Cy Young started more than 800 games, pitched more than 7,000 innings, and lasted 23 seasons because he never had a sore arm. He was an anatomical marvel, starting at least 40 games eleven times. He finished with more wins, innings pitched, games started, and complete games than any other hurler. Ninety years later he still holds those records. The best pitcher in each league is honored with an award named for him. He threw the first pitch in modern World Series history.
Best Season: 1901
Young won the pitching triple crown – leading the American League in wins (33), ERA (1.62), and K’s (158). He also led the league in shutouts, with five. His 33 wins were 41.8 percent of his team’s 79 victories, a post-1900 record that stood unmatched until Steve Carlton won 45.8 percent of the Phillies’ 59 wins in 1972.
While with Canton in the Tri-State League in 1889, Denton True Young earned his famous nickname, short for “cyclone”. The next season the hard-throwing right-hander debuted with Cleveland after starting the season with Canton (and throwing a no-hitter with 18 strikeouts). In his first big league start, he defeated Cap Anson and the Cubs, allowing just three singles. It was the first of his 511 major league wins.
In 1891 he settled in as the Spiders ace, winning 27 games, the first of his fifteen seasons over the 20-win level. In the 1890s the Spiders were a decent team but never won a pennant. But this wasn’t Young’s fault, as he posted records of 36-12, 34-16, 35-10, 28-15, and 25-13. His greatest rival for pitching honors was Kid Nichols, the Boston star. In 1899 the Spiders folded and Young was signed by St. Louis. In 1901 he joined the new American League, quickly becoming the circuit’s most effective and best-known pitcher. He won 93 games in his first three seasons in the new league.
Young had perhaps his best year in 1903, going 28-9, with a 2.08 ERA in 341 innings. He pitched seven shutouts, completed 34 games, and allowed less than one walk per nine innings. He was equally effective with a bat in his hands, hitting .321 with a home run and 14 RBI. At the end of the season, the NL and AL agreed to meet for a series to determine supremacy. Cy’s Boston team squared off against the Pittsburgh Pirates. After pitching and losing in Game One (delivering the first World Series pitch – to Ginger Beaumont), Young rebounded with two victories, helping to lead the upstart AL over the older NL.
In 1904 Young produced one of the greatest stretches of pitching in history. In his last April start, he blanked Chicago 2-0, allowing two hits. On May 5 he threw a 3-0 perfect game, defeating Rube Waddell and the A’s. In his next start, he went 15 innings against the Tigers, finally winning 1-0. During that three-game, 33-inning stretch, Young allowed no runs, nine hits, and struck out 23. At one point he hurled 24 consecutive hitless innings.
Young battled nearly every great pitcher from the 1890s to his retirement in 1911. From Nichols to Waddell, to Jack Chesbro, Addie Joss, and Walter Johnson. In 1910, with Cleveland, he won his 500th game. The next July he was released and signed with the Braves, returning to Boston. He won his final game in September, winning 1-0 over the Pirates. Though his arm was still major-league quality, his physique was not. Opposing teams were bunting on the overweight veteran, taking advantage of his lack of mobility. Young retired with a 511-316 (.618) record and a 2.63 ERA. Had there been a Cy Young award in his day, he would have carted off many of the trophies.
In 1938, Young was one of the first men elected to the Hall of Fame, in the third class. His records are even more amazing considering he never pitched for powerhouse teams. In his 23 seasons, his teams posted a .473 win percentage when he didn’t record a decision. His mark for those same teams was .618, more than 30% better!