Anyone who’s spent enough time talking baseball, has heard this cliche come up when discussing great pitchers:
“If my life depended on it, i’d take _____ to pitch that game..”
To put your very life in the hands of someone playing a game built on the randomness of breaks and spins, hops and bounces is the very highest of praise. It forces the person who’s life is at stake to forego all of the variables that are woven into the very thread of the game, and cast them aside. To narrow the nearly limitless outcomes of a single nine inning affair into a binary result for, as they say, “all the marbles”. So of course, i’m going to dive right into it, although I should preface that my life is not actually at stake during this writing (although I am attempting to home school my two year old at the time, so ya know… maybe?).
All that being said, there are some ways to firm up the otherwise shifty foundation of this hypothetical, say that the opposing team is the 2019 Tigers, I like my chances. The 2018 Red Sox? I’ll invest in Life Insurance. Is Coors Field the venue? Ugh… What about Marlins Park? Things are looking up!
Let’s explore this excersise though, but let’s clarify a few things:
- Let’s expand the criteria, and say that your very life hangs in the balance in three stretches: One GAME, one SERIES (we’ll say like a Postseason style best of 5), and one SEASON.
- For the sake of the exercise, let’s say the opposing team is pretty good, but not top of the heap. The lineup would resemble that of the 2019 Nationals, or the 2003 Yankees.
- You may choose ONE starting pitcher per stretch, and there’s no bullpen. Whomever is chosen has to go the distance.
- The Assumption is whatever pitcher you select, is their peak performance.
- In terms of venue, we’ll say modern, but neutral: Progressive Field (Home of the Indians)
Since I have the self-indulgent pleasure of this being my blog, I’ll go ahead and lay out MY choices for both scrutiny and clarity:
ONE GAME: Sandy Koufax
The Left Arm of God gets the most urgent 9 innings of my life, and I have to be honest, this wasn’t that hard. Over 12 seasons, Koufax accumulated 3 Cy Young awards, 5 (consecutive) ERA titles, and struck out nearly 2,400 batters. Why I selected him as the “one game” guy is because of the No-Hitters. Four of them to be exact, and one of them being a perfect game. The truth was, that Sandy was going to pitch a no-no until you stopped him. If i’ve just got one shot at preserving my life, I’d love it to be as stress-free as possible, and there’s nothing less stressful than the opposition never even getting on base.
ONE SERIES: Curt Schilling
So yeah, as a human, I know… Curt Schilling sucks. I mean, he’s kinda the worst, (although Aubrey Huff seems pretty determined that’s a crown he wants to wear) but hey, my life is on the line here, so i’m going to take Schill to get me out of a jam. Over 133.1 postseason innings, Schilling posted a sparkling 2.23 ERA, while striking out 120 batters along the way. The key ingredient here, though, is grit. There are few pitchers who have not only compiled the statistical case for “best postseason pitcher ever”, but have the lore to go along with it. When you look back at the 2001 World Series, when he and Randy Johnson basically took down the three time reigning champions basically by themselves. Or the 2004 ALCS, when he pitched through indescribable pain in what became known as “the bloody sock” affair. The fact is, that if my life is on the line, I’d like the guy taking the mound for me to act like his might be too, and I just can’t think of anyone else that embodies that more than that awful human being. Give me Schilling, or give me death.
ONE SEASON: Greg Maddux
At this point, i’ve got endure an entire season, watching my life play out over, say a 30 or so game span? At some point, the scales will have tipped to an unrecoverable level, and the season will either turn into a parade toward the joyous extension of my life, or a depressing slog to the inevitable ending of it. Either way, i’m going with the guy who will get me there most efficiently, and even more hopefully, toward the former conclusion, rather than the latter. Greg Maddux seems like a perfect candidate for such a season, since he got such fantastic results, including 4 ERA titles, 4 (consecutive) Cy Young awards, and five consecutive season with the most innings pitched (so you know he can handle the workload). The biggest deciding factor, though, is one that many don’t always appreciate: his glove. The fact is, the stakes are high, and the VERY last thing I want to see is an E1 on the scoresheet. Thankfully, the Mad Dog is the proud recipient of 18 (yes, EIGHTEEN) Gold Glove awards, so you know that he won’t hurt you in that facet either. Maddux was an exception to the rule of his time. While other pitchers were slinging their arms about, trying to blaze the ball past bulked up sluggers, knowing the bullpen was behind them, Maddux took a different approach: Get them out, do it quickly, and don’t make mistakes.
So let’s hear it. Who’s pitching for YOUR life?