American baseball player
Two achievements have made Cy Young an immortal name in baseball, even as other stars of his time disappear into obscurity. His record of 511 career wins, set at a time when pitchers pitched more often than today and completed most games they started, is untouchable now. And soon after his death in 1955, the Cy Young Award was created to honor the two major leagues' best pitchers of each year. Young deserves the award. He dominated the game for the twenty years of his major league career. He bridged the era of baseball's beginnings in the 1800s and the start of its modern era in the 1900s. The star of the first modern World Series, he defined pitching excellence for his time.
His Early Years
Denton True Young was born in rural Gilmore, Ohio, on March 29, 1867, to a farmer who'd been a private in the Union army in the Civil War and his wife. Educated through the sixth grade, Young and his brothers quickly took to the game of baseball, which became popular throughout the country in the 1870s. They'd travel up to twenty miles, probably on foot or horseback, to play. Young's strong arm made him a natural pitcher early on;
he'd practice by throwing balls and walnuts at a target on his father's barn door.
He was still a teen when he and his father moved to Nebraska; he spent two years working as a farm hand and playing in semi-pro baseball games on Saturdays. In 1887, father and son moved back to Ohio. Young spent two more years playing semi-pro ball, pitching and playing second base in 1889 for a team in New Athens that won its local championship. His talent caught the attention of a minor league team in Canton, which signed him in 1890.
Young acquired his nickname right away. Worried that his new Canton teammates were skeptical of his abilities, he started throwing balls against a fence to show off. "I thought I had to show my stuff," he was quoted as saying in the 1965 book Kings of the Diamond. "I threw the ball so hard I tore a couple of boards off the grandstand. One of the fellows said the stand looked like a cyclone struck it. That's how I got the name that was later shortened to Cy." The local newspaper was calling him "Cyclone" by April 1890. (An alternate tale, less kind, suggests that his teammates took to calling him Cy, then a common nickname for someone who seemed like a country hick. That may have been part of the reason the name "Cyclone" was eventually shortened.)
Reporters were impressed with Young's fastball and curve ball, and he soon became known as the best pitcher in the Tri-State League, even though he was playing for an awful team. In July, Young pitched a no-hitter against McKeesport, striking out eighteen. A fierce competition for talented players that year, brought on by the creation of a third major league, made Young attractive to Cleveland's major league teams. The Cleveland Spiders paid Canton $300 to release Young, and he signed a contract with the Spiders that increased his monthly salary from $60 to $75.
Young pitched his first major league game on August 6, 1890. The press had raved about the arrival of the "Canton Cyclone," Reed Browning recounts in his book Cy Young: A Baseball Life, but the visiting Chicago Colts' player-manager, Cap Anson, is said to have taken a look at Young and dismissed him as "just another big farmer." Upset over the remark, Young gave up only three hits to the Colts, none to Anson himself. The Spiders won 8-1. Afterward, Anson tried to offer Spiders secretary Davis Hawley a thousand dollars to get Young on the Colts. Hawley said no.
|1867||Born March 29 in Gilmore, Ohio|
|1890||Joins Canton minor league team, gets nickname "Cyclone"|
|1890||Major league debut with Cleveland Spiders|
|1892||Leads Cleveland to fall season championship|
|1892||Marries Robba Miller|
|1895||Wins three games in Temple Cup series|
|1897||Pitches no-hitter against Cincinnati on September 18|
|1899||First season in St. Louis|
|1901||Joins Boston in American League|
|1903||Wins two games as Boston wins first modern World Series|
|1904||Pitches perfect game against Philadelphia A's on May 5|
|1908||Third no-hitter, against New York, June 30|
|1909||Traded to Cleveland Naps|
|1911||Released by Cleveland, signs with Boston, plays last game|
|1937||Elected to National Baseball Hall of Fame|
|1955||Dies at age 88|
By the end of 1890, Young had amassed a record of 9-7, respectable for a rookie. In 1891, he was Cleveland's winningest pitcher, with a 27-20 record, despite a slump toward the end of the year. He was a bright spot on the Spiders, who finished below .500 both years. The next year, Young proved to be the best pitcher in the National League, winning thirty-six games and losing only eleven. That year, the league split its schedule into two seasons, and the Spiders won the Fall Series pennant race, led by Young, who went 21-3. Young won the first game of the championship series against Boston, the spring champs, but the Spiders lost the rest of the games. In December, he was featured on the cover of the Sporting News.. That fall, he married 21-year-old Robba Miller, a neighbor he'd grown up with in Gilmore.
Strength and Stamina
In 1893, to generate more offense, baseball owners increased the distance between the pitcher and home plate by five feet to the current 60 feet, 6 inches. The change ended the careers of many pitchers, who found their pitches ineffective once batters had more time to see them, or who threw too hard and wore out their arms. Young was one of the few pitchers who did as well after the change as before. His thirty-two wins in 1893 were the second highest in the league. His 1894 record of 25-22 was decent, though weighed down by an end-of-season slump. In 1895, his thirty-five wins led the league, and the Spiders finished in second place. In the post-season Temple Cup championship, Young posted three wins as the Spiders beat the first-place Baltimore Orioles, four games to one.
His strength gave him a stamina few other pitchers had. At 6 foot 2 and 210 pounds, he was one of the league's strongest men. Every year, when baseball season was over, he'd go back to his farm to milk the cows and chop wood. He claimed he never had a sore arm. Early in his career, Young was a wild thrower, but over the years he acquired more and more control, and walked fewer and fewer batters. He had a great fastball, and he could fool hitters too. "What very few batters knew was that I had two curves," he once said, according to Rich Westcott's book Winningest Pitchers. "One of them sailed in there as hard as my fastball and broke in reverse. It was a narrow curve that broke away from the batter and went in just like a fastball. The other was a wide break."
Young was one of three pitchers who dominated the 1890s, along with Kid Nichols and Amos Rusie. His statistics dropped a bit in the late part of the decade as the Spiders' fortunes declined, but he still turned in his first major-league no-hitter in 1897, a 6-0 victory against Cincinnati.
At the end of 1898, after the Spiders suffered from falling attendance and a dispute with Cleveland authorities over playing home games on Sundays, team owner Frank Robison moved Young and all the Spiders' other top players to his other team, the St. Louis Cardinals. Young compiled a record of 26-16 in St. Louis in 1899, but the Cardinals finished fifth in the league. In 1900, at age 33, Young had a mediocre year, with a 19-18 record. Speculation spread that his career was almost over.
Star of the American League
When the American League declared itself a major league in 1901, Young left St. Louis and signed with the Boston Pilgrims, who offered him several hundred dollars more than the National League's salary cap of $2,400. Young dispelled the talk that he was washed up, and became one of the new league's biggest stars. He led the league in 1901 with thirty-three wins, 158 strikeouts, and an earned run average of 1.62. The next two years, he also led the A.L. in wins. In 1903, he pitched three straight 1-0 shutouts, including the game that clinched the pennant for Boston. That year, Boston played Pittsburgh, the National League champions, in the first modern World Series. Young lost the first game of the series, but won the fifth and the seventh, and Boston went on to win the series, five games to three.
In 1904, he was just as good. He pitched the first perfect game in the 1900s on May 5, beating the Philadelphia A's 3-0. It was part of twenty-three consecutive hitless innings, still a record: six innings in two relief appearances, the perfect game, and the first six innings of the next game he pitched. He shut out Boston's opponents ten times that year, including three toward the end of the pennant race with New York, which Boston won on the last game of the season.
Awards and Accomplishments
|1895||Won Temple Cup, forerunner of World Series, with Cleveland|
|1901||Led American League in wins, strikeouts, and ERA|
|1903||Won first modern World Series, with Boston|
|1911||Earned his 511th win, an all-time record|
|1937||Inducted into National Baseball Hall of Fame|
Related Biography: Baseball Player Kid Nichols
Charles (Kid) Nichols, Cy Young's rival for the title of best pitcher of the 1890s, won thirty games in seven different seasons, a record no one has ever equaled. His career began soon after the 1884 rule change allowing overhand pitches, and he became one of baseball's first fastball pitchers. For most of his career, in fact, his fastball was his only pitch. It was enough, because he also had great control. He rarely walked anyone unless he meant to.
Born in 1869, Nichols started pitching for the Kansas City Cowboys of the Western League at age seventeen. He compiled an 18-13 record, yet team management released him because they thought he was too young. Stuck with the nickname "Kid," he bounced around the minors for a few years, until his amazing 39-8 record with Omaha of the Western League in 1889 earned him a place on the major-league Boston Beaneaters' roster. He won twenty-seven games his rookie season, and went on to lead Boston to three straight pennants in 1891-93 and two more in 1897 and 1898. He won 297 games in all during the 1890s, and the Sporting News named him that decade's best pitcher.
During 1900 and 1901, his winning percentage dropped to about.500, and Nichols left Boston rather than accept a small contract offer. He became co-owner and player-manager of the Kansas City Blue Stockings in the Western League. He returned to the National League in 1904 as playermanager of the St. Louis Cardinals, and he amassed a 21-13 record that year, but his team finished fifth, and he was fired early in the 1905 season. He finished his career with the Philadelphia Phillies, retiring in 1906 at age thirty-six.
Nichols moved back to Kansas City, got involved in several businesses, and became a champion bowler. He was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1949 and died in 1953.
The Pilgrims slipped from contention for a few years, and Young's record suffered. In 1905, he struck out 208 batters, the most of his career, but his record was only 18-19. His performance dropped off for a couple of years, but in 1908, at the age of forty-one, he posted a 21-11 record and an ERA of 1.26—a career best—and pitched his third no-hitter, beating the New York Highlanders 8-0 on June 30.
Boston traded Young to the Cleveland Naps (who later became the Indians) before the 1909 season began. He won nineteen games that year, but by 1910 his age was finally overtaking his famous stamina. After spending most of his career in great shape, he'd developed a paunch. He started only twenty games and won only seven. Cleveland released him in August 1911, and he signed with Boston. Late in the year, he pitched against Philadelphia's rookie, Grover Cleveland Alexander , and lost 1-0 in twelve innings. "When the kid beats you, it's time to quit," he said, according to Westcott's Winningest Pitchers. He still came to spring training in 1912, but batters were bunting to reach base against him, since his portly figure made it hard for him to field. He retired before the season started.
Young went back to his farm in tiny Peoli, Ohio, near Newcomerstown. He stayed close to baseball all his life, going to several Indians games a year and often showing up at old-timers' events. He felt hurt when he didn't get into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in the first round of voting in 1936, but he was voted in a year later. When Young turned eighty, Cleveland Indians owner Bill Veeck invited him and the entire population of Newcomerstown—about a thousand people—to an Indians game to celebrate. On November 4, 1955, he died of a heart attack in his rocking chair. He was eighty-eight.
"His record of 511 victories in 912 games will never be surpassed," Young's gravestone asserts. It's true. He averaged forty starts a year, while today's pitchers average about thirty-three, and he pitched before relief pitchers were common, so ninety-two percent of his starts were complete games. But his record isn't just the result of pitching at the right time. No other pitcher from his era managed more than about 360 career wins.
|BOS-A: Boston Pilgrims (American League); BOS-N: Boston Braves (National League); CLE-A: Cleveland Naps (American League); CLE-N: Cleveland Spiders (National League); STL: St. Louis Browns (National League).|
At the end of his biography of Young, Reed Browning asks whether Young can be considered the best pitcher of all time. On one hand, Young's contemporaries seemed to consider him "very good but not the greatest," Browning notes. When they were asked to name the best pitcher they'd ever seen, or to choose their all-time pitching staffs, other pitchers, such as Kid Nichols, often beat out Young. On the other hand, Browning points out, Young's long career spanned very different eras of baseball, when rules and strategies changed significantly. "Cy Young lasted as long as he did not simply because he was blessed with a tough body and durable arm," he wrote, "but also because he used his intelligence to study, adapt, and learn." However one defines "greatest pitcher," Browning wrote, "Cy Young is clearly a candidate for the honor."
Allen, Lee, and Tom Meany. Kings of the Diamond: The Immortals in Baseball's Hall of Fame. New York:G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1965.
Benson, John, and Tony Blengino. Baseball's Top 100: The Best Individual Seasons of All Time. Wilton, CT: Diamond Library, 1995.
Browning, Reed. Cy Young: A Baseball Life. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2000.
Cy Young Centennial, 1867-1967: July 14 & 15, New Philadelphia & Newcomerstown, Ohio. Newcomerstown, OH: Cy Young Centennial Committee, 1967.
Players of Cooperstown: Baseball's Hall of Fame. Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International, Ltd., 1998.
Westcott, Rich. Winningest Pitchers: Baseball's 300-Game Winners. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2002.
"Baseball's Cy Young Dies at 88.#x201D; Cleveland Press (November 4, 1955): 1.
Baseball-Reference.com: Major League Baseball Statistics and History. http://www.baseball-reference.com
Sketch by Erick Trickey
In the world of baseball the name of Cy Young (1867-1955) is synonymous with pitching excellence. At the time of his retirement in 1911 Young had amassed more wins and pitched more innings than any other pitcher—and both records have stood into the 21st century. In 1956, to honor his outstanding career, major league baseball named an award in his honor that went to baseball's outstanding pitcher during the previous season. The award was later given to the outstanding pitcher in each league.
Denton True "Cy" Young was born March 29, 1867, in the farming community of Gilmore, Ohio. Except for the fact that Young's formal schooling ended at sixth grade, he seemed to have led the type of all-American life later mythologized by numerous writers: a farm boy who marries the girl next door and enters the wider world where he gains unprecedented success and afterward retires happily to his farm. In fact, Young attributed his success as a pitcher to the strength and stamina he gained while working on his father's farm.
A Star in the National League
In 1890, following a year in which he played third base for the amateur Tuscarawas County team, Young turned professional. He also switched to pitching, compiling a 15-15 record with the Canton team. It was with Canton, so the story goes, that Young acquired the nickname Cyclone. Eager to impress his new boss and teammates, he claimed to have thrown a baseball against the fence, which tore off a couple of boards from the grandstand. When someone commented that the grandstand looked like a cyclone had hit it, the name stuck. In the beginning newspapers sometimes referred to Young as simply "The Cyclone." Later in 1890 Young signed a $300 contract to pitch for the National League (NL) Cleveland Spiders. He had a 9-7 record for Cleveland that season, the only pitcher on the team with a winning record. For that, and for the potential in his right arm, the Spiders, in 1891, gave Young a raise to $1,400.
The late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century was truly the era of the workhorse pitcher and the strapping Young—in his prime he stood 6 feet, 2 inches and weighed 210 pounds—was no exception. In 1891 he earned every bit of the money Cleveland paid him; he pitched 423 2/3 innings, posting a 27-22 record, with a 2.85 earned run average (ERA). He also recorded two saves. What marred Young's season was that during a six-week period in August and September he won only two of his 13 decisions. He bounced back, however, to win his final six games. He followed that up with an even more spectacular year in 1892: 453 innings pitched, a 36-12 record, and an ERA of 1.93. That season he led the NL in wins, ERA, winning percentage, and shutouts.
Young's season was all the more remarkable because in the months prior to the season the rival American Association went out of business; the NL absorbed four of its teams. Since the Players League had folded two years earlier, at the start of the 1892 season there were 12 major league teams instead of 24, as there had been when three leagues competed against each other for players. Thus, the quality of Young's opposition was far better than in his rookie season.
In 1892 Cleveland finished in first place in the second half of the season, then called the Fall Season. In a championship series they played the Boston Beaneaters who had finished first in the first half, or Spring Season, and had been champions in 1891. Unfortunately for Young and Cleveland Boston proved too strong a rival. They defeated Cleveland five consecutive games in the best-of-nine format; Young started three games and posted an 0-2 record with an ERA of 3.00.
1892 was also the year that Cyclone Young's nickname was shortened to Cy. In his biography of Young, Cy Young: A Baseball Life, Reed Browning conjectured that "the consensual acceptance of 'Cy' represents both a typographic abbreviation of 'Cyclone' and a conceptual conflation of stormy speed and rustic roots." In fact, Cy was a common nickname of the time for a naïve farm boy, which Young was in the beginning of his career. On November 8, 1892, Young married Robba Miller, who had been Young's sweetheart since they were teenagers.
Prior to the 1893 season the distance from which the pitcher's back foot rested when he began his pitch was moved from 55 feet 6 inches to 60 feet 6 inches, also the angle at which the pitcher could throw toward the plate was decreased. While these changes certainly favored the batters and ended more than a few pitching careers they did not affect Young. If anything he flourished under the new rules. In all, Young pitched nine seasons for the Cleveland Spiders (1890-1898) and, with the exception of his rookie year he never won fewer than 21 games in a season during that span. He also led the NL in wins in 1895 (when he won 35 games) and finished second in 1893 with 34 victories. Young's won-loss record with the Spiders was a remarkable 241-135.
In 1899 Young came to play for the St. Louis Perfectos in a very odd, but at that time legal way. St. Louis (then called the Browns) was one of the four American Association teams absorbed by the NL. By the end of the 1890s the team had fallen on hard times and was purchased by the owners of the Cleveland Spiders, the Robison brothers, who retained their ownership of the Spiders. Since Sunday baseball was banned in Cleveland but not in St. Louis, the Robisons essentially transferred the players from one team to the other, hoping that the better Cleveland players would make them more of a profit in a the better baseball town. Thus, Young found himself no longer playing professional baseball in Ohio. Young pitched only two years in St. Louis and his record was 45-35. The 1900 team was especially disappointing. The team badly underachieved and Young himself posted a mediocre 19-19 record. After the season owner Frank Robison criticized the players, singling out Young and a few others for special criticism. Most of Young's teammates felt the criticism of him was undeserved. In fact the episode caused irreparable damage to Young's heretofore good relationship with Robison.
A New League
Complicating all of this was the rise of the American League (AL). In 1900 the Western League, a minor league, changed its name to the American League. The AL soon after announced it was making a bid for major league status. Part of the upstart league's unifying structure was that league president, Ban Johnson, held 51 percent of the stock of each club in the league. The AL then went about placing teams in four Eastern cities: Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. With eight teams in place the AL then initiated a bidding war with the NL for those established players who were not under contract. Cy Young was one of these and the Boston team made an offer to him. Meanwhile he served as the St. Louis representative to the February 1901 meeting of the Players Protective Association—an early form of player unionization.
Young signed with the Boston AL team (they were not yet named the Red Sox) in March 1901 for what has been estimated at $3,500. This figure reflects a $500 increase over his 1900 salary, but more important he was offered a three-year contract by the Boston owners rather than the one-year contract that the Robison brothers had presented. Just as important, St. Louis catcher, Lou Criger had already signed with Boston and Young and he would be reunited.
If the Robisons thought Young was past his prime, as he was 34 years old when the 1901 season began, he set out to prove them wrong. This he did by dominating the new league during his first three years with Boston. The 1901 season was one of the finest of Young's career. His record was 33-10-the 33 wins led the league. He also had the lowest ERA, 1.62, in the AL in 1901 and allowed the fewest walks per nine innings while leading the league in strikeouts. He was second in the AL in innings pitched that year with 371 1/3. He followed that up with a season that was only slightly less magnificent. In 1902 Young's record was 32-11. He again led the AL in victories, also innings pitched with 384 2/3. He was second in strikeouts and had the second fewest walks per nine innings in the league. In 1903, at age 36, Young's record was 28-9. Though he recorded five fewer victories than the previous year Young again led the league in that category. He also led the AL in innings pitched, 341 2/3, and fewest walks per nine innings.
At the end of the 1903 season the champions of the AL and the NL played what became known as the World Series. Boston won the AL pennant and faced the Pittsburgh Pirates, winners of the NL pennant. At that time the World Series was a best-of-nine format (it was permanently reduced to its present-day best-of-seven format in 1922). Young vindicated his dismal postseason performance of 11 years earlier by figuring prominently in Boston's victory in the Series. He started three games and pitched in a fourth. His record was 2-1 with an ERA of 1.85. Over the course of his first contract with Boston Young's record was an amazing 93-30, the World Series excluded. He pitched 1097 2/3 innings during which he recorded 494 strikeouts. No other pitcher had recorded more than 58 victories after reaching the age of 34. Young's record after age 34 was 232-155. (The pitcher with the most victories after age 34 was Charley Radbourn, whose record was 58-36.)
Young was truly the toast of the town in Boston at the beginning of the 20th century. During the 1904 season the 37-year-old pitched the finest game of his fabled career. It happened in Boston on May 5, 1904, when the Philadelphia Athletics were in town. Young faced Philadelphia's ace and future Hall of Famer, Rube Waddell. It has been estimated that 10,000 people were in the stands to see the two great pitchers square off. Boston won the game 3-0, but more important Young pitched the first perfect game (in which the pitcher gives up neither a hit nor a walk) in AL history. It was also the first perfect game in the major leagues since the pitching distance had been moved back to 60 feet 6 inches. Young also set the then-record of 45 consecutive scoreless innings; and pitched 24 consecutive no-hit innings. At the end of the season Young pitched three consecutive shutouts to clinch the league pennant for Boston. Young's record in 1904 was 26-16. There was no World Series that year because, John Brush and John McGraw, the owner and manager, respectively, of the NL champion New York Giants, refused to let their team play. They still considered the AL inferior despite the fact Boston was the reigning world champion. Later Brush backed down from his unpopular position and tried to schedule a World Series in the spring of 1905 but the idea never took hold.
1904 was Young's last truly great year though he played until 1911. In 1905 he suffered through the first losing season of his career, posting a record of 18-19. In 1906 his record fell to 13-21. He did manage to bounce back his final two years with Boston: his 1907 record was 21-15 and in 1908 he went 21-11. He also pitched two nohit games in 1908—the last one nearly a perfect game. Young's record for his eight seasons in Boston was 192-109.
Following the 1908 season Young was traded to Cleveland in the AL. In 1909 his record was 19-15. In 1910 he went 7-10 and for part of the 1911 season he was 3-4. In 1911 Cleveland placed Young on waivers and the Boston Braves in the NL for whom he posted a 4-5 record selected him. His record with Cleveland during two seasons plus was 29-29. For his career he won 511 games and lost 316, both records. He also pitched a total of 7354 2/3 innings. Not surprisingly he also ranks first among pitchers in the number of games started and the number of complete games. Despite the origins of his nickname and his ability to throw hard, Young was a master of control. Fourteen times he led the league in fewest walks per nine innings, including a stretch of nine consecutive years, covering both leagues. He struck out 2,803 batters during his career. In 1937 Cy Young was voted into the baseball Hall of Fame.
When his baseball career ended Young retired to the farm he and his wife had purchased in 1904 and lived another 43 years. In 1913 Young signed to manage the Cleveland Green Sox of the Federal League. He died on November 4, 1955, in Newcomerstown, Ohio. Young played in an era before all-star teams were chosen and post-season awards distributed, but in 1955 he received a singular, posthumous honor. An award for the best pitcher in baseball was instituted and named for him. Since 1967 the Cy Young award has been given to the best pitcher in each league.
Browning, Reed, Cy Young: A Baseball Life, University of Massachusetts Press, 2000.
Porter, David L., ed., Biographical Dictionary of American Sports, Greenwood Press, 1987.
"Cy Young," Baseball-Reference.comhttp://www.baseballreference.com/y/youngcy01.shtml (January 7, 2004).