Just don't make 'em the way they used to

  • Ferguson Jenkins and Greg Maddux wave to fans at Wrigley Field as the Cubs retire the No. 31 which both wore with the team.

    Ferguson Jenkins and Greg Maddux wave to fans at Wrigley Field as the Cubs retire the No. 31 which both wore with the team. Associated Press

Published: 5/4/2009 12:07 AM

Just as I was writing Sunday about the durability of former Cubs pitchers Ferguson Jenkins and Greg Maddux ...

Well, just then current Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano beat out a bunt for a hit and had to leave the game with a strained hamstring.

Further word on the injury will come today, which could mean Zambrano will be out indefinitely the way Kerry Wood and Mark Prior used to be.

Listen, I don't want to say that next to Jenkins and Maddux today's major-league pitchers are a bunch of dainty little flowers.

But it sure seems sometimes that they are, comparatively speaking of course. But don't blame them as much as the bosses who coddle their expensive investments.

Guys leave games for all sorts of reasons now: Pitch counts, arm tickles, muscle tweaks, bumpy mounds, the swine flu or a note from mom.

To his credit, Zambrano tried to talk Cubs manager Lou Piniella out of removing him from the game.

Piniella said later that Zambrano would get an MRI but that the pitcher's next scheduled start Friday is in jeopardy.

A fellow press box observer noted that Zambrano's pinch runner was fellow starter Rich Harden, who has had persistent arm problems, and his reliever was Angel Guzman, whose arm has been surgically repaired.

"A strained hamstring" is what Bulls guard Ben Gordon suffered last week. My theory is that just like basketball players, baseball players have too much muscle and not enough body fat.

Seriously, the number that jumps out about Jenkins and Maddux isn't 31, their uniform number that the Cubs retired Sunday. It isn't even their career victory totals - 355 for Maddux and 284 for Jenkins.

Here are the magic numbers: Jenkins threw 328⅓ innings for the Rangers in 1974, and Maddux threw 268 for the Cubs in 1992.

The numbers represent baseball's evolution.

Jenkins routinely threw more than 300 innings per season during his prime. Maddux threw more than 260 three times.

Today, you need a cattle prod to get a pitcher to throw as many innings as Jenkins did and a contract bonus to throw as many as Maddux did.

"Starting pitchers today don't know how to pitch tired," Maddux said.

Last year it was a big deal that CC Sabathia pitched 253 innings, as if people thought his arm would fall off. As far as I can tell, both Jenkins and Maddux still have all their limbs.

"It's unbelievable," Piniella said of Jenkins' annual workload, adding that today it would be like an entire big-league season, then winter ball in the Caribbean and then more in Japan.

How did baseball get to this point of pampering pitchers as if they knew the secret formulas for world peace, a robust economy and whatever Alex Rodriguez really is thinking at any particular moment?

Most interesting is that in baseball history, Jenkins and Maddux were two of the most durable pitchers over a long period of time.

To them the disabled list was a personal insult. To pitchers today it's Club M.D.

The Cubs can only hope that Zambrano doesn't turn out to be day-to-day nearly forever the way Wood and Prior were.