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San Francisco Giants Roundtable: Reflections on the Big Unit's 300th Win

Bleacher ReportSenior Writer IJune 17, 2009

For the latest edition of the San Francisco Giants Roundtable, we decided to revisit Randy Johnson’s historic accomplishment from a couple weeks ago.

Now that the furor over the Big Unit’s feat has died down and baseball fans have had some calm to digest the latest entrant in the 300 Wins Club, we took a look at whether RJ will be the last pitcher so blessed, what it meant to the Gents, how the big lefty’s signing has worked out for the franchise, and basically all things Randy Johnson.

Enjoy.

ACZON

Some people came out and criticized the Giants front office for signing Randy Johnson before the 2009 season. They clamored for Brian Sabean and Bill Neukom, asking them, “How does a one-year contract for a 45-year-old lefty fit into the ‘Giants Way’? And how does it stay parallel with the team philosophy of getting younger?”

To answer that, one has to understand the idea of the “Giants Way.” In an interview earlier this year, Neukom was asked what that philosophy actually is.

“In this organization you should understand that if you perform well, if you work hard and smart, and if you’ve got the skill set that matches your job, you will achieve your potential. It’s not about who you’re related to or how many years you’ve been here...it’s about how you perform that job.”

Randy Johnson had never been a Giant. He pitched against the Giants for many years, early on in the Expos organization and then many, many times with the Diamondbacks, holding an 8-8 lifetime record against the team he now calls his own.

But damn, does he know how to pitch. His accolades, cited many times, are as follows:  Johnson’s a 10-time All-Star, five-time Cy Young winner (both leagues), a World Series MVP, winner of a pitching Triple Crown in 2002, and is the second-leading compiler of strikeouts all-time.

If that’s not merit, I don’t know what is. His skill set is still there, his drive is still there, and his passion for baseball will not end when his playing career does.

The second part of the Giants Way is how you perform your job. This year, Johnson has had an up and down year, but he seems to be getting comfortable in his new ballpark.

In the beginning of the year, the Big Unit lost a couple games where he just looked old. He was walking a lot of people and was giving up a lot of home runs. Lately he’s been very consistent, efficiently getting through six innings a few different times.

Bruce Bochy has said that Johnson’s days are probably going to be the main bullpen days, being sandwiched between workhorses and should-be All-Star selections Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. But Johnson has showed that he can keep up with the young guns in the rotation, pitching a solid seven innings between two complete games and winning career game No. 301 last weekend against the Athletics.

He’s more relaxed now that the media circus is over, and getting it done on the first try was a lot of pressure off of him and the team. Remember, when Barry Bonds was going for his records, the media attention was nothing but negative to the rest of his teammates. Winning on the first try gave Johnson and the Giants a much-needed break from the constant hounding and interviews.

The Giants also have a history of being related to the 300-win club. Third place on the all-time list belongs to Grover Alexander, who won his 300th against the New York Giants in 1924.

Fourth place belongs to longtime Giant Christy Mathewson, who won 371 of 372 with the New York club. Warren Spahn won the last of his 363 wins with the Giants in 1965.

Greg Maddux won his 300th against the Giants in 2004. Tim Keefe rounds out the top 10, winning his 300th way back in 1890 as a member of the New York Giants.

Steve Carlton also pitched with the Giants very briefly, winning his 319th game and also notching his 4,000th strikeout in a Giants uniform. Mickey Welch also got his in 1890 as a member of the New York squad, beating the Brooklyn Dodgers.

I have to agree with my fellow knights on the Round Table: The underlying intention of filling seats definitely factored into Johnson’s signing. However, if you listen to him talk about it, he knew that 300 wins was well within his reach, and he has said numerous times that the Giants paid him to win the games AFTER 300. Those are the games that will help them down the stretch if they want to continue to compete.

Luckily for the Giants, those are the games that Johnson wants to pitch in. He came into this year with 295 wins, and no one signs a contract to only win five games.

He’s a competitor, and it’s rubbing off on his teammates and the young pitching staff. The Big Unit hasn’t been a Giant long, and he won’t go into the Hall of Fame wearing Orange and Black, but he’s sure giving us fans in San Francisco something to remember him by.

NUSCHLER

Randy Johnson's 300th win was a really strange experience.

For one thing, there were the much-reported rain delays that messed with baseball history. For another, most San Francisco Giants fans (I being one of them) have become unreasonably attached to the Big Unit since he signed his apparently one-and-done contract.

Incidentally, there's a hilarious little irony hidden in the historic win.

Randy was ostensibly signed so the Giants could profit from his pursuit of history. He's still a good pitcher and an invaluable wealth of pitching knowledge for the young SF fireballers (as well as Barry Zito). Nonetheless, I firmly believe the competitive edges offered by the Big Unit were secondary considerations.

That RJ has been a welcome addition to the staff's efforts toward carrying the Gents' 2009 season, I believe, is a happy accident authored by management—a best-case scenario nobody really planned on.

Consequently, it's perversely funny to me that No. 300 came on the road. Even funnier because No. 299 came in Randy's last start of a home stand. In other words, San Francisco didn't get much of a return on the purely financial side of its investment—nobody's buying tickets just for Randy until he notched 299.

And nobody in Washington's buying tickets to see Randy even then. My word, I know it was raining, but the stadium looked like my high school section final.

I'm not even exaggerating—we played in the Oakland Coliseum and had about 2,000 people in the stands (felt like a ghost town). There couldn't have been many more than that in attendance for a waterlogged Nationals game.

Even with one of the rarest of modern baseball feats hanging in the balance.

Again, no exaggeration.

It's been covered very thoroughly in popular media—the tall southpaw could be the last pitcher to join the exclusive Pitchers' Section of the 300 Club. Which would mean a cap of 24 players in a club accepting membership for over a century and still technically open—one with only six lefties and NOT including Sandy Koufax.

That's something right there, and not a small something.

The exclusive membership is just as impressive even if you, as I, believe its doors will be forced open again in the future. Because even the contrarians and I aren't delusional—most of us see one, maybe two members, and then a very long pause.

Possibly a permanent one.

Personally, I think Jamie Moyer will make it, and that's it for a long while.

Seriously, if the guy can get 10 more wins this year (with over 20 starts left), then he only needs to average 10 wins until he's 50. That sounds ludicrous, but consider Jamie won 16 games at 45 years of age.

When you're winning games at 45, it's not because of a special physical talent other than the ability to put the ball close to where you want it—anything else is long gone, and control probably sticks with a pro pitcher until the day he dies (if he had it throughout his career). At 45, you're getting it done with determination, diligence, knowledge, experience, and confidence.

The intangible stuff—and that's the stuff that usually increases with age.

So, if Moyer wants to, would it really be that much crazier to see a 50-year-old win 10 games after seeing the same man win 15-plus at 45?

I say not.

I also say Jamie will want to. He's got zero shot at the Hall of Fame as it stands.

On the other hand, if he got to 300 wins while pitching during the Steroid Era and doing it into his 50s? While pitching well for the duration and with a World Series ring that he was instrumental in winning?

First ballot.

Barring injury, and as long as he can stick with a semi-respectable offense, I think Jamie Moyer will want to win 300 and make his Hall of Fame case. And he'll do it.

But I think he's the last.

Andy Pettitte will turn 37 in about a week, is only at 221 Ws, and already flirted with retirement. Kenny Rogers is at 219, so he's done. Pedro Martinez is stuck on 214, done. John Smoltz, 210, done. Tim Wakefield, 185, done.

Then we're talking names like Bartolo Colon and Livan Hernandez, which means we're into unintentional comedy territory.

Hurlers like Roy Halladay (32 and 141 wins) or CC Sabathia (soon-to-be 29 and 122 wins) have a decent shot, but there's the rub. Winning 300 requires longevity, and who can predict that particular asset, especially in the modern Show?

It's hard enough to identify in a normal environment, let alone one where rotator cuffs and elbow ligaments are as stable as a coked-up Ron Artest. Who just got hit with a cup of beer.

But consider what I'm saying—I honestly believe the slab-toer with the best shot to follow Randy Johnson is Jamie Moyer. Jamie Moyer and then nobody for the foreseeable future.

Talk about a long shot.

That's how special the Big Unit's accomplishment was.

PENZA

To say you think Randy Johnson is going to be the last person to win 300 games isn't going to put you in any small minority.

As he said in his press conference, winning all these games just isn't about going out there and dominating on the mound. Unlike a hitter getting a record, getting wins as a pitcher has to do with a number of factors.

You could go out and deal a complete gem, but if your team doesn't score any runs or a guy in the bullpen blows it, you get nothing to show for it and maybe even lose the game.

It's just one of those things that is one of the rarest sights in the game of baseball, and there's a reason why only 24 guys have ever won 300-plus.

Over the years, Johnson has definitely changed the way he has pitched. No longer are we seeing the 95-plus fastball with a 90 mph slider on an every-game basis. His fastball these days taps out around 91, and while his slider still has pretty damn good movement, it's not thrown with the same kind of zip it once was.

Yet he still goes out and gives himself a chance to win, and that certainly is a sight to see not only because he's 45, but also the way the handling of pitching staffs have changed since he broke into the league.

If you think about it this way, you have to win an average of 15 games for 20 years, and with the way that major league teams set up rotations, that isn't exactly the easiest thing to do.

Johnson got his first win in 1988 with the Expos and had four seasons after his initial callup where he didn't reach double digits in wins—just another example of how dominant he was when he was in his prime on the hill.

Can we see any of the current crop of stud young pitchers going into their early-to-late 40s and pushing 300 wins?

I'm not sure we can.

**www.pva.org**

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