Yankees

By The Numbers: Who Are The Greatest Pitchers Of All Time?

Walter Johnson (1887-1946), pitcher for the Washington Senators, makes a speech during the celebration of his 20th year with the team at Griffith Stadium in Washington, DC. in November 1927. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Walter Johnson (1887-1946), pitcher for the Washington Senators, makes a speech during the celebration of his 20th year with the team at Griffith Stadium in Washington, DC. in November 1927. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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By Father Gabe Costa
» More Columns

In a week or so, spring training will begin, and all will be right with the world. Usually it’s the pitchers and catchers who precede the position players to the 30 major league training sites.

Speaking of pitchers, just the other day one of my students asked me to give my opinion on the greatest pitcher, or pitchers, ever. As I mulled over his question, I began to mentally classify pitchers with respect to certain categories: various ERAs, starters, relievers, career value, peak value, southpaws, pitchers I’ve seen since 1958 (when I started to follow baseball), etc.

These are the choices I came up with. Note that I did not include Cy Young or any other pitcher who hurled before 1901:

I: 10 Greatest (Non-Relief) Right-Handed Pitchers Of All Time  

Walter Johnson

Christy Mathewson

Grover Alexander

Bob Feller

Juan Marichal

Bob Gibson

Jim Palmer

Tom Seaver

Nolan Ryan

Greg Maddux

Comment: I know these are pretty much the standard selections (especially at the beginning of the list). But the metrics support these pitchers. By the way, Nolan Ryan won 324 games — only 13 pitchers have had more victories.

II: 5 Greatest (Non-Relief) Left-Handed Pitchers Of All Time 

Lefty Grove

Carl Hubbell

Warren Spahn

Whitey Ford

Steve Carlton

Comment: Omitting Jim Kaat was tough, as was Tom Glavine. I put Koufax in a different category (Peak Value). Ford’s 236-106 record is so outstanding that I had to include him. By the way, I wonder if Babe Ruth would have made the list had he remained a pitcher.

III: Greatest Relief Pitcher Of All Time

Mariano Rivera

Comment: None necessary.

IV: Two Greatest Peak-Value Pitchers (since 1958)

Sandy Koufax

Pedro Martinez

Comment: Koufax’s streak of no-hitters in the early 1960s made him a legend. Unfortunately, an elbow condition forced his early retirement. Martinez, in a sense, was even more dominating than Koufax. Pedro’s 219-100 career won-loss record was posted through much of the steroid era!

V: Greatest Season For A Pitcher (since 1958)

Rod Guidry in 1978

Comment: He went 25-3 with nine shutouts and spearheaded one of the greatest comebacks ever. Reggie Jackson called him “the truest Yankee.”

VI: Two Pitchers I Would Choose – In Order – For A Must-Win Game (since 1958)

Whitey Ford

Bob Gibson

Comment: No one who saw these Hall of Famers on the mound would disagree with either legend; Ford, because of his mastery as the “Chairman of the Board,” and Gibson because of his tenacity.

VII: Greatest Pitching Staff Over A Decade (since 1958)

Atlanta Braves staff of the 1990s

Comment: The numbers speak for themselves. Kudos to skipper Bobby Cox and pitching coach Leo Mazzone.

Now, regarding catcher. I have to go with Yogi Berra, with all respect to Mickey Cochrane, Bill Dickey, Gabby Hartnett, Ernie Lombardi, Roy Campanella, Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Carlton Fisk, Mike Piazza, Pudge Rodriguez and all the rest. I simply have to go with Berra. 10 rings.

One last comment: Let’s lift a glass to an old left-handed catcher from St. Mary’s Industrial School in Baltimore and a former southpaw for the Red Sox. Happy 119th birthday, Babe!

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