to '81). The five-man rotation has been commonly used since the mid-1970s without severely curtailing the flow of 300-game winners. Tom Seaver, for instance, won 311 games without ever making more than 36 starts, the typical annual limit in today's game.
Three-hundred-game winners are typically about halfway to the milestone by the season in which they turn 29, as Clemens (152) and Maddux (150) were. No other active pitcher fits that description. For instance, even if the Oakland A's' Mark Mulder, 26, wins 20 this year, he would still need to average 22 victories over the next three seasons to be on that track.
Projecting even farther out, C.C. Sabathia of the Cleveland Indians has a fast start toward 300 with 50 wins at age 24. He was three months younger than Maddux was when Maddux won his 50th. Sabathia is the youngest pitcher to win 50 since Steve Avery in 1993, a reminder of how far 50 is from 300. Bedeviled by injuries, Avery fell 204 wins short.