The 3,000-strikeout club is one of baseball's two most defining pitching achievements, along with the 300-win club. Only the greatest pitchers in Major League history have reached 3,000 strikeouts in their career.
The club has just 17 members. Fourteen of those 17 are in the Hall of Fame. Two of the pitchers who aren't -- Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling -- would likely have been inducted into Cooperstown already if not for reasons outside of baseball. The third, Yankees southpaw CC Sabathia, collected his 3,000th strikeout Tuesday night in Arizona.
There are only a prestigious few milestones that are so iconic in the sport -- really, only 3,000 strikeouts and 300 wins for pitchers and 3,000 hits and 500 home runs for hitters.
Here are the 17 pitchers in MLB's 3,000-strikeout club, ranked by their career strikeout totals.
1. Nolan Ryan: 5,714 strikeouts
Ryan took over as MLB's all-time strikeout leader on April 27, 1983, when he passed Walter Johnson with No. 3,509. Then he struck out 2,205 more batters before his career was over. The Ryan Express is the only Major Leaguer in the 5,000-strikeout club -- he reached that milestone by striking out a fellow Hall of Famer, Rickey Henderson, on Aug. 22, 1989. In his career, Ryan led his league in strikeouts 11 times, and he struck out more than 300 batters in a season six times. He joined the 3,000-strikeout club as an Astro on the Fourth of July in 1980 by striking out Cesar Geronimo.
2. Randy Johnson: 4,875 strikeouts
The Big Unit was a nine-time league leader in strikeouts in his Hall of Fame career, and, like Ryan, he also had six 300-strikeout seasons -- tied for the most, and twice as many as anyone else. Five of those years came consecutively for Johnson, from 1998-2002, a span encompassing his four straight National League Cy Young Awards with the D-backs over the latter four seasons. Johnson joined the 3,000-strikeout club during that run, on Sept. 10, 2000, by striking out Mike Lowell. He entered the 4,000-strikeout club a few years later on June 29, 2004, by striking out Jeff Cirillo. Johnson was the fastest pitcher to reach the 3,000-strikeout mark, both by games (362) and innings pitched (2,473 2/3).
3. Roger Clemens: 4,672 strikeouts
Clemens has won more Cy Young Awards, seven, than any other pitcher in Major League history. The Rocket struck out well over 200 batters in all seven of those Cy Young seasons, and he was the league leader in three of them. He also led the league in K's two other times. Clemens' 3,000th strikeout victim was Randy Winn on July 5, 1998, when Clemens was with the Blue Jays; his 4,000th was Edgar Renteria on June 13, 2003 as a Yankee -- also the day of his 300th win.
4. Steve Carlton: 4,136 strikeouts
The Phillies legend won his first of four career Cy Young Awards in 1972 on the strength of a 310-strikeout season. That was also the first of five times he led his league in strikeouts. Carlton, Clemens, Randy Johnson and Ryan complete the membership of the 4,000-strikeout club. Lefty's entry into that club, with a strikeout of Eric Davis on Aug. 5, 1986 (as a Giant), came five years after he joined the 3,000-strikeout club vs. Tim Wallach on April 29, 1981. Carlton and the Big Unit are the only two left-handed pitchers in the 3,000-strikeout club.
5. Bert Blyleven: 3,701 strikeouts
Blyleven struck out 200-plus batters eight times in his Hall of Fame career (the same number as Carlton, among others). Only six pitchers have had more such seasons. He led the AL with 206 strikeouts in 1985 and struck out a personal-best 258 in '73. Blyleven's 3,000th strikeout came against Mike Davis on Aug. 1, 1986, during his second stint with the Twins.
6. Tom Seaver: 3,640 strikeouts
Seaver led the NL in strikeouts five times with the Mets, including when he struck out a career-high 289 batters in 1971. He's also one of just four pitchers with 10 or more 200-strikeout seasons -- his 10 trail only Clemens' 12, Randy Johnson's 13 and Ryan's 15. Tom Terrific joined the 3,000-strikeout club on April 18, 1981, when he struck out another Mets icon -- Keith Hernandez -- although Hernandez was on the Cardinals, and Seaver on the Reds. At the time he reached the milestone, Seaver was just the fifth member of the 3,000-strikeout club, along with Ryan, Walter Johnson, Bob Gibson and Gaylord Perry.
7. Don Sutton: 3,574 strikeouts
Sutton was never a league leader in strikeouts, but he reached the 200-K mark five times, including a personal-best 217 strikeouts in 1969. In fact, he's the Dodgers' all-time franchise leader in strikeouts, with 2,696 of his career K's coming for Los Angeles -- that's more than both Don Drysdale (2,486) and Sandy Koufax (2,396), although Clayton Kershaw (2,275 entering 2019) could challenge Sutton's mark in the coming years. Sutton's 3,000th strikeout came during his late-career years with the Brewers, on June 24, 1983, against Alan Bannister.
8. Gaylord Perry: 3,534 strikeouts
In 1982, Perry, Ryan and Carlton were all chasing Walter Johnson's all-time strikeout mark. Ryan got there first, and Carlton two weeks later, but Perry also eclipsed The Big Train's mark that had stood for more than half a century. Perry, like Carlton and Blyleven, posted eight 200-strikeout seasons in his Hall of Fame career. He joined the 3,000-strikeout club by fanning Joe Simpson on Oct. 1, 1978 -- part of a 10-inning, 10-strikeout gem he threw on the final day of the season, capping a Cy Young Award year with the Padres.
9. Walter Johnson: 3,508 strikeouts
The Big Train is one of the most iconic pitchers in Major League history, and the founding member of the 3,000-strikeout club. Johnson's 3,508 career strikeouts stood as the MLB record for 55 years after his retirement, until Ryan finally surpassed him. The Washington Senators legend led the league in strikeouts 12 times -- the most of any pitcher in history, one better than Ryan -- including eight straight seasons from 1912-19. Johnson reached the 300-strikeout mark twice, and the 200-strikeout mark seven times. He became the first pitcher ever to reach 3,000 strikeouts on July 22, 1923, by fanning a fellow Hall of Fame pitcher, Stan Coveleski.
10. Greg Maddux: 3,371 strikeouts
Maddux formed the "Big Three" of the 1990s Braves dynasty, along with fellow Hall of Famers John Smoltz and Tom Glavine, which was maybe the greatest starting rotation of all time. Both Maddux and Smoltz are 3,000-strikeout club members (Glavine finished his career with 2,607), with Maddux reaching the mark a few years ahead of Smoltz and finishing his career with a slight edge in total K's over Smoltz's 3,084. Maddux got strikeout No. 3,000 with the Cubs -- the same place he started his career -- on July 26, 2005, against Omar Vizquel.
11. Phil Niekro: 3,342 strikeouts
Niekro is second only to Smoltz on the Braves' all-time strikeout list, with 2,912 of his 3,342 career K's coming with the organization. He led the NL with a career-high 262 strikeouts in 1977, and also exceeded 200 strikeouts in each of the next two years -- and those were his age-38 to age-40 seasons. The knuckleballer became the second pitcher to join the 3,000-strikeout club on Independence Day, after Ryan, reaching the milestone as a Yankee on July 4, 1984, when he struck out Larry Parrish.
12. Fergie Jenkins: 3,192 strikeouts
In his most dominant years with the Cubs in the late 1960s and early '70s, Ferguson reached the 200-strikeout mark five straight times, from 1967-71. The last four of those seasons, he was above 250. That included a league-leading 273 strikeouts in '69, a career-best 274 a year later, and 263 in his Cy Young Award-winning season the year after that. Jenkins got strikeout No. 3,000 facing Garry Templeton on May 25, 1982, after his return to Chicago for the twilight of his career. Jenkins was the first pitcher to record his 3,000th strikeout as a Cub, before Maddux joined him.
13. Pedro Martinez: 3,154 strikeouts
As dominant a pitcher as just about any to ever take the mound, Pedro struck out 300 batters twice, once with the Red Sox (a career-high 313 in 1999) and once with the Expos (305 in '97). He won his league's Cy Young Award in both of those seasons. Martinez also had nine 200-strikeout seasons -- only Ryan, Randy Johnson, Clemens and Seaver had more. He led the AL in strikeouts three times, including that 1999 season and his historic 2000, when he went 18-6 with a 1.74 ERA and 284 K's in one of the greatest individual pitching campaigns in history. He joined the 3,000-strikeout club as a member of the Mets on Sept. 3, 2007, by fanning Aaron Harang.
14. Bob Gibson: 3,117 strikeouts
The 3,000-strikeout club only had a single member, Walter Johnson, until Gibson joined it in 1974. The Cardinals legend reached the milestone mark with a strikeout of Geronimo -- who would become Ryan's 3,000th strikeout victim six years later, making him the only batter to hold that distinction for more than one pitcher. Gibson's nine 200-strikeout seasons tie him with Pedro for the fifth-most all-time, and he broke the 250-strikeout mark four times. One of those seasons was his history-making 1968 campaign, when Gibson led the NL with 268 K's… and set the live-ball era record with a 1.12 ERA.
15. Curt Schilling: 3,116 strikeouts
The most defining part of Schilling's on-the-field legacy is his postseason brilliance, but he was plenty good in the regular season, too. He had three 300-strikeout seasons -- only Ryan and Randy Johnson had more -- leading the league in two of those years with the Phillies, 1997 (319 strikeouts) and '98 (300). The only reason Schilling didn't lead the league in the other, 2002, was because his co-ace in Arizona, the Big Unit, racked up 334 K's to Schilling's 316. Schilling's milestone 3,000th strikeout came with the Red Sox on Aug. 30, 2006, against Nick Swisher.
16. John Smoltz: 3,084 strikeouts
Prior to Sabathia, Smoltz had been the most recent member to join. He reached the mark when he struck out Felipe Lopez on April 22, 2008, during his final year in Atlanta. Smoltz is the Braves' all-time leader in strikeouts -- 3,011 of his 3,084 career K's came with the franchise he spent two full decades with. He struck out a career-best and Major League-leading 276 batters in his Cy Young Award-winning 1996 campaign, and also led the NL in '92 with 215 K's.
17. CC Sabathia: 3,002 strikeouts (through April 30, 2019)
Rounding out the 3,000-strikeout club is Sabathia, who gained entrance as the third lefty in the club when he punched out D-backs catcher John Ryan Murphy at Arizona’s Chase Field. Sabathia has cracked the 200-strikeout threshold just three times in his career, but he is one of just 10 pitchers to strike out at least 120 batters in 17 different seasons, and one of three lefties to do that, joining Carlton (19) and Johnson (18).
David Adler is a reporter and researcher for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.