No matter what era he pitched in, no matter what you might think about the game in the late 19th and early 20th century, Cy Young was amazing.
The Legendary Cy Young
There’s a good reason they name the annual pitching awards after him.
Young pitched for 22 seasons in Major League Baseball. He started at the age of 23 and pitched his last game at the age of 44. He spent the majority of those seasons in Cleveland, although he also pitched in St. Louis and Boston.
Here are some of his amazing numbers.
- He won 511 games
- He pitched 7,356 innings
- He started 815 games
- He had 749 complete games
- He faced 29,565 batters
- He won more than 30 games in a season four times, including 36 wins in 1892
- He also lost 316 games
Sure, it was the dead ball era, a time of low scores and great defense and pitching. But those are still impressive numbers. If the dead ball era had been that easy, everyone would have put numbers like that. But they didn’t. Cy Young did.
Ohio Farm Boy
Denton True Young was born on a farm in Gilmore, Ohio, in 1867, just two years after the end of the Civil War. One of five children, he spent his early years working on the farm. But he also took the time to throw balls at a target drawn on a barn door.
Needless to say, given what happened next, he developed a strong arm.
Baseball had started to capture the national imagination during this time, and rural eastern Ohio was no exception. Young played for local teams, both pitching and playing the infield.
At the age of 23, in 1890, Young tried out for a professional team in Canton. He threw the ball so hard it broke part of a grandstand. A clever observer said he pitched like a cyclone and everyone gave Young the nickname “Cy.” It stuck for the rest of his life.
Young pitched for Canton, and then was traded to the Cleveland Spiders of the National League. In 1891, he won 27 games. In 1982, he won an astounding 36 and had an ERA of 1.93. By this point, he was a star.
Standing at 6’2”, Young initially overpowered hitters with his blazing fastball. But over the early years of his career he worked on developing control of breaking balls and pinpoint accuracy. That resulted in him rarely walking a batter.
His control was mind boggling. Starting in 1895, he never walked more than 75 batters (and he did that just once). In 1904, pitching for the Boston Americans, he pitched 380 innings and walked just 29 batters.
With Boston in 1903, he threw the first pitch of the modern World Series – a series Boston won, defeating Pittsburgh. In that amazing year of 1904, he also threw the first perfect game in American League history on May 5 against the Philadelphia Athletics at the Huntington Avenue Grounds in Boston.
He also had a 1.26 ERA in 1908, a year in which he pitched 299 innings.
A career like that in modern times would lead to a lifetime in the spotlight and endless endorsement deals. But when Young retired after the 1911 season, he spent just one more year in baseball, managing the Cleveland Green Sox of the Federal League.
After that, he simply went back to being a farmer.
Until 1933, he lived with his wife, Roba, on a farm in Peoli, Ohio. When he died that year, he moved to live with friends at a farm in Newcomerstown, Ohio, doing odd jobs around the farm. He stayed there until his death on Nov. 4, 1955.
After his death, MLB began the annual ritual of giving the best pitcher in all of baseball the Cy Young award. In 1967, it was changed to give the award to the top pitcher in both the American and National leagues.
It’s an enduring tribute to one of the game’s all-time greats.