Growing up, I always thought of 3000 strikeouts and 300 wins as the pitchers equivalents of 3000 hits and 500 home runs. Now, though, I get the feeling that it’s not necessarily the case. I don’t really have any single point that proves it, just a hunch built around small things. When a player gets close, the countdown to 3000 strikeouts gets some love, but not as much as those three. No one bothers playing “what if” about Mike Mussina reaching 3000 strikeouts like they do with 300 wins, despite the fact that he was even closer to the former than the latter (2813 K’s versus only 270 W’s). Everyone freaked out when Craig Biggio became the first (clean) 3000 hit guy in forever to not waltz in to Cooperstown two years ago, but there was no similar panic about his fellow ballot debut Curt Schilling struggling despite becoming the only (again, clean) 3000 strikeout guy not in.
The funny thing is, 3000 strikeouts is the rarest of those four milestones. We’ve got twenty-four 300-win guys, twenty-six 500-homer guys, and Ichiro will be 3000 hit guy number thirty next season. But 3000 strikeouts? There have only been sixteen of those. Even when you account for the number of 300 win pitchers who were deadball guys*, it’s pretty even; since Walter Johnson (the first to 3000 strikeouts and a 300 winner himself), there have been fifteen 3000 K pitchers and fourteen 300 win pitchers.
*Fun fact: seven of the 300 win club, or over one quarter, reached the mark before the first World Series was played.
Even with the mismatch in appreciation, I think the 3000 strikeout milestone is important. And, since it’s much more closely tied to skill than wins, it seemed like the more sensible pitching milestone to measure like I have with hits and homers. One thing that surprised me as I did research was the relative modernity of the club. Six members have retired in the past decade; everyone in the club except Walter Johnson and Bob Gibson started in the ‘60s or later (and Bob Gibson just misses, starting in 1959).