Earlier this week, Yankees ace Gerrit Cole became the 87th pitcher in Major League history to record 2,000 strikeouts after fanning Jorge Mateo to end the second inning, and just the eighth to achieve that milestone in a Yankee uniform. Let’s dive into the history books — and, for more recent pitchers, take a trip down memory lane — and see how those previous seven came to be a part of this exclusive club. The first member will surprise you more than anyone else.
Ironically, the first player to record his 2,000th strikeout as a member of the Yankees is a player not really known for his time on the Bombers at all. Born in Hartsville, SC, on August 11, 1907, Louis Norman “Bobo” Newsom built his career as a journeyman; originally a member of the Brooklyn Robins (the franchise more commonly known as the Dodgers), Newsom would go on to play for nine of the league’s 16 franchises over the course of his career.
Newsom entered the 1947 season with 1,948 strikeouts as a member of the Washington Senators. In early July, Washington sold his contract to the Yankees; by this point, he had racked up 40 strikeouts, putting him just 12 shy of 2,000. Although he would accrue 11 K’s across his first two outings — a pair of complete game victories — he did not record his 2,000th until July 22nd, when he struck out Jeff Heath to lead off the second inning as part of a complete-game shutout against the St. Louis Browns.
In the end, Newsom would make only 17 appearances in pinstripes. Between this strikeout and the World Series ring he earned with the ‘47 champions, however, he made the most of that limited time.
The second pitcher who racked up his 2,000th strikeout in pinstripes was not, in fact, Yankees pitching legend Whitey Ford. The combination of Casey Stengel’s selective usage of his young lefty and early-career service in the Korean War partially led to Ford coming 44 K’s shy of 2,000. Instead, the next man was another starter who did not spend the majority of his career with the Yankees. Unlike Newsom, however, the Hertford, NC, native is a household name in New York just as much as he is in Oakland — for this reason, Jim “Catfish” Hunter’s plaque in the Hall of Fame has a blank cap.
When Hunter signed with the Yankees as the first modern big ticket free agent after the 1974 season, he was the reigning Cy Young winner and a six-time All-Star, and he had finished in the top 12 of the MVP vote in each of the previous four seasons. By 1979, those days were long gone, as injuries and diabetes had sapped his arm strength. Heading into the year needing just 22 Ks to reach 2,000, he would not reach the milestone until July 6th. Rather poetically, it happened in Oakland, as he fanned Jeff Newman to end the bottom of the first in the city where he became a star. After just eight more starts in ‘79, further injuries forced Catfish to call it a career.
“Dr. K” may be known more for his time with the Mets than with the Yankees, but Dwight Gooden made his time in pinstripes count: he was a member of the 1996 World Series team that kickstarted the dynasty years, spun the first no-hitter by a Yankees righty since Don Larsen’s perfect game, and ended his career as a long reliever and spot starter with the 2000 World Series champions that brought the dynasty years to a close.
Entering the 1996 season, Gooden needed 125 strikeouts to reach the 2,000 plateau; he ended the year with 126. Starting Game 160 against the Boston Red Sox, he had 120. Although he, on the whole, struggled that day, as he allowed six runs on eight hits in just five innings, Gooden managed to record six Ks, with the milestone coming against Mo Vaughn with two outs in the fourth.
Technically speaking, David Cone played less than half his career with the Yankees, spending parts of seven seasons with the Mets, two separate stints with the Royals and Blue Jays, and a year with the Red Sox that best belongs out of our collective memories. In truth, however, Cone is a Yankee through and through (no, Baseball Reference, I do not care that you show him in a Mets hat), with whom he won four World Series championships, threw a perfect game, and was named to two All-Star teams. The Cy Young Award might have come in Kansas City, but he was still considered the leader of a championship pitching staff.
As 1997 dawned, Cone was 188 strikeouts short of 2,000. While far from an impossible task — he had seven times in his career to that point, after all — injury concerns would have made it a taller order than it may have seemed; Cone had missed most of 1996 with an aneurysm in his pitching arm, after all. So what happened? Naturally, Cone proceeded to record 222 K’s on the year (his most since 1992), and he would strike out his 2,000th batter on July 28th in the Bronx. And it was no cheapy strikeout either: Cone fanned the 58-homer bat of Mark McGwire, who was making one of his final appearances in an Oakland uniform.
By this point, there’s not much about Mike Mussina that we haven’t already said here on Pinstripe Alley. As part of Best Teams to Never Win a Championship week on SB Nation, we named him the “unsung cornerstone of the 2003 Yankees.” Jake opined that his Hall of Fame induction being overshadowed by Mariano Rivera becoming the first unanimous selection was fitting, as the right-hander was a top-flight but oft-overlooked starter throughout his career. Years before he was elected to Cooperstown, Andrew was an ardent defender of Mussina’s cases. And as a collective, we named the Yankees’ decision to sign him as one of the smartest moves of the past 25 seasons.
As the 2003 season commenced, Mussina — labeled as the team’s No. 3 starter — needed a very nice 69 strikeouts to reach 2,000. Because he refused to strike out fewer than eight batters in each of his first seven starts, it took him just nine outings to get there. On May 18th, he fanned Hank Blalock to lead off the top of the fourth for No. 2,000 (and then proceeded to strike out future teammate Alex Rodriguez just because he could).
You may have noticed a trend so far in this article: none of the pitchers who recorded their 2,000th strikeout with the Yankees actually made their MLB debuts with the Yankees. That trend ends here. Originally drafted in the 22nd round of the 1990 draft, the left-handed Pettitte was the first — and so far, the only — Yankee pitcher to have come up through the Yankees farm system, make his debut with the organization, and record his 2,000th strikeout with the team.*
*Unfortunately, an ill-advised three-year stint in Houston prevented him from being the only pitcher to reach this mark and spend his whole career in pinstripes.
In the second inning on September 21, 2008, Pettitte joined this exclusive club by striking out Ramón Hernández. If this date seems familiar to you, well, it should: it was the last game ever played at the old Yankee Stadium. That old ballpark waited until the last possible moment to see a homegrown pitcher reach this historic milestone before Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter closed the doors.
And now we return to our parade of non-homegrown pitchers who reached major milestones with the Yankees. After establishing himself as one of the game’s premier pitchers in Cleveland, CC Sabathia signed a seven=year deal with the Yankees after the 2008 season to give the team an ace it had been seeking for years. Not only did that move immediately pay off, with the Yankees riding Sabathia, Pettitte, and A.J. Burnett in the 2009 postseason for the team’s first World Series since 2000, it brought to the organization a player who would become a favorite both in the clubhouse and among the fans.
Heading into the 2011 season, milestone watch had just begun to creep into view for Sabathia, who was 213 strikeouts shy; only once in his career had he reached that high threshold, and that was when he made 35 starts in 2008 to drag the Milwaukee Brewers into the playoffs down the stretch. For the last time in his career, however, CC surpassed the 200-K mark, and he did that before the month of August ended! Then, on September 10th, he fanned Torii Hunter in the bottom of the third for his 213th of the season.
That would not be his CC’s milestone, however. Eight seasons later, Sabathia would become the 17th pitcher to record 3000 strikeouts (and just the third lefty), and the second to do so in a Yankee uniform (Phil Niekro is the other).