On this day in 1928, one Edward Charles Ford was born in New York City. You know him better as Whitey, and he passed away two weeks ago just shy of his 92nd birthday. (Read here for more.)
When I was a kid, Whitey Ford had the highest winning percentage of any pitcher in the history of the game. Well, sort of. There were two qualifications to the list: 1.) must have played after 1900; and 2.) must have at least 200 decisions. That second one is the “Spud Chandler Rule,” named for the one-time Yankee ace who finished his career with a .717 winning percentage, but pitched more than a dozen games in only seven big-league seasons. Ford’s career “winning percentage” (I always enjoy pointing out to my students that these are never expressed as percentages) is .690, which I always thought was kind of cool because that number is also Babe Ruth’s career slugging percentage.
Also a record.
Also not a percentage.
But much safer as records go.
Enter one Clayton Edward Kershaw. (You may have seen him on the mound last night.) “Kersh” just finished his 13th major league season, and his career winning percentage is .697. He is, in fact, the game’s all-time leader in winning percentage, even considering the 200-decision rule. Kershaw’s lifetime record is 175-76, a few wins shy of Whitey but a better percentage nonetheless.
There’s just one thing…
With a few notable exceptions (they’re notable because they’re infrequent), everyone tails off at the end of his career. Even Whitey Ford. Had Ford stopped pitching in 1964, not 1967, his lifetime record would have been 206-84. That’s .710. He was a sub-.500 pitcher his final three seasons.
Pedro Martinez actually had old Slick beat when he retired in 2005. Except he didn’t retire in 2005 with a career winning percentage of .701. He threw four more years (at more than $10 million a year), tacking 22 wins and 16 losses on his career record. Not bad for your average pitcher, but .579 doesn’t get you in the record books. His final tally was .687.
Let us begin the “Kershaw watch.”
Say Clay pitches a few more years and matches Whitey’s win total of 236. He’ll have to do it with 30 losses or fewer. Sixty-one and twenty-nine is .678. That’s good for an aging pitcher, and I’d hardly call Kid K aging yet.
But without a World Series ring, nobody gonna care anyway.