The Daily Jolt is a dose of baseball reality every weekday morning.
First Mike Mussina walked away. That was Nov. 21 -- almost four months ago -- and you had to love him going out on top, washing away the biggest knock on his borderline Hall of Fame career in his final season by winning 20 games. A few weeks later The Professor, Greg Maddux, hung 'em up too, officially the greatest pitcher of his generation now that Roger Clemens has been exposed as a cheat.
It took Curt Schilling a little while longer -- maybe he just wanted the stage all to himself -- but he too has now exited, taking his unrivaled October guts with him. Pedro Martinez, the most dominant pitcher any baseball fan under the age of 35 has ever seen, is sitting on a couch somewhere without a job, too proud to accept a paycut after all he has accomplished.
There are 1,055 wins floating around in the baseball ether -- scheduling tee times, carving out an afternoon to do the crossword, designing nerdy computer games, sitting under a mango tree -- all of them lost in one fell swoop, in just one short, cruel winter.
It's all a part of baseball of course. All-time greats get old. They have to turn into legends at some point. Some aren't able to endure the grind of another long season. The lucky ones decide they don't want to.
But 1,055 wins. Has the game ever lost so much pitching talent in the course of one winter? It doesn't seem likely. And the baseball world feels just a little empty with Opening Day right around the corner.
Mussina was chronically underrated. He spent his entire career in the American League East, dealing with the Yankees in their dynasty years and pitching with his back to the Green Monster 27 times. He was one pitch away from perfection at Fenway Park on Sept. 2, 2001 -- foiled by Carl Everett --and came within four outs of the feat two other times in his career.
It'd be easy to paint him as a perennial bridesmaid -- he never won a World Series or a Cy Young Award and nearly missed the 20-game plateau too -- but he had a winning record against every team in the AL save the Yankees smack dab in the middle of the Steroids Era.
Maddux will never suffer for praise -- not with 355 career wins on his lengthy list of accomplishments. But he had to share the spotlight with Clemens for far too long. Now he's gone. Where else will we get to see a two-seam fastball that darts from a foot outside the zone to the black or complete games in under 90 pitches?
What other Ph.D of Pitching is going to pee on rookies in the shower?
Schilling never needed praise because he was far too busy giving it to himself. But Jay Mariotti is right. Love or hate the guy, he always seemed to deliver. Big words, bigger cojones. Many people, even his own teammates, begged him to just shut up and play over the years, but the only thing he was ever guilty of, besides being a great pitcher, was being honest and having something interesting to say.
Too many athletes speak only in cliches these days, afraid of being ripped for their candor or tripping over their own words. I can't think of another one who would undergo an experimental surgery on his ankle just to bring a title to championship-starved fans when the risks include your career (and the millions of dollars that go with it). That's the thing about Schilling: He behaved like a lot of fans would if they could suddenly throw 95 mph and many people hated him for it.
There's a chance Pedro might still pitch again. The Dodgers? The Astros? Who knows?
It'd almost be better if he called it quits, though. Then we could all go right back to remembering him as he was in his prime -- the slight Dominican who could no-hit the National League All-Star team, mow down 17 Yankees in the middle of a pennant race or come out of the bullpen in a decisive playoff game and shut down one of the better lineups in recent memory with diminished stuff.
There's a lot to miss in 2009, but baseball is about history and tradition and wistfulness too. Willie Mays can't run down balls at the Polo Grounds forever, even though he should be able to. You need something to tell your grandkids about anyway. The beauty of it all is that the next legend is somewhere out there only beginning to be spun.
Your move, Lincecum.