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League Park - Cy Young


"Some may have thought it was essential to know how to curve a ball before anything else. Experience, to my mind, teaches to the contrary. Any young player who has good control will become a successful curve pitcher long before the pitcher who is endeavoring to master both curves and control at the same time. The curve is merely an accessory to control."

Cy Young

* Cy Young began his professional career in 1889 with the Canton, Ohio team of the Tri-State League, a professional minor league. Young impressed scouts during his tryout; years later, he recalled, "I almost tore the boards off the grandstand with my fast ball."[4] The catcher who warmed up Young gave him the nickname "Cyclone" in reference to the speed of his fastball. Reporters then shortened the name to "Cy". "Cy" became the nickname he used the rest of his life.[5]The nickname may also derive from "Cy" (as in "Cyrus") or "Si" (as in "Silas"), which like "Rube" was a colloquial and somewhat pejorative catch-all nickname for a country boy. In Young's one year with the Canton team, he won 15 games and lost 15 games.[2]

Franchises in the National League, the major professional sports league, wanted the best players available to them. Therefore, in 1890, Young signed for $500 with the Cleveland Spiders, which had moved up from the American Association to the National League the previous year.

On August 6, 1890, in his first major league start, Young pitched a three-hit shutout.[6]. While Young was on the Spiders, Chief Zimmer was his catcher more often than any other player. Bill James, a noted baseball statistician, estimated that Zimmer caught Young in more games than any other battery in baseball history.[7]

Early on, Young established himself as one of the harder throwing pitchers in the sport. In the absence of radar guns, it is difficult to say just how hard Young actually threw. However, James wrote that Zimmer often put a piece of beefsteak inside his baseball glove to protect his catching hand from Young's fastball.[7] Young continued to perform at a high level and on the last day of the 1890 season, he won both games of a doubleheader.[3] By the end of his rookie season, Young was the team's top pitcher.

In the first weeks of Young's career, Cap Anson, the famous player-manager of the Chicago Colts spotted his ability. Anson told Spiders manager Gus Schmelz "He's too green to do your club much good, but I believe if I taught him what I know, I might make a pitcher out of him in a couple of years. He's not worth it now, but I'm willing to give you $1,000 for him." Schmelz replied, "Cap, you can keep your thousand and we'll keep the rube."[8]

Two years after his debut, the National League moved the pitcher's mound from fifty feet (where it had been since 1881) to sixty feet and six inches. In the book The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers, sports journalist Rob Neyer wrote that the speed with which pitchers like Cy Young, Amos Rusie, and Jouett Meekin threw was the impetus that caused the move.[9]

The 1892 regular season was a success for Young, who led the National League in wins (36), ERA (1.93), and shutouts (9). Just as many contemporary Minor League Baseball leagues operate today, the National League was using a split season format during the 1892 season.[10] The Boston Beaneaters won the first-half title and the Spiders won the second-half title, with a best-of-nine series determining the league champion. Despite the Spiders' second half run, the Beaneaters swept the series five games to none. Young pitched three complete games in the series but lost his only two decisions. He also threw a complete game shutout, but the game ended in a 0-0 tie.

In 1895, the Spiders faced the Baltimore Orioles in the Temple Cup, a precursor to the World Series. Young won three games and Cleveland won the Cup, four games to one. It was around this time that Young added what he called a "slow ball" to his pitching repertoire, to reduce stress on his arm; today, the pitch is called a changeup.[3]

In July, 1896, Young lost a no-hitter with two outs in the ninth inning when Ed Delahanty of the Philadelphia Athletics hit a single.[11] On September 18, 1897, Young pitched the first no-hitter of his career in a game against the Cincinatti Reds. Although Young did not walk a batter, the Spiders committed four errors while on defense. One of the errors had originally been ruled a hit, but the Cleveland third baseman sent a note to the press box after the eighth inning, saying he had made an error, and the ruling was changed. Young later said that despite his teammate's gesture, he considered the game to be a one-hitter.[12]

Prior to the 1899 season, Frank Robison, the Spiders owner, bought the St. Louis Browns, thus owning two clubs at the same time. The Browns were renamed the "Perfectos," and restocked with Cleveland talent. Just weeks before the season opener, most of the better Spiders players were transferred to St. Louis, including three future Hall of Famers: Young, Jesse Burkett and Bobby Wallace.[13] The roster maneuvers failed to create a powerhouse Perfectos team, as St. Louis finished fifth in both 1899 and 1900. But the depleted Spiders lost 134 games, the most in MLB history, before folding.

Young spent two years with St. Louis, while finding his favorite catcher, Lou Criger. The two men would be teammates for a decade.[14][15]

In 1901, the rival American League declared major league status, and set about raiding National League rosters. Young left St. Louis and joined the American League's Boston Americans for a $3,500 contract. Young would remain with the Boston team until 1909.

In his first year in the American League, Young was dominant. Pitching to Criger, who had also jumped to Boston, Young led the league in wins, strikeouts and ERA[b], thus earning the colloquial AL Triple Crown for Pitchers. That season, he also pitched the first perfect game in American League history.[16][a2] Young won almost 42% of his team's games in 1901, a record which would stand for over seventy years until broken by Steve Carlton's 27-10 record for a 59-win Phillies team.[17]

In February, 1902, before the start of the baseball season, Young served as a pitching coach at Harvard University. The sixth-grade graduate instructing Harvard students made great copy for the delighted Boston newspapers.[3]

In 1903 the Boston Americans played the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first modern World Series. Young, who started Game One, threw the first pitch in World Series history. But the Pirates scored four runs in the first inning and Young lost the game. Young performed better in subsequent games, winning his next two starts. He also drove in three runs in Game Five. Young finished the series with a 2-1 record and a 1.85 ERA in four appearances, and the Americans defeat the Pirates five games to three games.

After one-hitting Boston on May 2, 1904, Philadelphia Athletics star pitcher Rube Waddell taunted Young to face him so that he could repeat his performance against Boston's ace. The matchup occurred three days later, but the results were not what Waddell had hoped for.

Three days later, Young pitched a perfect game against Waddell and the Athletics.[a3] It was the first perfect game in American League history. [18] Waddell was the 27th and last batter, and when he flied out, Young shouted, "How do you like that, you hayseed?" [19]

Waddell had picked an inauspicious time to issue his challenge. Young's perfect game was the centerpiece of a sterling pitching streak. Young set major league records for both the most consecutive scoreless innings pitched, and for the most consecutive innings without allowing a hit; the latter record still stands at 24.3 innings, or 73 hitless batters. Even after allowing a hit, Young's scoreless streak reached 45 shutout innings, a record not broken until 1968.[17]

Before Young, only two pitchers had thrown perfect games.[a3] During the 1880 season, Lee Richmond and John Ward pitched perfect games within five days of each other. However, the circumstances for Richmond and Ward were very different from Young's. In 1880, the mound was 15 feet closer to the batter, walks required eight balls, and pitchers were obliged to throw side-armed.[1]

One year later, on July 4, 1905, Rube Waddell got a measure of revenge when he beat Young and the Americans 4-2 in a 20-inning matchup. Young pitched 13 consecutive scoreless innings before he gave up a pair of unearned runs in the final inning. Young did not walk a batter, and was later quoted: "For my part, I think it was the greatest game of ball I ever took part in."[20] In 1907, Young and Waddell faced off in a scoreless 13-inning tie.

On June 30, 1908, Young pitched the third no-hitter of his career. Three months past his 41st birthday, Cy Young was the oldest pitcher to record a no-hitter, a record which would stand 82 years until 43-year-old Nolan Ryan surpassed the feat. Only a leadoff walk kept Young from his second perfect game; after that runner was caught stealing, no other batter reached base. Young was now the second-oldest player in either league, but was still one of the AL's elite pitchers. One month before his no-hitter, he'd allowed just one single while facing 28 batters.[17]

On August 13, 1908, the league celebrated "Cy Young Day." No American League games were played on that day, and a group of All-Stars from the league's other teams gathered in Boston to play against Young and the Red Sox.[21]

Young was traded back to Cleveland before the 1909 season, this time to the Cleveland Naps of the American League. He split 1911, his final year, between the Naps and the Boston Rustlers.

On September 22, 1911, Young shut out the Pittsburgh Pirates and their pitcher Babe Adams 1-0, for his last career victory. But two weeks later, Young's 906th and final game was an unsatisfying coda: the last eight batters of Young's career combined to hit a triple, four singles and three doubles.

Young's legacy

Young retired after the 1911 season with 511 career wins. His win total set the record for most career wins by a pitcher. At the time, Pud Galvin had the second most career wins with 364. Walter Johnson, then in his fourth season, finished his career with 417 wins and is now second on the list. However, Johnson broke Young's career record for strikeouts.

Cy Young's career spanned several decades and is seen as a bridge from baseball's earliest days to its modern era; he pitched against stars such as Cap Anson, already an established player when the National League was first formed in 1876, as well as against Eddie Collins, who played until 1930. When Young's career began, pitchers delivered the baseball underhand and fouls were not counted as strikes. The pitcher's mound was not moved back to its present position of 60 feet, six inches until Young's fourth season; he did not wear a glove until his sixth.[3]

Young led his leagues in wins five times (1892, 1895, and 1901-1903), finishing second twice. His career high was 36 in 1892. He had fifteen seasons with twenty or more wins, two more than the runners-up, Christy Mathewson and Warren Spahn. Young won two ERA titles during his career, in 1892 (1.93) and in 1901 (1.62), and was three times the runner-up. Young's earned run average was below 2.00 six times, but this was not uncommon during the dead ball era. Although Young threw over 400 innings in each of his first four full seasons, he did not lead his league until 1902. He had 40 or more complete games nine times. Young also led his league in strikeouts twice (with 140 in 1896, and 158 in 1901), and in shutouts nine times.

Particularly after his fastball slowed, Young's success relied upon his great control. Young said:

"Some may have thought it was essential to know how to curve a ball before anything else. Experience, to my mind, teaches to the contrary. Any young player who has good control will become a successful curve pitcher long before the pitcher who is endeavoring to master both curves and control at the same time. The curve is merely an accessory to control."[8]

For fourteen consecutive years, from 1893 through 1906, Young led his league in fewest walks per nine innings thirteen times, and finished second the other season. Only twice in his 22-year career did Young finish lower than 6th in the category. Although the WHIP ratio was not calculated until well after Young's death, Young was the retroactive league leader in this category seven times, and was second or third another seven times.

In addition to his peerless control, Young was also a workhorse who avoided injury. For nineteen consecutive years, from 1891 through 1909, Cy Young was in his leagues' top ten for innings pitched; in fourteen of the seasons, he was in the top five. Not until 1900, a decade into his career, did Young pitch two consecutive incomplete games.[12]

By habit, Young restricted his practice throws in spring training. "I figured the old arm had just so many throws in it," said Young, "and there wasn't any use wasting them." Young once described his approach before a game:

"I never warmed up ten, fifteen minutes before a game like most pitchers do. I'd loosen up, three, four minutes. Five at the outside. And I never went to the bullpen. Oh, I'd relieve all right, plenty of times, but I went right from the bench to the box, and I'd take a few warm-up pitches and be ready. Then I had good control. I aimed to make the batter hit the ball, and I threw as few pitches as possible. That's why I was able to work every other day."[8]

Young also credited his offseason farming chores, including wood chopping, with keeping his pitching strength in good shape until he was 44.[22] Even at the time of his retirement, his arm was healthy, but Young had gained weight and was unable to field his position anymore.[23] In three of his last four years, he was the oldest player in the league.

The first Cy Young Award was voted on in 1956, and was given to Brooklyn's Don Newcombe. Originally, it was a single award covering the whole of baseball. The honor was divided into two Cy Young Awards in 1967, one for each league.

Cy Young is tied with Roger Clemens for the most career wins by a Boston Red Sox pitcher. They each won 192 games while with the franchise.[24]

Young was saluted in the poem "Lineup for Yesterday" by Ogden Nash:
Y is for Young,
The magnificent Cy;
People batted against him,
But I never knew why.

* - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia



Career statistics
Win-Loss     511-316
E.R.A.     2.63
Strike Outs     2798