A pitcher worthy of a trophy
By Bob Diskin
Special to ESPN.com
The number 511 doesn't have the same cachet as Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak or Mark McGwire's 70 home runs. It's not as much a symbol of endurance as Cal Ripken's newly minted 2,632. Nor does it quite get the juices flowing like Hank Aaron's 755 homers or Pete Rose's 4,256 hits.
But in its way, the 511 victories of Cy Young might be the true Everest of all baseball records. Warren Spahn, the winningest pitcher since 1930, is 148 wins away. His 363 victories are just 71 percent of Young's total.
Young also is the record-holder for most defeats (314), complete games (750), starts (815) and innings (7,357). His winning percentage of .619 is impressive and his lifetime earned run average is a healthy 2.63. He won more than 30 games five times and was a 20-game winner 15 times. It's no wonder that the annual award given to the best pitcher in each league is named after him.
Young, who was born shortly after the Civil War and died after the Korean War, began his 22-year career during the administration of Benjamin Harrison. It predates 1894, which is generally acknowledged to be the year that the game took on the shape that we know today. The pitcher's mound was permanently fixed at a distance of 60 feet, 6 inches after being a mere 50 feet from home plate.
During Young's early career, some stability came to the national pastime. Players stopped jumping to the highest bidder and statistics began to be kept with some accuracy.
Denton True Young was born on March 29, 1867, on a farm in Gilmore, Ohio. He attributed his longevity and sound arm to working on a farm his entire life. He enjoyed chopping wood as a means to strengthen his arm.
"I never had a sore arm, and I pitched every third day," Young said. "Once I pitched every other day for 18 days."
While in the minor leagues with Canton, Ohio, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound right-hander warmed up by throwing pitches against a wooden fence. When someone said that the fence looked like a cyclone hit it after Young had completed his warmups, he was nicknamed "Cyclone," which was later shortened to Cy.
Young pitched from 1890-1900 in the National League, hurling for the Cleveland Spiders his first nine seasons before moving to the St. Louis Cardinals. In those days, one company could own more than one team in the league. This was the case with Cleveland and St. Louis, both of which were owned by the Robison brothers. Frequently the owner would shift all of his better players to the team with the better chance to win.
Young found himself on an 84-67 team in St. Louis in 1899 while the Spiders posted a 20-134 record, the worst in baseball history.
Young pitched a three-hitter in his big-league debut in 1890 and pitched both games of a doubleheader that October, winning 5-1 and 7-3. After going 9-7 and 27-20 his first two years, in 1892 Young set a personal high of 36 wins (against 11 losses) while leading the league with a 1.93 ERA and nine shutouts. He went 32-16 in 1893 and after a disappointing 25-22 in 1894, bounced back with a 35-10 record in 1895.
He accomplished all this despite the decade being a time for hitters to feast since home plate was a 12-inch square rather than the pentagon 17 inches across that it became in 1900. Also foul balls were not considered strikes until 1901 in the National League and 1903 in the American League. (Foul bunts became strikes in 1894 and foul tips a year later.) Through this period Young's ERA was about 3.50.
After going 19-19 in 1900, Young jumped to the Boston Pilgrims of the newly formed American League in 1901. He led the league in wins his first three seasons with Boston, going 33-10 with a league-leading 1.63 ERA in 1901, 32-11 with a 2.15 ERA in 1902 and 28-9 with a 2.08 ERA in 1903.
The Pilgrims won the pennant in 1903 and Young started the first World Series game ever. He fanned the Pittsburgh Pirates' Eddie Phelps to record the first Series strikeout. Unfortunately for Boston, the catcher failed to hold the third strike and Phelps reached base. The Pirates scored four runs in the inning and beat Young 7-3.
Young came back to win Games 5 and 7, but he was overshadowed by teammate Bill Dineen, who won three games as Boston won the Series five games to three.
Young pitched with Boston through 1908, winning more than 20 games in 1904, 1907 and 1908. On August 13, 1908, Cy Young Day is celebrated by some 20,000 fans at Huntington Avenue Grounds in Boston. He pitched briefly against an All-Star team that included Jack Chesbro, Hal Chase and Wee Willie Keeler. The game was interrupted several times for presentations to Young.
In 1909 the pitcher returned to Cleveland, going 19-15. He went 7-10 and 7-9 his final two seasons, retiring at age 44 after the 1911 season as a member of the Boston Braves.
He is the only pitcher to have no-hitters in both the 19th and 20th century. On Sept. 18, 1897, he no-hit Cincinnati, 6-0. On May 5, 1904, Young twirled the first perfect game of this century, besting Hall of Famer Rube Waddell of the Philadelphia Athletics, 3-0. (Earlier in the year, Waddell had taunted Young with: "How did you like that one, you hayseed"). Young strikes out eight and allows only six balls out of the infield.
At the age of 41, Young posted the last of his no-hitters, humbling the New York Highlanders, 8-0, on June 30, 1908.
Young started the 1907 season as player-manager, but after seven games, in which Boston went 3-4, he decided managing wasn't for him and went back to being a fulltime pitcher.
Except for a couple of years at the beginning of the century, Young was not considered the best in the game at any time. But in one area Young had no peers -- impeccable control. He led his league in fewest walks per nine innings every season from 1893 to 1906. No other pitcher has led his league in any category for such an extended period.
The first Hall of Fame balloting was to have five representatives from pre-1900 and five from post-1900. Young's votes were split between the two groups, but he did have enough votes from the Old-Timers group to finish fourth behind Cap Anson, Buck Ewing and Wee Willie Keeler. However, the Old-Timers group quarreled over who should be selected and only five players chosen by the post-1900 group were charter members in 1936. Young was elected into the Hall in 1937.
After retiring from baseball, Young lived on his farm in Ohio before dying at age 88 on Nov. 4, 1955, in Newcomerstown, Ohio.
The following year, Commissioner Ford Frick commemorated a truly remarkable pitcher by establishing the Cy Young Award to be given to the season's outstanding pitcher. Originally the award was given to just one pitcher in the majors, but since 1967 one pitcher from each league has been selected.
When Detroit's Denny McLain became the last pitcher to win 30 games, in 1968, he asked about the man for whom his Cy Young Award was named. "You've done it once," he was told. "Cy Young topped 30 victories five times."