But if we give him the heave-ho — let's do — my vote goes to Greg Maddux. Let the stat geeks howl about Cy Young's 511 wins or Walter Johnson's 417 — fans were still pulling up to the ballpark in buckboard carriages when those two pitched. But if you believe baseball is far more competitive in this era, it's hard to argue against Maddux with his 355 wins, 3.16 ERA and four Cy Young Awards.
He's also the only pitcher to win at least 15 games in 17 straight seasons. He was so dominant that between 1992 and 2001, his ERA was a full run or more below the league average each year.
Nobody did it better
He doesn't stand 6-10, and he never sniffed 100 mph with his fastball. He doesn't have 511 wins or 5,714 strikeouts. He never had a week like the one a lefty had in the 1965 World Series.
He doesn't have a great nickname like "The Big Train," "Rapid Robert" or "The Rocket." But as a pitcher, nobody did it better than Greg Maddux.
The art of pitching is to execute your pitch, hit your catcher's mitt and keep batters off balance. That's what Maddux did throughout a career in which he won 355 games and compiled a 3.16 ERA despite working in the steroid era. Maybe he was never as overpowering as Randy Johnson, Cy Young, Nolan Ryan, Sandy Koufax, Walter Johnson, Bob Feller or Roger Clemens. But, man, could he pitch.
'Big Train' the man
Juan C. Rodriguez
According to the official Walter Johnson website, Ty Cobb after facing the "Big Train" for the first time said: "I watched him take that easy windup — and then something went past me that made me flinch. I hardly saw the pitch, but I heard it. Every one of us knew we'd met the most powerful arm ever turned loose in a ballpark."
The surly Cobb didn't seem the type to heap praise on just anybody, especially a pitcher.
Comparing pitchers from different eras is problematic. You can't definitively say Johnson or Cy Young was better than Roger Clemens or Greg Maddux.
One of the greatest hitters ever thought Johnson was the best. Anecdotal evidence can be as powerful as the numbers.
Don't forget the Babe
Los Angeles Times
In Game 2 of the 1916 World Series, Boston's George Herman Ruth took the mound against the Brooklyn Robins. The game lasted 14 innings. And Ruth, a southpaw, pitched them all, giving up just six hits as the Red Sox won 2-1.
His record for the longest complete game in World Series history still stands, and that game highlighted a dominant 23-12 season for Ruth, who led the American League in starts (40), earned-run average (1.75) and shutouts (nine).
Ruth would stack up a 78-40 record from 1915 to 1918, but not long after somebody figured he'd be better as an everyday player. What could've been…