Any baseball aficionado worth a used rosin bag knows the game begins with starting pitching — and ends with it, too. Picking the best is a massive chore and made more difficult by different eras and different styles of play. How do you do it? Pick and duck. (Apologies to Tom Seaver, the three-time Cy Young winner who received a record 98.8 percent of Hall of Fame votes in his first year of eligibility; and sorry, Roger Clemens, owner of a record seven Cy Youngs and third on the career-K list with 4,672 but those steroid allegations keep you out of the top 10.)
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10. Randy Johnson
The Big Unit, all 6-foot-10 of him, convinced me when I saw him strike out 20 Reds in a 10-inning game with his 100 mile-an-hour fastballs and hard-biting sliders. He won the Cy Young five times and struck out 4,875 batters, second only to Nolan Ryan and tops for a left-hander. Johnson’s 10.61 strikeouts per nine innings is the best of all time. Johnson won 303 games, throwing two no-hitters, one a perfect game.
ASSOCIATED PRESSTom Gannam
9. Warren Spahn
He was known as “Hooks,” not for his big-breaking curveball, but for his prominent hooked nose that was broken by a baseball. He pitched for 21 years and won 363 games, sixth of all time. He made 17 All-Star Games, most for any pitcher. He also threw two no-hitters. Spahn and Johnny Sain inspired a poem entitled “Spahn and Sain and Two Days of Rain” when they combined to go 8-0 in 12 games between Labor Day and Sept. 18 of the 1948 season in helping the Boston Braves clinch the NL pennant.
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8. Sandy Koufax
He had an incredible six-year run before arthritis ended his career when he was only 30. Still, in that time, he amassed 2,396 strikeouts, seventh in history at the time. He was the first to pitch four no-hitters, one of them the eighth perfect game in baseball’s history. He won the Cy Young three times (1963, '65, '66), the first player to do so. One of the first Jewish stars, Koufax backed his strong beliefs by deciding not to pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur.
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7. Bob Feller
Some say Rapid Robert threw harder than any pitcher in history, a fastball complemented by a devastating curve that enabled him to throw two no-hitters (the only Opening Day no-hitter in history) and 12 one-hitters. He never pitched in the minors, beginning his 18-year career with the Indians at age 17, becoming the first pitcher to win 20 games before he was 21. Scout Cy Slapnicka signed him for $1 and an autographed baseball.
6. Bob Gibson
The scowl from Gibby was almost as intimidating as his close-shave fastballs. His 1.12 ERA in 1968 encouraged baseball to lower to mound to give pitchers less leverage. He pitched 13 shutouts that year and struck out 17 in Game 1 of the World Series. He won two Cy Youngs and was on nine All-Star teams. He was even awarded the MVP in 1968, the last National League pitcher to win the award.
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5. Greg Maddux
Maddux is eighth all time with 355 career wins and 10th in K’s with 3,371. The crafty right-hander won his four Cy Youngs in a row from 1992-95, going 75-29 with a 1.98 ERA in that span. He’s an eight-time All-Star and is the only pitcher to win at least 15 games in 17 consecutive seasons. He also is considered the best defensive pitcher, winning a record 18 Gold Gloves.
AFP/Getty ImagesMATT CAMPBELL
4. Christy Mathewson
Whether he went by Big Six or Matty, hitters knew they were in for long days when Mathewson pitched, winning 30 or more games four times, including a 37-11 record with a 1.43 ERA in 1908. He won 373 games and his career ERA was 2.13.
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3. Nolan Ryan
The Ryan Express put fear in hitters’ eyes for 27 years over four decades. While he was throwing a record seven no-hitters (three more than anybody in history) and recording 5,714 strikeouts (839 more than runner-up Randy Johnson), Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson said, “Everybody loves ice cream, but nobody likes it stuffed down your throat by the gallons. That was Nolan Ryan’s fastball.” Ryan was still throwing hard at age 46 while winning the strikeout title 11 times. Incredibly, though, he never won a Cy Young award.
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2. Walter Johnson
The Big Train’s fastball was the most feared weapon in baseball in the 1910s and 1920s, even without a radar gun. His 417 wins are second only to Cy Young and he led the league in strikeouts 12 times, amassing 3,509 whiffs. His 110 shutouts are the most in history and he won 20 or more games for 10 straight years in the 1910s.
1. Cy Young
When you have baseball’s most prestigious award named after you, what does that say? And when you won 511 games, nearly 100 more than the next-best guy, what does that say? 749 complete games. 7,356 innings pitched. Twenty wins or more 15 times.