On deck for Halladay: 20 wins and a place in Phillies history

Roy Halladay is set to become just fourth Phillie to earn 20 wins.
Roy Halladay is set to become just fourth Phillie to earn 20 wins.
Posted: September 21, 2010

ALL-STAR righthander Roy Halladay is at the brink of becoming the first pitcher since 1982 to register a 20-victory season for the Phillies.

Twenty-eight years. "Hard to believe, Harry!"

And if those 28 summers represent an unseemly stretch, how about this Phillies' paucity of 20-game winning success - or lack of it? Since iconic Grover Cleveland Alexander registered a 30-13 record in 1917 - that's 93 years ago - only three men in Phillies uniforms have posted 20-victory seasons. Robin Roberts, six successive years (1950-55); Steve Carlton five times; and Chris Short, earning No. 20 in relief on the 1966 season's final day. Just three Phillies since Alexander's heyday!

Oddly enough, 20-game winners have had much to do with the team's recent success. Five pitchers who have won 20 games have worn a Phillies uniform over the last 14 months, but all of them did so with another team - Jamie Moyer with Seattle in 2001 and '03; Roy Oswalt with Houston in 2004 and '05; Pedro Martinez with Boston in 1999 and 2002; Cliff Lee with Cleveland in 2008; and Halladay himself, pitching for Toronto with a 22-7 record in 2003 when he was the AL Cy Young Award winner, then going 20-11 in 2008.

Halladay's chances of joining Roberts, Short and Carlton are excellent. Including tonight's engagements vs. the Braves, Halladay is expected to have three more starting assignments. The regular-season finale is Oct. 3 in Atlanta.

No other current major league franchise, among the 16 still doing business since Alexander's spectacular 1917 season, comes even close to matching the Phillies' 20-win ineptitude - just three players - during the past 92 seasons. Next, on the "fewest 20-game winners" list: Pittsburgh, 13 different men.

Not many Phillies have come close to the 20-victory level. Since John Denny posted 19 wins for the 1983 World Series club, no Phillies hurler until Halladay last week equaled 19 victories. Twenty-seven seasons. Today Denny is nearly 58 years old. Carlton - and our mind's eye still envisions that Hall of Famer's year after year craftsmanship - will be 66 in December.

Jim Bunning thrice won 19 games here. Two of his teammates also had 19-win years during the 1960s - Art Mahaffey in '61 and Short in '68.

It's unlikely that we will witness substantial numbers of 20-win pitchers anymore. Why? Just click on pitch counts, complete games (rarities), quality starts (six innings), lefty/righty matchups, middle relievers, stoppers, closers/savers, Cy Young Award-winning relief pitchers.

During the 20th century's first 6 decades - 1901 through the 1960 season - when the major leagues totaled only 16 teams, 20-game wins per decade ranged from 144 (1901 through 1909; a 16.0 average per season) to 55 in the 1940s (5.5 per year). Not until 1981, a strike-shortened year, did MLB fail to produce a single 20-game winner. Later, nobody won 20 in 1994 (season ended early) nor recently in 2006 and 2009.

Until midway through the 1920s, most teams did not consider relief pitching a specialty unto itself. In fact, early squads sometimes totaled only 18 or 20 players. Seldom-lifted starters were replaced by mop-up men, second-level starting pitchers.

As one might expect, the Yankees, with their abundance of victories throughout the 20th century and now the 21st, have the greatest number of different pitchers with 20 wins. From 1918 forward, the Yankees list 29 men in this elite category. Best National League showing (1918-2009) is shared by the Dodgers and Cardinals, each with 22, followed by the Giants' 21.

Only 17 men, including Alexander nine times, have matched or exceeded the 20-win seasons chalked up by Phillies' Roberts (6) and Carlton (5 here; 1 with the Cardinals). Christy Mathewson and Warren Spahn lead the all-time list, each with 13 20-victory seasons. Walter Johnson had 12.

Now, at age 33 and hoping for many more healthy baseball semesters, Halladay has a chance to vault higher on that list of multiple 20-win seasons. Realistically, Mathewson, Spahn, Johnson and some others seem out of reach. The Phillies, on the other hand - if their prime time trio of Messrs. Halladay, Hamels and Oswalt stay in town for a while - might not wait all those unproductive decades again for 20-game winners to resurface.

Bob Bloss is a baseball historian and journalist who has written two books, "Baseball Managers" and "Rookies of the Year."

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