The final games of the all-time winners

A little bit ago I put together a list of href="http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/the-final-at-bats-of-the-great-sluggers/">how
the game’s leading sluggers closed out their careers, and found that many
of them bowed out with feeble grounders and pop-ups. Continuing the thought by
looking at how the pitchers who won at least 270 games (they’re all retired)
did in their last mound appearances turns up a similar pattern of struggle.

I set the bar at 270 games because it’s 9/10ths of 300 wins, the same way that
450 homers, the bar for my earlier list, is 9/10ths of 500 homers. One thing
you notice is that 34 pitchers have reached 270 wins, while 33 hitters have
reached 450 homers: this could be a coincidence, or it could point to a general
law governing how many players can reach career statistical landmarks.

Nine of the 34 pitchers wound up their careers
before 1920, in a season not covered by Retrosheet’s not-quite exhaustive
compilation of major league box scores, and I didn’t make the effort of hunting
down newspaper coverage of their last games, so they’re not included here. But,
here’s the list of what the 25 other pitchers did, with a few notes on their
careers added in when warranted. It’s arranged in descending order, from Cy
Young
and his 511 wins to Burleigh Grimes and Mike Mussina and their 270 wins
apiece.

 

Cy Young (511 wins)

Brooklyn Superbas (aka Dodgers) 13, Boston
Rustlers (aka Braves) 3: Oct. 6, 1911: Young starts the second game of a
doubleheader to end the season and pitches 6.2 innings, allowing 11
runs on 11 hits, including eight straight hits with one out in the seventh
inning, which gives him the loss, for a 4-5 record, and provides “the signal
for Young’s retirement,” as The New York Times writes.

Young does get a single and sacrifice in his three
times at bat. I can’t tell if all 11 runs were earned, but all eight in the
seventh were, and three runs scored in the second inning on two hits, a walk,
error, and sacrifice fly.

Walter Johnson (417 wins)

Senators 10, Browns 7: href="http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/WS1/WS1192709220.shtml">Sept.
22, 1927: Johnson starts and pitches 3.1 innings, allowing six runs
(five earned) and striking out two Browns. But he also hits a solo homer in
his final at-bat; Tris Speaker replaces him as a pinch-hitter after Johnson is
pulled for reliever Bobby Burke.

Pete Alexander (373 wins)

Braves 5, Phillies 1: href="http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/BSN/BSN193005280.shtml">May 28,
1930: Alexander comes in to relieve Phil Collins to start the seventh
inning, and pitches the eighth as well, allowing two earned runs and one homer.

Christy Mathewson (373 wins)

Reds 10, Cubs 8: Sept. 4, 1916: At href="http://miscbaseball.wordpress.com/2009/09/06/opening-up-weeghman-park-wrigley-field-in-1914/">recently-opened
Wrigley Field, Mathewson pitches his one and only game for the Reds (who
he’s also managing), after the Giants had traded him and Edd Roush in July.
It’s a complete game, which he wins despite allowing the eight runs, all
earned, and 15 hits.

It’s also the last game for Mordecai “Three Finger”
Brown, who pitches all nine innings while allowing 19 hits, and goes 2-for-4 off
Matty, with two runs scored; Matty goes 3-for-5 off Brown, with one run scored.
Given that this was a staged final showdown between Matty and Three Finger, and
Matty had last pitched in July or earlier, the abundance of scoring isn’t
surprising.

Warren Spahn (363 wins)

Reds 17, Giants 2: href="http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/SFN/SFN196510010.shtml">Oct.
1, 1965: Spahn comes on in relief of Gaylord Perry (Bobby Bolin had started
the game) in the middle of the seventh inning, and allows a walk, gets credit
for an out when a base runner is thrown out at home trying to score on an error
by his third baseman, and allows a run-scoring single by pitcher Sammy Ellis.
He’s charged with one unearned run.

href="http://miscbaseball.wordpress.com/2009/06/07/warren-spahn-in-retirement/">Looking
back on his career, Spahn said, “The consensus of everyone in baseball was
that I played a year too long. Maybe I did. But I honestly thought I could
still be a winner.”

Greg Maddux (355 wins)

Phillies 5, Dodgers 1: href="http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/LAN/LAN200810150.shtml">Oct.
15, 2008: Maddux pitches the third and fourth innings in relief of Chad
Billingsley. He allows two unearned runs and strikes out three.

Roger Clemens (354 wins)

Indians 6, Yankees 4: href="http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NYA/NYA200710070.shtml">October
7, 2007: Clemens starts and pitches 2.1 innings, allowing three
runs and walking two Indians. His last batter is Victor Martinez, who strikes
out.

Steve Carlton (329 wins)

Indians 10, Twins 2: href="http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/MIN/MIN198804230.shtml">April 23,
1988: Carlton starts and pitches five innings, allowing nine runs (eight earned)
and two homers while walking three Indians, to earn the loss and an 0-1 season
record. He’s relieved by Joe Niekro after allowing two hits and a walk to start
the sixth inning.

The Twins release Carlton five days later.

Nolan Ryan (324 wins)

Mariners 7, Rangers 4: href="http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/SEA/SEA199309220.shtml">Sept.
22, 1993: Ryan starts and pitches to six batters, getting none of them out.
Dann Howitt hits a grand slam after a single and three walks; Ryan href="http://miscbaseball.wordpress.com/2010/01/25/nolan-ryans-final-start/">leaves
the game with an injury and the loss and a 5-5 record after reaching a 3-1
count on Dave Magadan; Magadan’s walk is charged to Ryan.

Don Sutton (324 wins)

Reds 6, Dodgers 0: href="http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/CIN/CIN198808090.shtml">Aug. 9,
1988: Sutton starts and pitches seven innings, giving up six runs (five
earned), and two homers, earning the loss and a 3-6 record. He’s relieved by
Jesse Orosco for the Reds’ last at-bat, but Sutton leaves the game with a
swinging strikeout of Eric Davis to end the seventh.

Phil Niekro (318 wins)

Giants 15, Braves 6: href="http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/ATL/ATL198709270.shtml">Sept.
27, 1988: Niekro starts. After three shutout
innings and a 5-0 lead through three, he fails to get any of five Giants batters
out in the fourth, and leaves after walking Kevin Mitchell to load the
bases. An ensuing Candy Maldonado grand slam means Niekro gets charged with the
runs that all five of his batters scored. He gets a no-decision.

href="http://miscbaseball.wordpress.com/2009/05/16/phil-niekro-and-tommy-john-part-i/">Afterward,
Niekro says, “I was not embarrassed because I got beat around out there.
I’ve done that before.”

Gaylord Perry (314 wins)

Angels 3, Royals 0: href="http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/KCA/KCA198309210.shtml">Sept.
21, 1983: Perry starts and pitches five innings, allowing three runs to get
the loss and a 7-14 record.

Tom Seaver (311 wins)

Blue Jays 6, Red Sox 4: href="http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/TOR/TOR198609190.shtml">Sept.
19, 1986: Seaver starts and pitches four innings, allowing three runs to
get the loss and a 7-13 record. Dave Stieb gets the win for the Blue Jays.

Seaver had been traded by the White Sox on July
29, about a year after href="http://miscbaseball.wordpress.com/2009/02/17/august-4-1985/">getting his
300th win.

Tom Glavine (305 wins)

Cubs 11, Braves 7: href="http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/ATL/ATL200808140.shtml">Aug.
14, 2008: Glavine starts and pitches four innings, allowing seven runs and
two homers to get the loss. He does draw a walk in his final at-bat, though.

Glavine wound up 2008 with a 2-4 record and 5.54 ERA, numbers identical to
those he posted in 1987, his rookie year.

Randy Johnson (303 wins)

Giants 4, Padres 3: href="http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/SDN/SDN200910040.shtml">Oct.
4, 2009: Johnson pitches the seventh inning in relief, allowing one
unearned run and striking out two Padres, including his final batter, Adrian Gonzalez. The unearned run ties the game at 3, so Johnson’s charged with a
blown save, but the Giants win 4-3, in 10.

In the 11 games after getting his 300th win, Johnson pitched 38 innings, six
of them in starts, went 3-2, and allowed 21 runs, 19 of them earned, for a 4.50
ERA. He also struck out 30 batters.

Lefty Grove (300 wins)

A’s 7, Red Sox 1: href="http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/PHA/PHA194109282.shtml">Sept.
28, 1941: In the second game of a doubleheader, Grove starts and pitches
one inning, allowing three A’s runs to get the loss and a 7-7 record.

In the six games after getting his 300th win, Grove pitched 24 innings, all
of them in starts, went 0-3, and allowed 26 runs, 19 of them earned, for a 7.13
ERA.

Early Wynn (300 wins)

Indians 7, Angels 6: href="http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/LAA/LAA196309130.shtml">Sept.
13, 1963: In a game played at Dodger Stadium, Wynn pitches to two batters
in the sixth inning in relief of Jack Kralick, allowing an Indians single and then getting a line out.

In the 15 games following href="http://miscbaseball.wordpress.com/2009/07/05/early-wynns-300th-win/">his
300th win, Wynn made one start, went 0-1, picked up one save, pitched 27.1 innings, and allowed five runs for a 1.65 ERA.

Tommy John (288 wins)

Yankees 8, Angels 6: href="http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NYA/NYA198905250.shtml">May 25,
1989: John starts and pitches 5.1 innings, allowing five runs and
two homers (both hit by Bill Schroeder). Dale Mohorcic will blow the 5-3 lead
John left him with but get the win nonetheless.

Somewhat incredibly, John, href="http://miscbaseball.wordpress.com/2009/05/16/the-end-of-tommy-johns-career/">at
46, had been the Yankees’ Opening Day starter to begin the 1989 season.

Bert Blyleven (287 wins)

Rangers 9, Angels 5: href="http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/CAL/CAL199210040.shtml">Oct.
4, 1992: Blyleven starts and pitches 4.2 innings, allowing six runs
on 12 hits for the loss and an 8-12 record on the season’s final day. Kevin Brown gets the win, and Kenny Rogers relieves Brown for two innings before Todd
Burns closes out the game for Texas.

Robin Roberts (286 wins)

Pirates 9, Cubs 1: href="http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/PIT/PIT196609030.shtml">Sept.
30, 1966: Roberts pitches the eighth inning in relief of Ken Holtzman,
allowing the first four Pirates to reach and score, the last three on a Willie
Stargell homer, before recovering to get three outs.

Ferguson Jenkins (284 wins)

Phillies 5, Cubs 2: href="http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/CHN/CHN198309260.shtml">Sept.
26, 1983: Jenkins pitches the ninth inning in relief, allowing two runs on
a Joe Lefebvre homer that scores Mike Schmidt.

Jim Kaat (283 wins)

Cardinals 13, Pirates 6: href="http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/PIT/PIT198307010.shtml">July 1,
1983: Kaat comes in with two out in the eighth inning and retires the last
four Pirates batters after allowing a single by Dave Parker.

Red Ruffing (273 wins)

Red Sox 7, White Sox 5: href="http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/BOS/BOS194709152.shtml">Sept.
15, 1947: Ruffing starts and pitches seven innings, allowing seven runs and
three Red Sox homers to get the loss and a 3-5 record.

Ruffing had started out as an outfielder, but href="http://miscbaseball.wordpress.com/2009/01/31/red-ruffings-death-in-1986/">switched
to pitcher after losing four toes from his left foot in a mining accident
as a teenager. Nonetheless, he hit over .300 in several seasons, and from 1928
through 1932 was a well above average batter.

Burleigh Grimes (270 wins)

Dodgers 2, Pirates 1: href="http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/BRO/BRO193409200.shtml">Sept.
20, 1934: Grimes pitches a perfect eighth inning in relief for Waite Hoyt.

In
1985
, Grimes will say of a suggested comparison between himself and Dwight
Gooden, “I wouldn’t put myself in that class.”

Mike Mussina (270 wins)

Yankees 6, Red Sox 2: href="http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/BOS/BOS200809281.shtml">Sept.
28, 2008: Mussina starts and pitches six innings, allowing no runs and
three hits to get the win and a 20-9 record. His final pitch produces a double
play grounder from Dustin Pedroia.

 

The great sluggers cumulatively produced a woeful 6-for-26 with three walks
in their final at-bats. These 25 pitchers did even worse in
their final games. They cumulatively pitched 83.2 innings, and posted a
2-10 record. They allowed 91 earned runs (assuming that one of Cy Young’s 11
runs allowed was unearned), for a 9.79 ERA. Sixteen of them made starts in
their final game, with the other nine pitching in relief. Mussina was the only
starter to allow fewer than three runs, and it would be hard to improve on
either his six shutout innings or him obtaining two outs with his final pitch.

The generally ugly showings summarized above hint that at least a few of
these 25 pitchers got the message from their final performances that it was
better not to come back next year (all but six of them had their last game in
the season’s final month), and so they left the field forever. Presumably the
cumulative numbers would improve somewhat after adding in the nine missing
pitchers from the dead-ball era, but my guess is that many of those nine also
left the stage as losing pitchers.

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Comments

  1. Andrew said...

    Eight days after Walter Johnson’s last start, he made his final MLB appearance—he was a pinchhitter in the Senators/Yankees 1927 season finale where Babe Ruth hit his 60th homer.

  2. Michael S said...

    I believe Seaver left his last game because he’d suffered a broken leg.  He’d been generally effective that year—ERA+ 100 with the White Sox, 111 with Boston, 106 overall—and certainly would have been on the postseason roster if not injured.  I’m sure a lot of Mets fans would have had their heads explode if they’d had to choose between rooting for the club or the Franchise in October.

  3. Philip said...

    Nice research. Obviously no Billy Chapel stories there.

    Or maybe at least one came close?

    According to Wikipedia, Eddie Plank (326 wins) pitched a complete game, 11-inning, 1-0 loss for the Browns against Walter Johnson and the Senators on August 6, 1917.

    Too bad The Big Train had that PH appearance. Would have made a nice trivia question answer along with Ted Williams: ‘‘Which Hall of Famers hit homeruns in their final at-bats?’‘

    Other notables’ finales:

    Sandy Koufax shut out the Phillies for 8 innings before giving up 3 runs in the 9th. Dodgers won, 6-3. Sandy struck out 10, ending the 1966 season at 27-9.

    But he did pitch in the World Series that year, too. He left after 6 IP, giving up 4 runs (1 earned), as Jim Palmer and the Orioles took Game 2 of their 4-game sweep, 6-0.

    Palmer and Bob Feller just missed Chris’ 270 win cutoff. Both got beat around in their final appearance.

    In his final game, Whitey Ford pitched the 1st inning, gave up a run and ended up the losing pitcher when Jim Bouton gave up 5 in relief against the Tigers in 1967.

    Andy Pettitte’s finale will now be Game 3 of the 2010 ALCS, losing to Cliff Lee and the Texas Rangers.

    Eddie Cicotte, in his final game before being suspended for his part in the Black Sox scandal, kept Chicago in the 1920 pennant race, improving his record to 21-10 by pitching a complete game, 7-hit, 8-1 victory over the visiting Tigers.

    In one final appearance as a pitcher, Babe Ruth threw a complete game victory over the Red Sox, Oct. 1, 1933, giving up 12 hits in a 6-5 victory at Yankee Stadium. He also hit his 34th home run of the season. A 9-inning game with 22 hits and 11 walks by both clubs that somehow only took 1:38 to play.
    http://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/1933/B10010NYA1933.htm

  4. Arne Christensen said...

    That’s what I was thinking about Johnson; the Senators had such a nice finish for him as a batter, and then they ruined it by sending him up in the 9th inning of that game. From the box score, it looks like maybe the Senators had a man on and hoped he’d hit another homer to tie that game at 4:
    http://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/1927/B09300NYA1927.htm

    And he did hit .348/.388/.522 in 1927, better than he pitched: 5-6, 5.10 ERA.

  5. Mr. Red said...

    September 22, 1927 was a busy last day for sports greats.  Jack Dempsey fought for the last time on the very same day.

  6. Philip said...

    Arne, did you happen to notice who hit his 60th home run of the season in Walter Johnson’s last game?

    Some other little known trivia about Johnson.

    He married the daughter of a Nevada congressman. He’d later run for Congress himself, narrowly losing the general election.

    The Pirates had the opportunity to sign Johnson to a contract during spring training in 1907 if they’d merely have spent a $9 train ticket to get him to Hot Springs, Arkansas. But manager Fred Clarke told the scout he didn’t have the time to look at Johnson before leaving camp for the start of the season. The Senators then got a chance and signed him.

    Pittsburgh did win pennants and the World Series in 1909 and 1925. The also finished behind the pennant leader by 10 games or fewer 5 times between those championships. The Pirates almost assuredly would have won several more pennants with Johnson in their rotation.

    Johnson was ready to jump to the Federal League in 1915. In a letter to Johnson denying him a raise, Washington club president Ben Minor said, ‘‘You had a poor season in 1914, but we are not cutting your salary (of $12,000).’’ Johnson had won 28 games and threw 10 shutouts in that ‘poor season.’

    With Johnson rightly upset, Joe Tinker of the Chicago Whales quickly signed him to a salary of $16,000, plus a $10,000 bonus.

    Senators manager Clark Griffith (who at that point only owned about 10% of the club) was incensed that Minor wrote that letter against his advise. He then went out trying to get Johnson back. He did, getting Johnson to accept a matching salary and arranged with Tinker to even let Johnson keep the $10K bonus.

    When AL president Ban Johnson refused to use league funds to make restitution to Tinker, Griffith sought out White Sox owner Charles Comiskey. Why did Comiskey end up putting up the money? Because as Griffith explained, it would help keep Johnson out of Chicago.

    source: Shirley Povich, ‘‘The Big Train’’

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