Baseball is far more than a game, it is a lifestyle. Since the dawn of the early games in the mid 1800’s to the formation of the Major League in the late 1800’s to modern day baseball has gained steam and popularity around the world since its invention. Commonly attributed to Abner Doubleday, the game of baseball has actually been around in various forms much longer than that. Originally a modified version of the game Cricket, baseball evolved to the game we see today, complete with infield fly rules, double pickoffs and instant replay. But one constant through the evolution of the game has been the position of the pitcher. Standing on a mound 60 feet and 6 inches from home plate, the pitcher has what is possibly the most important job in the game: to keep opposing hitters from getting on base. As the game has evolved, so have pitchers, and here is a list of ten of the greatest of all time.
10. Christy Matthewson
Known perhaps for his demeanor as well as his ability, Christy Matthewson, or otherwise known as ‘Matty’, was one of the games earliest and best pitchers. Compiling a 373 win career with an average ERA (earned run average) of just 2.13, Matthewson was certainly one of the most statistically successful pitchers of all time. The only knock on Matty is that he played during what is called “the dead-ball era”, a time when there was little in the way of run scoring and thus ERA’s were often quite low, even for less talented pitchers. Considered the inventor of the Screwball (or as he called it “the Fadeaway”) Matthewson left an impression on baseball that cannot be denied. A war hero who never pitched on Sundays, Matthewson passed away of tuberculosis at the age of 45.
9. Nolan Ryan
As for longevity, Nolan Ryan was one of the most amazing pitchers ever. During a record 27 year major league career spanning just four teams, Ryan compiled 324 wins and an ERA of 3.19. What Ryan is really known for however are his strikeouts, all 5,714 of them. Regularly hitting over 100MPH on the radar gun with his fastball, Ryan also had a devastatingly fast 12-6 curve that would seem to drop off a table in front of the hitters eyes. Even into his 40’s Ryan was topping 100MPH and become the oldest pitcher to ever throw a no-hitter in 1991 against a Toronto Blue Jays team that won the East that year and won the World Series back to back the next two. Now a majority owner and CEO of the Texas Rangers, Ryan at 66 is still as much a part of the game as he ever was.
8. Warren Spahn
Another pitcher who was exceptionally effective even late in his career, Warren Spahn was a left-handed pitcher who won 363 games and had a career ERA of 3.09. Starting his career in 1942 with the Boston Braves, Spahn was the 1957 Cy Young award and was a runner up three times during the period when only one award was given in baseball. With more wins than any other lefty and more wins than any pitcher since the “live-ball” era began in the 1920’s, Spahn is recognized as easily one of the best in history.
7. Lefty Grove
Starting his career in 1925 for the Philadelphia Athletics, Lefty Grove was one of the best left-handed pitchers in history and led categories his entire career. Twice winning the Pitchers Triple Crown of leading the league in Wins, Strikeouts and ERA, he was the beloved Ace of the Athletics ‘Dynasty’ teams. Posting a losing record only once in his career (his rookie year), Lefty also twice in the same year struck out the side on just nine pitches, leading sportswriter Arthur “Bugs” Baer to write “Grove could throw a lamb chop past a wolf.”
6. Pete Alexander
Grover Cleveland “Pete” Alexander made his debut for the Philadelphia Phillies during the 1911 season and proceeded to become one of the best pitchers in baseball history. Despite having a well known battle with alcohol and struggling from physical and emotional issues stemming from being drafted in 1918 and serving in The Great War, Alexander still won a Pitchers Triple Crown in 1920, pitching for the Chicago Cubs. Tied for first in the National League record book with Christy Matthewson in wins and holding the NL record for shutouts with 90, Alexander is one of the all time greats of the mound.