MLB: Randy Johnson, Sandy Koufax, and the Ten Greatest Left-Handers in History!
There have been many accomplished hurlers in the history of Major League baseball—many of whom threw from the right.
There have not, however, been quite as many great left-handers in the history of the sport.
In the ensuing list, I will attempt to rank whom I think are the 10 greatest in history, with respect to eras, longevity, legend, and shear greatness.
Before we get going, I'd like to name a few who did not make the cut.
Eppa Rixey: Split his career between "dead" and "live" ball eras, won 20 games four times and gained Hall Of Fame induction in 1963.
Tom Glavine: 305-game winner in a high-octane, offensive era. Won 2 Cy Youngs, and will be a first-ballot Hall Of Famer. A true model of consistency, and the '95 World Series MVP to boot!
Lefty Gomez: Twice won the league's "pitcher's triple crown" by leading his league in ERA, wins, and strikeouts in 1934 and 1937. Seven-time All-Star, and Hall Of Famer in 1972.
Herb Pennock: Winner of 240 games. Won the World Series with three different teams, and sported a career 5-0 World Series record. 1948 Hall Of Fame inductee.
This is an impressive list of pitchers, and they didn't even make the list. Now, let's see who did.
10. Babe Ruth: Boston Red Sox, 1914-1919.
Before he was the greatest hitter, Ruth was the greatest lefty of his time.
When the subject of "greatest player of all time" comes up, there should be no doubt.
Yes, Mays, Aaron, Robinson, Mantle, DiMaggio, Williams, Jackson, Collins, Speaker, et al. were all wonderful ballplayers. However, none of them pitched as well.
Not only was Babe Ruth a pitcher, he was the premier left-handed pitcher of his time.
Though he only compiled 94 lifetime victories, his exploits from his Red Sox days are now legendary.
Let us begin with a lifetime ERA of 2.28, consecutive 20-win seasons in 1916 and 1917, and a career World Series mark of 3-0, with an anorexic ERA of 0.87.
The World Series marks include a then-record of 29 consecutive scoreless World Series innings.
However, as sportswriter Bill Broeg once said, "To try to capture Babe Ruth with cold statistics would be like trying to keep up with him on a night out."
He was, simply put, the greatest ballplayer that ever lived. Much of that has to do with his torrid abilities as a lefty pitcher.
9. Whitey Ford: New York Yankees, 1950, 1953-67.
Whitey Ford's .690 lifetime winning percentage is the highest of all Hall Of Fame hurlers.
He was undersized at 5'10" and 180 lbs soaking wet.
He did not have an overpowering fastball.
He won 20 games only twice in his career.
With all of that working against him, somehow Whitey Ford became an eight-time All-Star and the ace of the vaunted Bronx Bombers' pitching staff during their most successful era.
His .690 career winning percentage is the highest of any pitcher enshrined in Cooperstown.
When Casey Stengel managed the Yankees during the 1950s, he often held Ford out, saving him for the most important contests, explaining his win totals.
However, in 1961, new Yanks manager Ralph Houk decided to let Ford go in a regular four-man rotation.
All he did was produce a 25-4 record and come away with the Cy Young, which was still given to only one pitcher in those days.
The guy seemed to pitch long after his best stuff had been evicted from his body, and for many years, survived on the guile that he possessed in spades.
During his tenure with the Yankees, the team won an astounding 11 American League flags, and six World Series championships.
8. Eddie Plank: Philadelphia Athletics/St. Louis Browns, 1901-1917.
Plank was a model of consistency, winning 20 games eight times for the A's.
Here is a guy that gets forgotten about too often when discussing the great arms of history.
Eddie Plank pitched for Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics during their glory years in baseball's "Dead Ball Era."
During his time with the A's, the team won six pennants and three World Series Championships, and he had a very large hand in that success.
He was quiet, serious and methodical on the mound—a finesse pitcher that mixed a sidearm curve with his fastball—and had absolute pinpoint control.
The man did not become a Major Leaguer until the ripe age of 25, and still managed a then-record 327 wins as a southpaw.
Though his 2-5 World Series record seems unimpressive, he had a career Fall Classic ERA of 1.32, and his final season ERA was a paltry 1.79.
Not bad for a 41-year-old.
7. Rube Waddell: 1897, 1899-1910.
Wadell may just be the most enigmatic baseball player in history.
Oddly enough, Rube Waddell is right above teammate Eddie Plank on this list. They were teammates, but could not have possibly been more different.
It seems odd at first, because his lifetime numbers do not compare in the least. The legend of Waddell, however, will live on as long as there are baseball historians.
He possessed the deadly combination of lightning fastball and sharp-breaking curve, and a disposition that was just as intense.
Waddell practiced the ever-confident gesture of waving in his fielders, so as to strike out the side long before it was done by Satchel Paige.
Rube's behaviour was erratic at best, and sometimes could not be counted on to even show up at games that he pitched. But when he did, there were few better in history.
His 349 strikeouts in 1904 was an AL record for over 70 years, and is still the standard for lefties in the junior circuit. He led his league in strikeouts seven times, and posted a career 2.16 ERA to go along with 191 wins.
Unfortunately, his crazy lifestyle—which included wrestling alligators, chasing firetrucks and multiple marriages that he "couldn't —caught up with him, and he died in 1914 at only 38-years-old.
We are left to wonder what a pitcher like Waddell might have accomplished had he actually cared about the game.
6. Warren Spahn: Braves/Mets/Giants, 1942, 1946-65.
Though 45 years have passed since his retirement, Warren Spahn is still baseball's all time winningest lefty.
The stat sheet for Warren Spahn's career is undeniably staggering.
Eight times, he led the league in wins, winning 20 games an incredible 13 times!
He led the league in ERA three times, in strikeouts four times, and was an All-Star selection 14 times.
What is truly scary is that his career was stalled by World War II, and he did not attain his first Major League win until the advanced rookie age of 25.
Not letting that get in his way, he rattled off 362 more over the next 20 years, and finished with a career record for left-handers with 363 victories.
Spahn was an expert at changing speeds and locations of his pitches.
Former Braves' pitching coach Whitlow Wyatt once said, "He makes my job easy. Every pitch he throws has an idea behind it."
5. Carl Hubbell: New York Giants, 1928-43.
Carl Hubbel was one of the greatest, and most under-rated lefties in history.
One of only two pitchers in baseball history to attain two MVP Awards, Carl Hubbell is, unfortunately, remembered for one feat above all others.
Yes, "King Carl" struck out Ruth, Gehrig, Foxx, Simmons and Cronin in succession during the 1934 All-Star Game.
Yes, that was amazing.
He was also a nine-time All-Star, a three-time leader in wins, a three-time ERA champion, and the strikeout leader for 1937.
The most amazing feat in Hubbell's career was his unprecidented streak of 24 consecutive wins over the 1936 and 1937 seasons—a feat that will most-likely never be duplicated.
Though Dizzy Dean was more flamboyant, it was Hubbell that was the most successful pitcher of the 1930s.
His key pitch was the screwball, and no pitcher in baseball history threw it more effectively, which became evident later in life.
As an older man, Carl Hubbell walked with his left arm twisted so that his hand actually pointed away from his body—the result of throwing the pitch for so many years.
4. Steve Carlton: 1965-1988.
Carlton's four Cy Young Awards was the standard until Randy Johnson came along.
You have to be a special pitcher to attain the nickname "Lefty."
Steve Carlton was actually much more than a special pitcher. He was outstanding.
Carlton learned to hone his craft in his early years with the St. Louis Cardinals. After a 1971 trade to the Phillies, he decided it was time for the baseball world to know what he was all about.
His 1972 season still ranks as one of the greatest of all time, with a 27-10 record, 1.98 ERA and 310 strikeouts—complete with a 15-game win streak.
All of this was accomplished for a team that won a pathetic 59 games for the entire season. But when Carlton pitched, he made them the best team in baseball on those days.
He obviously won the '72 Cy Young Award, and three more followed in '77, '80 and '82.
He led his league in wins four times, ERA once, strikeouts give times, and was an All-Star selection 10 times.
Carlton possessed a strong heater and what may have been the greatest slider in the game's history.
He won World Series' with both the Cards and the Phillies, appearing in four Fall Classics in all, and had a career World Series ERA of 2.56.
Carlton was a complete ballplayer with a very dangerous pick-off move, a solid bat, and an exceptional fielding glove—once winning a Gold Glove Award for his already-full trophy case.
He was, at one point, the all-time strikeout king—going back and forth for a time with Nolan Ryan—and is still fourth on the All-Time List with 4,136 K's.
He was very reserved, did not talk to the media for eight years, and Phillies' fans could not have possibly cared less!
3. Lefty Grove: Philadelphia Athletics/Boston Red Sox, 1925-41.
Lefty Grove was perhaps the most fierce competitor in Major League history.
Robert Moses "Lefty" Grove dominated American League hitters for an entire decade.
He was the first AP American League MVP in 1931, and won exactly 300 ballgames during his illustrious career.
Grove led the AL in strikeouts for seven consecutive seasons, led the league in ERA nine times, and in wins four times.
He possessed a temper as fiery as his fastball, and nobody expected greatness from Lefty Grove quite as much as Lefty Grove.
He was the ace of the staff for the mighty Philadelphia Athletics of 1929-31—who won three consecutive pennants—and won 16 consecutive games in his MVP, 30-win season of 1931.
Arm trouble followed his trade to the Boston Red Sox, which forced him to learn how to work hitters and pitch more effectively.
Though he softened a bit later in life, it was his magnanimous intensity that helped him become one of the greatest hurlers of all time.
2. Sandy Koufax: Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers, 1955-66.
Though his career was cut short at age 30, Sandy Koufax's legend lives on.
It took Sandy Koufax six seasons to control his breathtaking fastball and sweeping curve, but when he did, a monster was unleashed on the National League.
Though his career was entirely too short, and his accumulation of only 165 wins seems relatively minuscule when compared to others, his six year span from 1961-66 was perhaps the best ever had by any hurler.
During this time, he won an MVP Award, three Cy Young Awards, led the league in wins three times, ERA five consecutive years, and strikeouts four times.
He threw a then-record four no-hit games, and his 382 strikeouts in 1965 is still a National League record.
Koufax's World Series mark of 4-3 is seriously misleading when one considers his minute 0.95 ERA. And his dominance over the powerful Yankees in the '63 Classic included two complete game victories and a 15 strikeout performance in Game one.
Sadly, amidst his dominance, he suffered from a severely arthritic pitching elbow. This led to a decision to leave the game following his amazing Cy Young Award winning '66 campaign.
We are left to only guess at the accomplishments Koufax may have attained with but five more seasons.
Ask 10 "Baby Boomers" who was the greatest pitcher of all time, and at least nine of them will say Sandy Koufax.
1. Randy Johnson: Mariners/Astros/Diamondbacks/Yankees/Giants, 1988-2009.
Johnson's numbers are even more impressive when one considers the era in which he pitched.
One of the tallest Major League players in history at 6'10", Randy Johnson took intimidation to a whole new level.
Combining a nearly 100-mph fastball with a devastating slider, Johnson also took the dominance that was Sandy Koufax and stretched it out for more than a decade.
He led his league in strikeouts nine times, topping the magical 300 mark an astounding six times.
He led his league in wins once, in ERA four times, and won the Cy Young Award five times—a record for left-handers.
With that said, and all of his impressive accomplishments, why is Randy Johnson tops on this list?
Well, aside from Hubbell and Grove, Johnson is the only man on this list that pitched during a decidedly offensive era.
The steroid era was also laden with band-box ballparks, baseballs that took off like rabbits, and many hitters that enjoyed unnatural advantages.
Through all of this, the most feared performer in baseball—offensive or defensive—was "The Big Unit," Randy Johnson.
His career ERA of 3.29 is outstanding considering the offensive output of the '90s and '00s, and his 4875 career strikeouts are other-worldly, considering his 4135 innings pitched.
Personally, I've never been a fan of Randy Johnson as a person, and I've always been more a fan of the old-timers. But when one considers the eras, and the dominance therein, there really is no other choice for our No. 1 lefty than the Unit.
This is my list. As always, I'd love to hear your input and suggestions. Thanks for reading!