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Young's 511 forever unattainable
08/07/2004 7:00 PM ET
There are records and then there are unbreakable records. And as Greg Maddux becomes the 22nd pitcher to win 300 games, it must be noted that Cy Young's mark of 511 career victories is right up there among Major League Baseball's most unattainable.

Consider this: Young played from 1890 to 1911 and is 94 victories ahead of his closest challenger, Walter Johnson, who finished his career in 1927 with 417. They are the only two pitchers who passed the 400-win plateau. Both pitched in the dead ball era, when most pitchers finished what they started.

In the modern game, Warren Spahn came the closest to Young, logging 363, the most of any left-hander in MLB history. And Roger Clemens, who just turned 42, keeps on winning for the Houston Astros. At 322, he's only two behind Hall of Famers Don Sutton and Nolan Ryan on the all-time list. But he's also 189 behind Young, whose namesake award Clemens has won six times as the top pitcher for each of those seasons in the American League.

"That's out there, isn't it?" Maddux said of Young's 511 wins. "It was just such a different game back then. What was he doing, pitching every three days? What did he have, 800 complete games or something like that? That's a different game. I can't even imagine doing something like that."

Actually, Young started 815 games in his career and completed 749 of them.

"You're kidding me," said Phillies manager Larry Bowa, who guessed that Young completed about 250.

Young reached or topped the 20-victory mark 16 times and exceeded the 30-win plateau five times. He tossed three no-hitters. Among his other untouchable records is his 7,354 2/3 innings pitched.

"I guess I wouldn't have a job if I played back then," said Padres closer Trevor Hoffman, who has saved 381 games. He's notched 379 of them with the Padres -- the team record and a record for a reliever with one club.

Born Denton True Young, he was nicknamed "Cyclone" upon joining the Cleveland franchise, in what was then considered the National League, because of his blinding fastball. The nickname was ultimately shortened to Cy, and Young has been known by that ever since.

"It's inconceivable for a pitcher to win that many times in today's game," said Barry Bonds, who with 687 lifetime homers is chasing another cherished MLB record -- Hank Aaron's 755. "Most starters go six or seven innings. There are pitch counts. And most of the time when you leave, the outcome is out of your hands."

To put it all into perspective, Clemens, who is considered the workhorse of this era, has completed 117 of the 629 games he's started. Maddux has completed 105 of 594 starts. Going back a decade, Ryan, who finished his career in 1993, completed 222 of 773. And going back even further, Spahn, who retired in 1965, completed 382 of his 665 starts.

"I just think it was a set of circumstances there," Sutton, a 324-game winner now broadcasting for the Atlanta Braves, said of Young's numbers. "Guys were pitching every third day and also relieving and the opportunities to get decisions came a lot more frequently than they do now. Let's face it. He was a pretty darn good pitcher. So when he got the opportunities to earn a decision, he got wins."

More complete games obviously means more opportunities to win. The four-man rotations that were used exclusively in Spahn's era also created more opportunities to win each season. As the old saying from the 1940s, when Spahn and Johnny Sain were pitching for the Boston Braves, went: "Spahn and Sain and two days of rain."

In Young's day, pitchers didn't balk at starting, and possibly finishing, both games of a doubleheader.

"Considering where I'm at right now, if I were to catch (Young), I'd have to do it all over again for another 17 years," said Tom Glavine, the 38-year-old New York Mets left-hander who has 259 wins. "It makes you realize just how many wins he had. I'm pretty confident in saying that's one record that will never be broken. Those are phenomenal numbers.

"I don't think I've come close to those numbers if you add up my pro, amateur and little league career. It's mind-boggling. When you throw in the complete games aspect, it's even more mind-boggling."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.