Young, Cy (1867-1955)

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Young, Cy (1867-1955)

"Y is for Young/The magnificent Cy/People batted against him/But I never knew why." So wrote Ogden Nash about the man who won more Major League Baseball games than anyone else—Denton True "Cy" Young. Young's 511 recorded victories number nearly 100 more than the nearest challenger. And though baseball historians have insisted that Walter Johnson, Lefty Grove, and Roger Clemens may have been better on the mound, they are confident that Young's lifetime totals of 7,356 innings pitched and 750 complete games will never be broken.

Young was born in Gilmore, Ohio, on March 29, 1867. He began his organized baseball career in nearby Canton, where he soon earned his nickname. Some claim the name Cy is short for cyclone, referring to his fastball, while others claim that Cy, like Rube, was a common nickname of the age for a naive, small town ballplayer. Young began his major league career in 1890 for the Cleveland Spiders of the National League, where in his rookie season he had an unprepossessing 9-7 win-loss record. Two seasons later, however, he went 36-12 for the Spiders. Young was so dominant that, before the 1893 season, the major leagues moved the pitcher's mound—from 50 feet from home plate to its current distance of 60 feet, 6 inches—to give batters a fighting chance. Yet even with the 10 extra feet, Young won 34 games in 1893, and 35 games in 1895.

After the 1898 season Young was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals, where he won 45 games in two seasons. Young then jumped to the Boston Somersets (later Red Sox) of the brand-new American League. Now in his mid-30s and in a new environment, Young proceeded to win 193 games for Boston during eight years. In 1903 Young won 28 games and pitched Boston into the first modern World Series, where he led his team to an upset victory over Honus Wagner's Pittsburgh Pirates, winning two games for his club.

Young was the first major league pitcher to throw three no-hitters during his career—a feat later equaled by Bob Feller and surpassed by Sandy Koufax and Nolan Ryan. In May 1904 against the Philadelphia Athletics, Young pitched the first perfect game of the twentieth century—a game in which he did not allow an Athletic batter to reach base.

In 1909 Young was traded to the American League's Cleveland Naps (now Indians), where he won his 500th game in 1910. However, his efficiency was declining with the onset of age and an expanding waistline. Young admitted that, as he grew heavier, he was unable to field bunts, and at the end of his career batters were taking advantage of this. In 1911 he ended his career with the Boston Braves of the National League. In his final start in September 1911, he lost a 1-0 game to Grover Cleveland Alexander, the rookie sensation for the Phillies who would go on to win 373 games in his lifetime.

Young returned to farming in Ohio, and became a regular celebrity at major league old-timer's games. When the Baseball Hall of Fame held its first election in 1936, Young narrowly missed being inducted in the first group of immortals; voters had to select from a pool of nineteenth-century players and a pool of twentieth-century players, and Young's career covered both eras. He was elected in 1937, and attended the inaugural induction ceremony in Cooperstown, New York, in 1939, where he posed for photographs with Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth, and Connie Mack.

Young died on November 4, 1955 in Newcomerstown, Ohio, at the age of 88. In his honor, the following year Major League Baseball initiated an annual award named after him: The Cy Young Award is presented to the best pitcher in each league. In the modern era, Roger Clemens has won five Cy Young Awards in the American League, while Greg Maddux has won four National League Cy Youngs.

—Andrew Milner

Further Reading:

James, Bill. The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. New York, Villard, 1986.

——. Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?: Baseball, Cooperstown and the Politics of Glory. New York, Fireside, 1995.

Okrent, Daniel, and Harris Lewine. The Ultimate Baseball Book. New York, Houghton Mifflin, 1991.

Thorn, John, and Pete Palmer. Total Baseball. New York, Total Sports, 1999.