The decline of the complete game, at first gradual and recently quite rapid, is the biggest single change in Major League Baseball in my lifetime. I would argue it’s even more significant than the designated hitter and the post-season playoffs, because it is not due to any rule change or schedule change. The fact that most pitchers rarely go the distance these days has transformed everything about big league pitching staffs, the way batters approach their plate appearances, how the game is managed, and how rosters are constructed. At the beginning of the last century, at the dawn of what’s known as the modern era in baseball, pitchers were expected to complete most starts. The Detroit Tigers’ all-time leader in complete games, George Mullin, who pitched for the Tigers from 1902 to 1913. had 336 complete games in 395 starts, a completion rate of 85%. Teammate Wild Bill Donovan pitched 213 complete games in 242 starts from 1903 to 1918, a completion rate of 88%. By the time the Tigers were winning their fourth through seventh AL pennants — from 1934 through 1945 — starting pitchers were still finishing more than half the games they started. The Tigers’ big three pitchers of that era had a completion rate well over 50%. Hal Newhouser finished 212 of his 373 starts, Tommy Bridges 200 of 362, and Dizzy Trout 156 of 305. Complete games were declining slowly over the course of the decades. By the time of the 1968 champion Tigers, the completion rate was still around 40 percent: Mickey Lolich finished 190 of his 459 starts (41.4%) and Denny McLain 94 of his 219 (42.9%). The gradual decline in complete games over the twentieth century, which years had cut in half the completion rate (from 80% to 4%), then started to accelerate as relievers proliferated and “closers” began to assume larger roles on big league pitching staffs. The winningest pitcher of the 1980s, Jack Morris, completed 154 of his 408 starts for Detroit — 37.7%. In retrospect, Morris is considered one of the last bulldogs in the game — the kind of pitcher who would battle a manager tooth and nail to stay in the game, no matter what his pitch count was. There’s nobody like that left today. In 1983, Morris had 20 complete games. Thirty years later, not one major league team had as many as half that total. In 2013, the Tampa Bay Rays led the majors with nine complete games; no other team had more than seven. In 1983, 21% of games were complete games, but by 2013 it was down to 3%. This month, Max Scherzer finally pitched a complete game — in his 142nd start as a Tiger (and the 179th start of his career). But Max didn’t set the record for most starts as a Tiger without a complete game. Last September 10, Rick Porcello went the distance for the first time in his 147th start as a Tiger. (With Scherzer’s shutout, Porcello remains the record-holder for most Tiger starts without pitching a shutout (now 162). Justin Thompson is next, with 109 starts. ) With Scherzer going the distance, who now holds the record for most starts as a Tiger without a complete game? The answer: Kenny Rogers, with 74. Among all Tigers who’ve made at least 50 starts, here are those besides Rogers with the lowest percentage of complete games: Rick Porcello 1/161, 0.6% Max Scherzer 1/142, 0.7% Mike Maroth 3/143, 2.1% Nate Robertson 4/168, 2.4% Armando Galarraga 2/77, 2.6% Dave Mlicki 2/67, 3.0% Jeremy Bonderman 6/193 , 3.1% Willie Blair 2/64, 3.1% Anibal Sanchez 2/52, 3.8% Jose Lima 2/50, 4% Doug Fister 3/68, 4.4% Jason Johnson 3/66, 4.5% Nate Cornejo 3/56, 5.3% Felipe Lira 4/69, 5.8% Juan Berenguer 4/60, 6.7% Justin Verlander 20/280, 7.1% Brian Moehler 10/131, 7.6% John Doherty 5/61, 8.2% Justin Thompson 9/101, 8.9% Jeff Weaver 10/109, 9.2% Bill Gullickson 11/116, 9.5% With the exception of Berenguer, who was a reliever and spot starter in the 1980s, all these are Tigers who’ve pitched in the last twenty years, when complete games have become almost extinct. Justin Verlander, with a completion rate more than twice the current MLB average but less than a fifth of Jack Morris’s, is today’s definition of a bulldog. How times have changed. Speaking of Detroit’s current rotation, how long do you think it will be before Drew Smyly pitches a complete game? Will it be any sooner than “never”?