Young, Denton True ("Cy")

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YOUNG, Denton True ("Cy")

(b. 29 March 1867 in Gilmore, Ohio; d. 4 November 1955 in Peoli, Ohio), pitcher who won 511 games, the most in baseball history.

The eldest of five children born to McKinzie Young, a farmer, and Nancy Miller, a homemaker, Young was raised on a farm in eastern Ohio, leaving school after sixth grade. A tall, strapping youth at six feet, two inches tall and 170 pounds, he broke into the majors in 1890 at the relatively advanced age of twenty-three, playing for the National League's (NL) Cleveland Spiders. Before long, he was nicknamed "Cyclone" because of the speed of his fastball, and this was soon shortened to "Cy." Young quickly emerged as the Spiders' ace and helped the club to become, behind the Boston team and the Baltimore Orioles, the third-most successful franchise of the 1890s. He won more than thirty games three times during the decade and never failed to win at least twenty.

In 1892 Young led Cleveland into the postseason championship series against Boston. The opening game of that match-up, in which he dueled Jack Stivetts during eleven scoreless innings, is one of the most celebrated contests in baseball history. Three years later, when the Spiders met Baltimore in postseason play, Young led his team to a Temple Cup victory by winning three games against the powerful Orioles. In 1897, facing Cincinnati, Young threw his first no-hitter. His successes across the decade stamp him as one of a trio of outstanding pitchers—Kid Nichols and Amos Rusie are the other two—whose careers were not undone when the pitching distance was lengthened from fifty-five feet, six inches, to the current distance of sixty feet, six inches in 1893.

Prior to the 1899 season the Spiders' owner secured control of the NL's St. Louis franchise, and in an effort to escape Cleveland's revenue-damaging prohibition on Sunday baseball, shifted most of his squad to his new club. Young was unhappy in Missouri, however, and in 1900 the summer heat, combined with the first serious injury of his career, reduced his victory total to nineteen. (It is worth noting, though, that record-keeping was casual in those days and some historians credit him with twenty wins.)

In 1901 the American League (AL), aiming to break the NL's monopoly on major league status, persuaded various NL stars to jump to its franchises. Eager to improve upon an annual salary that cannot have exceeded $3,000 during the 1890s, Young left St. Louis and went to Boston. Although he was already the oldest regular pitcher in baseball, he quickly established himself as the dominant hurler in the new league. In each of his first two seasons he won more than thirty games.

Two years later in 1903, Young led his team to victory in the first World Series, defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates for the championship and making him the only pitcher to record postseason victories in both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. An episode during this series underscores Young's celebrated commitment to honesty. In Pittsburgh, gamblers offered him a substantial sum of money to perform poorly. He spurned the offer, told them that they would be unwise to bet against him, and proceeded to compile the lowest earned run average of any pitcher in the series.

In the 1904 season, Young pitched a still-unequaled record of twenty-four consecutive hitless innings and against the Philadelphia Athletics hurled the first major-league perfect game at the longer pitching distance. The team won the AL pennant that year, with Young earning $6,000, the high-water mark for his career.

After this, age began to exact a visible toll on Young. Thirty-eight years old when the 1905 season began, visibly overweight, and pitching less frequently, he slipped below twenty wins that year, and fell to a lowly thirteen in 1906. He enjoyed a modest rebirth in 1907 and 1908, winning twenty-one games in each season and hurling his third career no-hitter against Washington in the latter year. Over the subsequent off-season in 1909 he was traded to the AL's Cleveland team, with whom, during the 1910 season, he recorded his 500th victory. In the middle of the 1911 season Cleveland concluded that Young's old mastery had permanently evaporated and released him. Young then rounded out his twenty-two-season career by winning four games for the NL's feeble Boston club.

Young married Robba Miller on 8 November 1892, but the couple's only child died in 1907 a few hours after birth. Caring little for city life, Young returned to Peoli, Ohio, as promptly as possible when each baseball season ended, where he spent his winters chopping wood, hiking, and hunting. After a stint at managing in the Federal League in 1913, Young retired permanently from baseball to become a full-time farmer. A few years after his wife's death in 1933 he moved in with a younger Peoli family, living the rest of his life on their farm. In 1939 Young was one of the charter inductees into the National Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown. He died of heart failure and is buried in the Methodist churchyard in Peoli.

The ultimate craftsman, Young holds a variety of cumulative records that will never be eclipsed: the most career victories (511), the most losses (316), and the most innings pitched (7,356). His trademark pitch was a fastball, but unlike some of his contemporaries, he labored to hone his skills. Thus, as his career progressed, he expanded his repertoire with two curveballs, a change-up, and an occasional spitball. He studied hitters closely and, because he had exceptional control over all his offerings, he could exploit any weaknesses he detected. Although in only a few seasons was Young indisputably the "best" pitcher in baseball, he was among the best for almost two decades. Since he played in an era marked by brevity of pitching careers, frequency of pitching assignments, and imperfect attention to conditioning, this durability is remarkable. Young was, in short, a model athlete—gifted, smart, hard-working, and honest—and his name is therefore aptly affixed to the Cy Young Award, given annually to the best pitcher in each league.

The National Baseball Library at Cooperstown, New York, and the Temperance Tavern Museum in Newcomerstown, Ohio, contain files, scrapbooks, and physical artifacts related to Young. One biography is Ralph Romig, Cy Young: Baseball's LegendaryGiant (1964). The most recent biography is Reed Browning, Cy Young: A Baseball Life (2000). Issues of the Sporting News and Sporting Life from between 1890 and 1911 published many articles about Young. An obituary is in the New York Times (5 Nov. 1955)

Reed Browning