Baseball history shows significance of Seaver, Carew milestones
The numbers explain the significance of winning 300 games or hitting safely 3,000 times -- the milestones just reached by Tom Seaver and Rod Carew, respectively. In all the years major league baseball has been played, going well back into the 19th century, just 17 pitchers and 16 batters have been able to accomplish these feats. And only a handful of them have done it in what might be called the game's modern era. It is worth stopping to take notice, then, when any player reaches one of these historic moments which carry with them a virtually automatic ticket into the Hall of Fame. And doubly so, of course, when it is done on the same day by two great stars who coincidentally came up to the big leagues in the same year (1967), who were both named Rookie-of-the-Year in that season, and whose overall accomplishments have been so outstanding that both were already certain of election to Cooperstown in any event.
Seaver, who gained No. 300 Sunday in a dramatic, emotion-packed 4-1 victory for the Chicago White Sox over the Yankees in New York, has long been regarded as the consummate modern master of his craft. A three-time Cy Young Award winner and one of the all-time strikeout artists during his glory years with the New York Mets, Tom was always known as a keen student of the mechanics of pitching and a leading advocate of hard work and conditioning. As a result, even now in the latter stages of his career wh en he no longer can just rear back and overpower the hitters, the veteran right-hander has enough strength, stamina, and command of his other pitches to keep on winning anyway.
And if Seaver is today's example of the classic pitcher, the left-handed hitting Carew is the quintessential artist with a bat in his hands. Rod's seven American League batting titles and .328 lifetime average tell the story of the California Angels' first baseman pretty well, and although his lack of power is sometimes cited, he had a fair amount of that, too, in his heyday with Minnesota -- hitting 14 home runs twice and driving in as many as 100 runs in 1977. Rod's forte, though, has always been his
ability to slash the ball to all fields -- so it was approriate that his 3,000th hit in Anaheim Sunday was a typical opposite-field single off Minnesota left-hander Frank Viola.
Thus on a day when the specter of a player strike hung over the game, these two great stars performing 3,000 miles apart brightened the picture at least momentarily. Meanwhile, all it takes is a glance at a few names and dates concerning their predecessors to begin to grasp the significance of their feats.
While Seaver is No. 17 on the 300-victory list, 11 of his predecessors were what might be termed real old-timers -- pitchers who began their careers in the 19th century or the early part of this one. This group consists of Cy Young (the all-time leader with 508 victories), Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Pud Galvin, Kid Nichols, Tim Keefe, John Clarkson, Eddie Plank, Mickey Welch, and Hoss Radbourne. After that there was a period of more than half a century in which only t hree more hurlers -- Lefty Grove, Warren Spahn, and Early Wynn -- joined the club.
Now in the 1980s the trend seems to be toward greater numbers again. Gaylord Perry reached 300 in 1982, Steve Carlton did it in 1983, Seaver made it this year, and Phil Niekro (294 wins) and Don Sutton (290) are knocking on the door. Seaver, discussing this situation in Boston after he had won No. 299 and while looking ahead to his date with history, cited three basic reasons: ``First, a better understanding of the importance of mechanics; second, greater emphasis on conditioning; and third, relief p itching.''
The roster of 3,000-hit batsmen is more evenly divided over the years. Thus seven (all-time leader Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Honus Wagner, Eddie Collins, Nap Lajoie, Paul Waner, and Cap Anson) are in the ``oldtimers'' category; five (Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, and Al Kaline) had most of their big years in the 1940s, '50s, and '60s; and four (Carl Yastzremski, Lou Brock, Pete Rose, and Carew) are of the modern era.
Carew's anticipated entrance into the club has been overshadowed this year, of course, by Rose's assault on Cobb's record of 4,191 hits (Pete now has 4,167). The 3,000 mark though, is quite a momentous accomplishment itself -- as can be seen simply by looking at the names of those who have achieved it.