By Jerry Beach
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Baseball history is littered with unbreakable records that were shattered and unapproachable feats that were surpassed. So to declare that something will never be attained again is to simply set oneself up to be proven wrong.
Right, Greg Maddux?
"Everybody was saying [in] '95, '96 'There'll never be another 300-game winner,'" Maddux said on Saturday afternoon. "And there's been four of them since."
With two of those 300-game winners -- Maddux and his longtime friend and Atlanta Braves teammate, Tom Glavine -- inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday, the "will there or won't there?" question regarding pitching's magic number has been asked plenty over the past several months, especially with only five active pitchers even halfway to 300 wins.
From the lowest rungs of the minor leagues through the majors, an increasingly specialized game is no longer focused on cultivating 300-win candidates. General managers, looking to protect young pitchers and hoping to curtail arm injuries, have minor league hurlers on strict pitch and innings counts throughout their rise in a system.
As 20-year-olds in 1986, Glavine and Maddux were two of 19 minor league pitchers to throw at least 185 innings as well as two of 83 hurlers to finish with at least three complete games. No minor leaguer has reached 185 innings in a season since 2007. And last year, only two pitchers recorded as many as three complete games.
Atlanta Braves broadcaster Don Sutton, who won 324 games, threw at least 200 innings in 20 of his 23 seasons. One of those three where he didn't was a year shortened by the 1981 player strike, and the other two were his final two, played at 42 and 43 years of age, respectively.
"I think [back then], you rewarded starts, you rewarded innings, you rewarded innings per start and the chance to win," Sutton said. "The carrot in front of the donkey was to go out there every fourth or fifth day and to stay out there as long as you can. That's not a carrot anymore. You get in trouble if you want to stay in the ball game now.
"And I'm not sure we have developed a collection of starters who want to argue to stay in."
Of the estimated 48,000 in attendance at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, few may have had a more nuanced perspective of the past and future of elite starting pitching than Greg Maddux's older brother, Mike, who is a former big league pitcher and the current pitching coach of the Texas Rangers.
With pitchers throwing harder than ever and the risk of injury seemingly increasing by the year -- the Rangers have employed at least six pitchers this season who have previously undergone some kind of elbow surgery -- Mike Maddux believes that teams will grow even more cautious with their big league pitchers in the coming years.
"It is more difficult, it's harder work," he said. "And harder work leads to more maximum effort. And max effort leads to maybe a shorter shelf life.
"That's why you're going to see fewer starts a year. No more 40-start seasons. Thirty-two starts a year is what you're going to see, 33. And people are going to pull the plug on guys at 100 pitches and 105 pitches."
While Glavine and Greg Maddux almost certainly won't be the final 300-game winners inducted into the Hall -- 303-game winner Randy Johnson becomes eligible in 2015 while steroid-tainted Roger Clemens, who won 354 games, has eight more chances to escape purgatory with the new rules in place -- the limitations being placed on starting pitchers make it difficult, if not impossible, to see the next 300-game winner on the horizon.
Tim Hudson leads active pitchers with 213 wins, but he turned 39 this month. And even if he reaches 220 wins by the end of this season, he would still need to average a shade more than 13 wins a year for the next six years in order to get to 300.
Injured Yankees ace CC Sabathia (208) is the only other active pitcher with 200 wins. The Mets' Bartolo Colon (198) and Toronto's Mark Buehrle (196) should reach the 200-win milestone this season, but neither seems especially likely to get another 100 wins. Colon is 41 years old and the 35-year-old Buehrle throws the slowest fastball in the game.
"Obviously, 300's that number, but I don't see many, if any, coming-up guys that are going to be getting there," Buehrle said. "Getting to 200 nowadays seems to be tough."
* * *
The 300-game winner wasn't the only endangered species being discussed this weekend. Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre's induction alongside Maddux, Glavine and Frank Thomas was a reminder that of the 60 men to win 1,000 games as a manager, 10 have exited the dugout since 2010, including borderline Hall of Famers and powerful personalities such as Jim Leyland and Lou Piniella.
The dearth of iconic managers in the game could be tied to the lack of workhorse, 300-win-type starters more than you think. The game has changed so much in recent decades, that -- just as injury concerns and specialization has affected pitching developing -- many managers in the lower levels of each franchise may be more followers than leaders.
"We don't develop managers like we used to," said Baltimore manager Buck Showalter, who ranks third among active skippers with 1,220 wins. "Because what happens in the minor leagues is [organizations] give 'em their lineup, they give 'em their players, they say 'Here's who's pitching the sixth inning, who pitches the seventh inning, who pitches two innings tomorrow.'"
Showalter, who along with Terry Collins is one of only two active managers who were managing in 1994, said the role, expectations and development of a manager have dramatically changed over the last two decades.
"What people miss about the evolution [is] the GM is what's changed," Showalter said. "And that's what's changed the managers, because they're the ones that hire the managers."
"I mean this with all due respect: I think Billy Beane screwed a lot of people up," Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said with a hearty laugh. "And I say it in fun. But [his success] made the general manager position 'the guy' and kind of diminished the manager's position."
With much of the day-to-day duties of a minor league manager dictated from above, teams conducting managerial searches are growing less reliant on their systems and looking more toward former players to fill the position.
Twelve current managers played at least a decade in the majors -- the same number as in 1994, when there were two fewer teams in the majors. Torre was among the 1994 managers who possessed extensive playing experience in the bigs.
However, the 1994 managers had managed an average of 583 games in the minors. Only seven managers never managed a game in the minor leagues.
Today's managers have managed an average of 374 minor league games. And 12 of them never managed a day in the minors.
"A lot of these people are going for guys that have instant cachet, they have a great track record and they're going to be good managers," Showalter said. "And they're going to have to learn a little bit on the job."
Gonzalez said he didn't believe that there was a blueprint for hiring managers but that his minor league seasoning -- he managed 1,322 minor league games, second-most among today's managers -- yields benefits in his day-to-day dealings with players.
"Certain days, when that lineup goes up, you're going to have to deal with this, massage this, work with it, manage it," Gonzalez said. "And I think sometimes that goes unnoticed. I think the bunting and the hit-and-running -- don't bunt, don't steal, the Xs and Os -- on any given day, you change your philosophy, you see what's going on. But I think sometimes people forget how important a manager position is even before the game starts."
Recent hiring trends indicate that it may be tougher for non-descript players -- such as Cox and La Russa, who hit a combined .219 in 804 big league at-bats -- to emerge as managers after apprenticing in minor league dugouts.
Nine managers hired since the end of the 2009 season possess at least a decade of major league playing experience. And of that group, only three -- Mike Redmond, Ryne Sandberg and Matt Williams -- managed previously in the minors.
"Most people probably won't stay in 50 years anymore," Leyland said last August, a little more than two months before he retired.
The most likely Hall of Famer among current managers took the traditional path. San Francisco's Bruce Bochy never collected more than 154 at-bats in a big league season before spending four years managing in San Diego's system.
Twenty years into his managerial career, Bochy has two World Series rings and 1,587 wins. Every manager who has won three World Series has reached the Hall of Fame, as has every skipper to collect 2,000 wins.
But if the Giants remain on their 89-win pace, Bochy would still need to average 96 wins the next four years in order to reach 2,000. And while Torre cemented his Hall of Fame credentials by managing the Yankees to four World Series titles in a five-year span, he also knows that the randomness of the postseason makes winning even one World Series no easy task.
"You hit the postseason, it's a crapshoot," Torre said.
* * *
Sunday's inductees offered different opinions on whether or not anyone would follow in their footsteps. Greg Maddux, citing the precedent set by himself, Glavine, Clemens and Johnson, said he believed that someone would again win 300 games, while Glavine was far more skeptical.
"You look across baseball and there's tons of talent, there's guys that you look at with just raw ability and you say 'Well, if it was all about ability, that guy's got the ability to win 300 games,'" Glavine said. "Now does he have the ability to stay healthy for 20 years? I don't know. And I think the rate at which you're seeing guys get hurt in baseball today, it would be hard for me to believe that you're going to see somebody play for 20 years."
As for the managers, Cox pointed to Bochy as evidence that the iconic type hasn't completely left the dugout.
"He's an institution in San Francisco," said Cox, who -- in his induction speech -- made sure to credit much of his own success to Maddux, Glavine and John Smoltz. "I think there'll be more like that."
La Russa agreed, with a caveat that is notable given his new position as the chief baseball officer of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
"I think if organizations do it wrong, then it'll be harder [to find long-time managers], because the more that the front office gets involved with what's happening during the game, the more difficult it is for the managers and the coaches to lead," La Russa said.
"And leadership is more important than ever -- more important than your knowledge of the sport. Because where does the respect go? The respect goes to the decision-maker."
* * *
Jerry Beach is a freelance sportswriter who currently covers New York sports for The Sports Xchange wire service. Follow him on Twitter at @defiantlydutch.