Tuesday, July 28, 2009

It’s Official: The Extinction of The Complete Game in Major League Baseball

Texas Rangers team president Nolan Ryan predicted in spring training that his starting pitchers will finish what they started this season. He is fighting a losing battle in baseball, as no team wants to run the risk of getting their star pitchers injured by throwing more than 100 pitches every fifth day. They’re considered heavily invested commodities by team owners, who are paying them multi-million dollars to perform on the field for an entire season.

Ryan is looking for a Jack Morris-type to lead his starting rotation, as he completed 175 games in 18 seasons, and Ryan himself, completed 222 games in his 27-year major league career. Last year, the entire major league recorded only 136 complete games total, as C.C. Sabathia and Roy Halladay led each league with a combined 19 complete games. Ryan’s team only compiled five complete games from the entire staff last season.

On July 2, 1963 at Candlestick Park, the greatest pitching duel in major league history was played on this date. Juan Marichal of the San Francisco Giants and Warren Spahn of the Atlanta Braves each pitched 16 innings of scoreless baseball, and by some written accounts, both pitchers were estimated to have thrown over 200 pitches in the game. Their mentality was never to seek assistance from the bullpen, as it was their job being the ace of the pitching staff to lead their team to a victory.

Today’s hurlers work on a five-man pitching rotation, as their pitching coach will sit in the dugout with a counter and account for every pitch thrown in the game. When the count is approaching the 100-pitch mark, the phone will ring in the bullpen for another pitcher to begin warming up. Fearing injury to their treasured prize, the manager will stroll out to the mound and remove the starting pitcher from the game.
The athletes of today are supposed to be bigger, stronger, and faster than the players of yesteryear. So, why the hell can’t they complete more games?

Its how the game is being taught at the minor-league level, as the team’s goal for starting pitchers is to earn a quality start (three or less runs allowed in six innings). We’re not teaching them the art of pitching out of trouble, as the moment two or more hitters reach base, everyone is looking toward the bullpen for help.

The Advent of the relief pitcher has made the complete game a rare feat in baseball today. Unfortunately, the darkest day in baseball came when the save became an official stat for the 1969 season, and the specialty player became the norm in the sport.

Written By Thomas Conroy