Yesterday former Detroit Tigers pitcher Mike Maroth announced his retirement from baseball. Never an All-Star or a household name, Maroth’s greatest notoriety came from being the last pitcher to lose 20 games in a season in 2003, something no other pitcher has done since 1980. Yet, you have to be a pretty good pitcher to lose 20 games in the major leagues.
Leading the league in losses is not the mark of the worst pitcher in baseball, it’s the mark of the best pitcher on the worst team. In the past several years some very good pitchers have led their league in losses: Zack Greinke, Brandon Webb, and Justin Verlander, just to name a few. That was Mike Maroth, the best pitcher on the 2003 Detroit Tigers, a team that was historically bad. A team that would have been the all-time worst in baseball history, if it weren’t for Mike Maroth.
The record for losses in a single Major League season was 120 by the 1962 New York Mets. The 2003 Tigers had 118 losses with 6 games left to play in the season when Mike Maroth started and won on September 23rd. This began a stretch where the Tigers won five of their last six games. On the very last day of the season Maroth won again by defeating the playoff bound Minnesota Twins. That last day victory ensured that the Tigers would not match the ’62 Mets for most losses in baseball history.
Maroth finished the season with a record of 9-21, but won three of his last four games. The next couple of seasons saw Maroth improve to a respectable, league average pitcher. 2006 was where things started to turn around. That season the Tigers started off hot and Maroth was a big part of that. In his first eight games he was 5-2 with a 2.45 ERA, impressive for anyone but especially for a guy who only threw 85 miles an hour.
This all changed on May 25, 2006 against the Kansas City Royals. Maroth gave up six runs while only retiring one batter. He was placed on the disabled list after the game and had surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow. He did not return until September when he pitched poorly. Meanwhile the Tigers had a great year and won the pennant in ’06 and represented the American League in the World Series, an event that Mike Maroth could not be a part of as his injury and September ineffectiveness kept him off the postseason roster. In 2007 he again pitched poorly for the Tigers before being traded in June to the St. Louis Cardinals where he pitched even worse. On September 24, 2007 he pitched a scoreless 7th inning against the Brewers, he spent parts of the next three years in the minor leagues, but he never pitched in the majors again.
What it Means
Many young men dream of playing professional sports. Most, like myself, realize they weren’t even that good at high school sports. Mike Maroth most likely was the best pitcher on his Little League team and then the best player on his high school team. Eventually he got to the majors and found himself losing more games than any other pitcher in baseball.
When we dream, we dream of success. No kid dreams of being a back-up catcher or mediocre middle reliever. They dream of being an All-Star and winning the World Series. Mike Maroth’s best season, amidst his team’s best season, was interrupted by injury, from which he was never as good again. Most of us will only get half our dreams at best.
Mike Maroth became beloved by many Tiger fans because of the grace he displayed while losing 20 games. Tigers coaches offered to pull him from the starting rotation to avoid the infamy of losing 20 games but Maroth refused, he would rather play and lose than not play at all. The 2003 Tigers were spared the all-time losses record by Maroth’s willingness to risk losing.