The Dissing of a 300 Game Winner

Tom Glavine has announced that he will NOT, repeat, NOT, pitch in 2009. He's not retiring, he's just not pitching in 2009. This is hardly the first time a player has made a temporizing announcement of this nature, but it is most likely the first time a 300-game winner has had to do it after being virtually kicked out of his home.

Throughout baseball history, the dissing of a 300-game winner, at least in the fashion and circumstances presented in the Glavine case, has been very rare indeed.  

There have been approximately 24, 300-game winners in baseball history. Approximately, because there are at least three other pitchers who most certainly won 300 games at the top level of their profession, but haven't been credited for same because they made the bad career move of pitching before the professional National Association was created prior to the 1871 season. (In case you're interested they are, in chronological order, Dick McBride, Al Spalding and Bobby Mathews. But that's another story.) As for the broadly recognized 23, 300-game winners prior to Glavine, some of them bounced from team to team so much in their final years, or else their careers were pretty evenly split up among a number of teams, that their circumstances are not germane to Glavine's situation… wherein he was turned out into the heat of the night (it's 95 today in Atlanta) by a team that he made famous, and vice versa. For 17 of his 22 seasons, Tom Glavine WAS the Atlanta Braves. These somewhat nomadic individuals included; Cy Young, Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, John Clarkson, Nolan Ryan, Phil Niekro, Gaylord Perry, Charlie Radbourn and Lefty Grove. The two Johnsons, Walter and Randy, don't qualify either, since the Big Train pitched his whole career for the Senators before retiring on his own, and the Big Unit is still pitching.

That leaves a dozen, 300-game winners… only one of whom was treated in a similar fashion by his long-time employers. Starting at the top, in terms of number of wins…  

Grover Cleveland Alexander's drinking problem (unlike Robert Hays in "Airplane," he could get the alcohol into his mouth – that was his problem) meant he wore out his welcome in St. Louis during the 1929 season, despite the fact that he could still pitch. In December 1929, he was traded back to his original team, the Phillies, and pitched for them until May 28, 1930. Not well, but he had his chances to win his 374th game, and break the tie with Christy Mathewson. Alex p[itched in nine games for the 1930 Phillies (three starts), and posted a 9.14 ERA in 22 innings, before he was let go, But, at least he got a chance.  

Matty, was, as is commonly-known, traded by his long-time employers, the New York Giants, on July 20, 1916, the give the fading ace a chance to manage. (And traded for two other Hall of Famers, Edd Roush and Bill McKechnie.) He had gone 3-4 for the Jints in 12 games (six starts) with an ERA slightly better than the league average. He was shelled in his only start for the Reds (eight runs), won the game (against Three Finger Brown), and then retired.

James "Pud" Galvin, long-time Pittsburgh ace, was traded from the Pirates to St. Louis in June of his final season, 1892, having gone 5-6 by the three rivers. Then, he also went 5-6 along the banks of the Mississippi , to close out his career. But, at least he had a full season to show what he could or couldn't do.

Warren Spahn. Ah, the great Warren Spahn. As previously noted, mostly likely the second best left-handed pitcher of all time. After just carrying the Milwaukee Braves for 19 seasons, he made the mistake of having a bad year in his 20th season, 1964, at the age of 43 (the same age that Tom Glavine is today). He went 6-13 with a 5.29 ERA (this one year after going 23-7 with a 2.60 ERA) and never got another chance with the Braves organization. Sound familiar? The Braves just sold his carcass outright to the Mets (at the time, the lowest form of major league life) on November 23, 1964. It must be a Braves thing… Spahn and Glavine are the only two 300-game winners to be treated in such a cavalier manner by the team with which they were so-long identified with.

Kid Nichols took an unusual career path. After 12 years with the Boston Beaneaters (who would later become the Boston Braves and thence the Milwaukee Braves and the Atlanta Braves), and shortly before the start of the 1902 season, Nichols decided to become the player-manager of the Kansas City team in the minor Western Association. The Beaneaters then, after the fact, agreed to his release. Although he came back to the NL after two years, it wasn't with Boston , but with the Cards and Phillies.

About a decade before Nichols ended his career with the Phillies, another great pitcher did the same thing – Tim Keefe. The long-time Giants ace was released by the Giants on July 21, 1891, subsequently signing with the Phillies three weeks later. However, Keefe at least had a chance to pitch for New York in 1891, going 2-5 in seven starts with a 5.24 ERA. That's seven more than Glavine got in 2009.

Steve Carlton was known as "The Franchise" when he pitched for the Phillies. And, in many ways, he was. However, even franchise pitchers (like Tom Glavine) get old. For Lefty that happened in 1985, when he went on the DL after going 1-8 (but with a 3.33 ERA). He came back in 1986, and made 16 starts for the Phillies, going 4-8 with a 6.18 ERA before a tearful Bill Giles announced that, "the greatest pitcher in Phillies history will no longer be pitching for the Phillies." (Yes, that's a direct quote – Phillies fans remember that as well as they remember Mike Schmidt's farewell press conference three years later.)

Another great Philadelphia pitcher, Eddie Plank, was also released by his team, the Athletics. And it was during the off-season, on Dec. 2, 1914. However, there were highly extenuating circumstances. Plank, along with the A's other ace, Charles Bender, was about to sign a contract with the outlaw Federal League, and Connie Mack released them both, with the hope that they would stay in the American League. They didn't, but it wasn't because Mack turned them out into the cold (i.e., Philly in the winter.)

Don Sutton, although he bounced around some, was a slick pitcher (throwing a slick baseball) for the Dodgers for years. For the 1988 season, he came back to the Bums, eight years after leaving and, at the age of 43, went 3-6 in 16 starts (ERA+ of 86) before he was released on Aug. 10. But at least he got those 16 starts.

An argument could be made for the dissing of another 300-game winner in the case of Tom Seaver. After years of "If It's Not Seaver, Warm Up a Reliever," the Mets traded him to Cincy in 1977, where he spent five-and-half-seasons before coming back to New York in 1983, wherein he went 9-14 with a league-average ERA. Then, in an incredible blunder, the Mets left him exposed in that era's free agent compensation pick draft, and the White Sox gladly snarfed him up. Talk about a PR disaster. He went 33-28, including his 300th win, with the Sox over the next two-plus seasons, while everyone wondered whether the Mets were just dumb, or whether there was an ulterior motive for wanting to get rid of him.

Maybe Seaver was smiling to get away from the early 80s Mets. Maybe he wasn't. Smiling Mickey Welch spent 10 years with the New York Giants in the 1880s and 1890s and, after throwing an absurd number of innings (he was over 400 three times and over 500 three times) he threw out his arm sometime in the 1890 season. The Giants still brought him back in 1891, when he went 5-9 with a 75 ERA+ in 160 innings, and even gave him a chance to start one more game in 1892, giving up nine runs in five innings, before it was decided he was through. One start isn't much, but it's one more than Tom Glavine got in 2009.

Finally, there was Early Wynn, for five years a Chicago White Sox (Sock?) Although his career was split pretty evenly between the Sox, Indians and Senators, he was certainly highly thought of in Chicago , since he led the Go-Go Sox to the 1959 World Series. However, he struggled in 1962 at the age of 42, going 7-15 with a 4.46 ERA, and the Sox subsequently released him on November 20. Released him sitting on 299 wins. You know if Bill Veeck had still been running the Pale Hose, that wouldn't have happened. However, one of Wynn's other teams, the Indians, signed him as a free agent on June 21, 1963, after he'd sat out the first third of the season. And, he did win number 300 for the Indians later that summer, and pitched pretty well in the process, a 2.28 ERA in 55 innings.

Maybe it was a bad PR move for the White Sox to release Early Wynn with 299 wins in the off-season, but the Braves selling Warren Spahn during the off-season wasn't so hot either. And, releasing Tom Glavine to potentially save a couple of million bucks was… the dissing of a 300-game winner.



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