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Young, Cyfree

(29 March 1867–04 November 1955)
  • David L. Porter

Cy Young

Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-77897).

Young, Cy (29 March 1867–04 November 1955), baseball player, was born Denton True Young near Gilmore, Ohio, the son of McKenzie Young and Nancy Mot Miller, farmers. His middle name was the surname of a soldier who had saved his father’s life during the Civil War. The 6′ 2″ Young worked hard on the family farm until he was 23, developing strong arms, broad shoulders, a thick chest, and muscular legs. He pitched and played third base for several northeastern Ohio teams, for an independent Red Cloud, Nebraska, club, and in 1889 for the Tuscarawas County team. Young married his childhood sweetheart, Robba Miller, in 1892; they had no children.

Young’s father wanted him to remain a farmer, but in 1890 Young tried out for the Canton, Ohio, team of the Tri-State League. The shy, gangly farm boy walked around the outside of the Canton ballpark six times before mustering enough courage to enter. Canton manager George Moreland, impressed with Young’s size, gave him a tryout and signed him to a contract at $40 a month. When Young’s fastballs battered the grandstand boards, a Canton catcher nicknamed Young “Cyclone.” A sportswriter soon shortened it to “Cy,” a popular term for the era’s stereotypical stage rube.

Young’s minor league career lasted only half a season because the Tri-State League disbanded in July 1890. The right-handed Young won 15 of 30 decisions, including his final five games. On 25 July he struck out 18 batters and held McKeesport hitless. Davis Hawley, secretary-treasurer of the Cleveland Spiders’ National League club, signed Young for $300 in August 1890. Hawley, fearful that teammates might ridicule Young because of his outgrown clothes and undersized derby hat, purchased some new clothes for him.

Young usually pitched every other day for Cleveland. Excellent physical conditioning enabled him to need only 12 warm-up pitches before games. He finished the season with a 9–7 won-lost mark, becoming the Spiders’ lone winning pitcher. Two of his victories came on 4 October in a doubleheader against the Philadelphia Athletics. In 1891, Young won 27 games and lost 20. His best season came in 1892 with a 36–11 record. That same season he led the National League in shutouts with 9. His repertoire included an excellent fastball, overhand and sidearm curveballs, and a “tobacco ball” delivered with consistent control. He allowed the fewest walks per nine innings in the National League in 1890. Overall, he led the National League in fewest walks eight other times.

Young spent nine years with Cleveland, through 1898, compiling a 239–134 won-lost record. Except for his rookie year, he had at least 21 victories each season and surpassed 30 wins in 1892, 1893, and 1895. He pitched the first of his three career no-hitters on 18 September 1897, blanking the Cincinnati Reds. Young recorded three victories in the five-game 1895 Temple Cup playoff series, helping the Spiders upset the Baltimore Orioles. The 1896 Temple Cup series, swept by Baltimore, saw Young lose his only decision.

In 1898, Spiders’ owner Frank Robison acquired the St. Louis Cardinals, hoping to reap financial rewards by combining the best Cleveland and St. Louis players. He sent the better Cleveland players, including Young, to St. Louis for the Cardinals’ worst players before the 1899 season. Young, whose $2,400 salary topped the National League, won 26 games in 1899 and 20 in 1900.

The American League, formed in 1901, started raiding National League clubs for players. Young, then 34 years old, joined the Boston Pilgrims (later the Red Sox) for $3,000 a year. Catcher Cy Criger accompanied him from St. Louis, maintaining one of baseball’s best batteries. Young won 193 of 305 games for Boston from 1901 through 1908, leading the team in total innings, games started, complete games, victories, strikeouts, and shutouts. He paced American League pitchers in victories in 1901 (33), 1902 (32), and 1903 (28), leading the Pilgrims in 1903 to their first pennant. He pitched in the first modern World Series game in 1903, losing 7–3 to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Boston eventually upset the Pirates, five games to three, as Young won two games and relieved once.

Several outstanding individual games distinguished his Boston tenure. On 5 May 1904 he no-hit the Philadelphia Athletics, pitching the first American League and third major league perfect game in history. The same year he set major league records by pitching 23 consecutive hitless innings and 45-2/3 consecutive scoreless innings. His crucial 1–0 decision over the New York Highlanders during the season’s final week helped Boston win the 1904 title. On 4 July 1905, Young dueled 20 innings with Philadelphia’s Rube Waddell and did not walk any Athletics; Philadelphia scored twice in the twentieth inning to win. On 30 June 1908, Young pitched his third no-hitter, shutting out the New York Highlanders.

Young experienced his first losing seasons in 1905 and 1906 but surpassed 20 victories again in 1907 and 1908. In 1907 his 22 wins at age 40 gave the seventh-place Red Sox more than one-third of their wins. That year he declined a permanent managerial post, stating, “I believe I will have one of my best seasons this year… . I do not have the ability to manage the team… . I could not do justice to both positions.”

In February 1909 the American League’s Cleveland Indians acquired Young for $12,500. Although 42 years old, Young won 19 games for the sixth-place club. After Cleveland released him in August 1911, the Boston Braves signed him for the remainder of the National League season. Young took four of nine decisions, losing a 12-inning 1–0 heartbreaker in his final game to rookie Grover Cleveland Alexander of the Philadelphia Phillies. His last job in baseball came as manager of the Cleveland club of the independent Federal League in 1913.

Young dominated major league pitching as Ty Cobb ruled over batting and baserunning and Babe Ruth over slugging. His 511 wins spanned 22 major league seasons. Modern pitchers struggle to win 200 during a career. Other pitchers have enjoyed more spectacular seasons, but at the end of the twentieth century, none had approached his career wins. Walter Johnson, his closest competitor, won 416 major league games. Young’s 313 setbacks also set a major league record. No other major league pitcher started (818) or completed (749) as many games. From 1891 to 1904 he had 13 20-victory seasons. He led his league 14 times in fewest walks allowed and issued under 1.5 walks a game over his career.

Young’s exceptional physical condition kept him in the major leagues past his forty-fourth birthday. During the off season, he strengthened his legs through constant running and his arms and back by chopping wood and performing other chores. Teammates, opponents, and spectators admired him for his courtesy, and umpires never ejected the even-tempered pitcher from a game.

In 1912 he retired to a farm near Peoli, Ohio. Writers overlooked him as a charter member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, but they selected him the next year, in 1937. On Young’s eightieth birthday, owner Bill Veeck of the Cleveland Indians hosted an extravagant party and gave him an expensive automobile. Young died in Newcomerstown, Ohio. The town has honored him with a city park, statue, and museum. In 1956 Commissioner Ford Frick instituted the Cy Young Award, given annually to the best American League and National League pitchers.

Bibliography

Some of Young’s records before 1900 differ slightly among the most authoritative sources of baseball statistics; those records most generally agreed on have been used here. The National Baseball Library in Cooperstown, N.Y.; the Cy Young Museum, near Newcomerstown, Ohio; and the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown have material on Young as well as some of his artifacts. The Ellery Clark, Jr., Red Sox Analytical Letter Collection in Annapolis, Md., contains correspondence of Young, Norwood Gibson, and Fred Parent. The Clark papers also include interviews with Young, Lou Criger, George La Chance, Kip Selbach, Gibson, and Parent. Ralph H. Romig, Cy Young: Baseball’s Legendary Giant (1964), remains the only book-length biography, but its information about Young’s life and times is inadequate. Young’s statistical accomplishments are detailed in The Baseball Encyclopedia, 9th ed. (1993); Daguerreotypes, 8th ed. (1990); and John Thorn and Pete Palmer, eds., Total Baseball (1989). For Young’s pitching feats, see My Greatest Day in Baseball (1945; a collection of reminiscences by 47 stars, as told to sportswriters), and John Thorn and John B. Holway, The Pitcher (1987). Young’s roles with specific teams are described in Franklin Lewis, The Cleveland Indians (1949); Frederick G. Lieb, The St. Louis Cardinals (1945) and The Boston Red Sox (1947); Ellery H. Clark, Jr., Boston Red Sox: 75th Anniversary History (1975); and Harold Kaese, The Boston Braves (1948). Obituaries are in the New York Times, 5 Nov. 1955, and the Sporting News, 16 Nov. 1955.