In my youth, I could not think of a more devastating feeling in sports than the baseball flying by on a 3-2 pitch and not making contact with my bat. Thankfully, my batting was pretty good and it didn’t happen that often. Fielding was good too, but when it came to throwing that ball to first, I was admittedly atrocious. I mostly played baseball back in the 1990’s, and have been a fan for my entire life especially since the early 90’s. Growing up in Toronto, I vaguely remember seeing the Blue Jays win both their World Series titles in 1992 and 1993. I say vaguely because I was 4 and 5 years old at the time and life was a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles themed blur back then. Too bad about the Jays since then…
Growing up, I was also fortunate enough to have been able to watch some of the greatest pitching the league has ever seen. Not to say that there hasn’t been brilliant pitching and pitchers since, but the 1990’s was an interesting time during which some of the greatest arms ever to play the game were on the mound. In Toronto, we were blessed with a few years of David Wells, Pat Hentgen, and a couple with Roger Clemens, two of whom then went on to dominate and violate the Blue Jays when they went to play for the Yankees.
Around the league there were amazing pitchers to watch anywhere you looked; Alex Fernandez tearing it up for the White Sox, Andy Pettitte for the Yankees, Mike Mussina on the Orioles and of course, anybody who pitched for the Braves in the 90’s. Here is the list of the pitchers who racked up the most strikeouts in the 1990s.
10. Kevin Appier – 1494 K’s
Playing for the Kansas City Royals from 1989-1999, Kevin Appier was one of the more consistent members of a team that was inconsistent for much of the decade. His rookie season earned him plenty of praise throughout the league, but no Rookie of the Year. 1993 to 1995 were very successful years for him, as he was a Cy Young contender in ‘93, and in 1995 he was an All-Star. In 1993, he also went 18-8, posting an ERA of 2.56. His highest strikeout year came in 1996, when he posted a total of 207. After his time with Kansas City he played for the Athletics, Mets, won a World Series with Anaheim in 2002 and retired as a Royal in 2004.
9. Pedro Martinez – 1534 K’s
Throughout the 90’s, Pedro Martinez played for the L.A. Dodgers, Montreal Expos and finally in 1998 and 1999 he played for Boston. He posted fantastic numbers over the course of his career, even being influential in games during the 1992 and 1993 seasons with the Dodgers, during which he was used as a reliever. Once he started playing in Montreal, he moved to the starting role and was named an All-Star in 1996. He continued to post solid numbers for the Expos but his best year of the 90’s came after his move to the Red Sox during which he led the league in strikeouts, earned run average and wins, earning the pitching Triple Crown for that year. He won the Cy Young award in 97, 99 and again in 2000. He retired in 2009 but continued to rack up fantastic numbers in the new millennium, finishing his career with over 3000 k’s.
8. Curt Schilling – 1561 K’s
The 2001, 2004 and 2007 World Series champion was the8th highest strikeout earning pitcher of the 90’s. Despite his career starting in 1988 with the Orioles, much like Martinez, he did not become a full time starter until 1992 when playing for the Phillies. He continued to improve throughout his career, even well into the 2000’s but some of his best years in the 90’s were 1997 and 1998 while playing in Philadelphia, when he posted 319 and 300 strikeouts respectively. He was an All-Star in these years and again in 1999, 2001, 2002 and 2004.
7. Kevin Brown – 1581 K’s
The Rangers’ first round pick back in ‘86 didn’t become a starter until 1989, but started to contribute right from the beginning. By 199,2 he had been selected for his first of six All-Star selections. Arguably his best year of the 90’s and possibly his career was 1997, when he was a World Series Champion with the Florida Marlins, also pitching a one-hitter and a no-hitter in that same year. His highest season totals for strikeouts came in the late 90s when he went 205, 259 and 221 in ‘97, ‘98, and ‘99 respectively. His numbers dwindled in 2001 and 2002 but he had a great year, with 185 K’s in 2003. Of course a comeback of that type is “unheard of” and many people used his strong 1993 performance as proof that he used steroids in the early 2000’s. That last sentence was meant facetiously, and references the fact that he was a subject in the Mitchell Report on steroid use. All evidence against him in the report was largely circumstantial and based on rumor.
6. Greg Maddux – 1764 K’s
There is a very strong case to be made that Greg Maddux is one of the greatest pitchers of all-time and an even stronger one to support the idea that he was the best of the 90’s. Each year in the 90’s he was above the 15 win mark. On top of that he led the NL in wins three times, ERA four times and of course, was a four-time Cy Young winner, winning from 1992-1995. While I consider him an easy top five for best overall of the 90’s, he is statistically 6th on this list and 1 of 2 from the Braves. In July of this year, Maddux will be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
5. Chuck Finley – 1784 K’s
Unlike quite a few on this list, Finley never won the Cy Young, never won the Triple Crown, or the strikeout or ERA title for the league. The greatest reason for which he is on this list is that he was so stable and reliable throughout the decade. During his time with the Angels, he had 15 wins in a season six times, four of which were in the 90’s. On top of that he struck out at least 200 batters three times and in 1991 and 1992 he went 18-9 both seasons. He was not overlooked during this period, however, earning five All-Star selections; three of which came in the 1990s.
4. John Smoltz – 1893 K’s
The 2nd Braves pitcher on the list, Smoltz and Maddux were a part of what I believe was one of the greatest pitching squads of all time. Tom Glavine gets an honorable mention on this list because he was a teammate of Smoltz and Maddux and was only 29 K’s away from being on the list, having amassed 1475 K’s in the 90’s. Smoltz was generally recognized as the third on that lineup, but he racked up the most strikeouts during the decade. Smoltz stayed with the Braves from 1988-2008. During the 90’,s he was very reliable but was at his best during 1996 when he earned a league-high 276 strikeouts and led the National League in wins; winning his only Cy Young.
3. David Cone – 1928 K’s
David Cone has more than earned his place on any list of the top pitchers of his era. His record should speak for itself, as he was a member of five World Series winning teams. He won in 1992 with the Blue Jays and won four with the Yankees: first in 1996 and then three from 1998-2000. In addition to his World Series wins, he was an All Star five times and won the Cy Young back in 1994. While with the Yankees in 1999 he pitched a perfect game.
2. Roger Clemens – 2101 K’s
Number two on the list, the Rocket was an eleven-time All-Star, a seven-time Cy Young winner (with three in the 1990’s) and won two World Series with the Yankees in 2000 and 2001. In 1997 and 1998, he was an absolute pitching machine in Toronto, winning the Cy Young as well as the Triple Crown in both years. Not too shabby. Unfortunately, during those years he played for the Blue Jays, poor guy. He was number one in American League strikeouts four times in the 90’s. Did I mention he was widely accused of using steroids? Does anybody care anymore?
1. Randy Johnson – 2538 K’s
Among friends of mine who don’t know baseball very well, most only know Big Unit as “that tall, scrawny pitcher who hit that bird that one time.” It was pretty memorable, but does anyone remember how that at-bat for Ramon Vasquez ended up? He grounded out. Fun fact. Apart from that blooper reel event, Johnson had one of the greatest pitching careers in the history of the game. He finished his career just 125 k’s short of 5,000, at 4,875. Other than that he was a ten-time All-Star, five-time Cy Young winner, won the World Series in 2001 and the Triple Crown the year after, pitched a no hitter in 1990 and finally his incredible perfect game back in 2004.