What do Mike Piazza and I have in common? We both vehemently dislike Roger Clemens, and I cleaned that up. But Clemens recently became only the 21st. pitcher in history to win 300 games. The last pitcher to accomplish this feat was Nolan Ryan 13 years ago.
In this age of pitching "specialists", shorter stints for starting pitchers, and less frequent starts for pitchers, we will see fewer and fewer 300-game winners. There are some big-name pitchers in the "bigs", but their respective ages will pose a roadblock to #300. As a matter of fact, I’ll make the prediction now that only one, Greg Maddux, can be counted on to do it; at this writing, he has 276 wins at 37 years of age, and he pitches for a team that gets him the run production he needs to win.
In order of wins of active pitchers as of this writing, Tom Glavine has 247 at 37, Randy Johnson has 225 at 39, Mike Mussina has 189 at 34, Curt Schilling has 159 at 36, and Pedro Martinez has 156 at 31. So don’t be surprised if Maddux is the last one to turn the trick of 300 W’s.
Story of the Week
Dressed for battle, he had the kind of game face only a football coach could love. With a balding head, a snarl on his lips, and his upper front teeth on a shelf in his locker, Ray Nitschke was capable of scaring opponents and teammates alike. Yet, Vince Lombardi was so smitten with his middle linebacker that he once walked up to Nitschke after a game and kissed him on the cheek.
Nitschke was the extension of Lombardi on the football field, tough, emotional, and totally consumed by the sport and the game. He played with passion, and he practiced with it as well, much to the chagrin of other Green Bay Packers. Guard Jerry Kramer recalled, "He seemed incapable of letting up. He was always grabbing people, hitting people, throwing elbows. Ray always made team practice sessions interesting."
Intensity was the only way Nitschke felt he could survive. He felt that he should practice diligently, and play the games the same way. By his own admission, he came to play every play, and was always mentally prepared to do so. And Lombardi loved it.
Away from football, he was an altogether different person. Per Kramer again, "Actually, Ray was two completely different people. On the field of play, he was an animal. But off the field, he was quite gentle, quite sensitive, almost professorial."
Bart Starr, Hall-of-Fame quarterback and teammate, referred to Nitschke as "a classic example of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." Opponents could relate to the latter. Shaped by a hard life (his father died when he was 5, his mother when he was 13), Nitschke was driven to succeed.
He was the quarterback of the Green Bay defense through five NFL championship seasons and Super Bowl triumphs in I and II. At 6-3, 225, he was obviously not the prototype-size for a middle linebacker, but he was a ferocious hitter and adept at pass coverage (25 career interceptions). And yet, surrounded by other great players, Nitschke was selected to the Pro Bowl only once during a 15-year career. He never considered individual honors as important as the respect of his peers.
A third-round draft choice from Illinois, Nitschke credited virtually all of his success to Lombardi. The coach took control of the downtrodden Packers in 1959, the linebacker’s second season in the NFL, and transformed them into title contenders in two years with a mixture of affection and intimidation. Under Lombardi’s guidance, Ray Nitschke reserved his wild side for the football field, and helped the Packers make history.
You can see nasty Ray Nitschke in the movie, "The Longest Yard." He can also be seen at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Last Week’s Trivia
What father and two sons played on the same pro sports team at the same time? The greatest hockey player I’ve ever seen, Gordie Howe, joined his sons, Mark and Marty, on the Houston Aeros of the WHA.
Trivia Question of the Week
What former major league baseball player was the star of a popular action television series after his playing career ended? What was his hit tv series that ran from 1958-1963? See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.