The man who won 511 major league games has his glory reprised annually when the Cy Young Awards are given to the season’s best pitchers. He takes two bows retrospectively, one in each league, as he divided both the number of seasons he pitched and the staggering number of games he won almost evenly between the National and American leagues. Young had already established a pitching record in the NL that might have earned him a place in the Hall of Fame when, in 1901, he joined the new American League and started phase two of his fabulous career. He led the league in victories in its first three seasons. He also pitched in the first World Series, in 1903, and won two games for the victorious Red Sox.
Young’s career spanned more than just 22 seasons; he bridged the time from when the pitcher’s box was 50′ from home plate until the introduction of the present distance, 60′ 6″, with the ball thrown from a mound, was introduced. He pitched against superstars such as Cap Anson, who was an established player when the National League was formed in 1876, and against Eddie Collins, who played in 1930.
Young was born just after the Civil War and was still alert and in good physical condition at the time of the Korean War. Cy Young had his nickname given him in wonderment by a young catcher who warmed him up when he tried out for the Canton, Ohio minor league team. He was judged to be “as fast as a cyclone.” Reporters shortened it to “Cy” and Denton True Young had a lifelong nickname.
Among Young’s 511 major league victories were three no-hitters. One of them, on May 5, 1904 against the Athletics, was a perfect game in which he outdueled Rube Waddell. Young was so intent on defeating the great lefthander that he didn’t realize he had pitched a perfect game until he was congratulated for doing so. Most noteworthy about Cy Young is the durability that permitted him to amass 511 victories. It also produced 316 losses, another all-time record.
He credited his off-season farm work, chopping wood and doing heavy chores, with keeping him in shape to play until he was 44 years old. Then, portly, but without a twinge of pain in his arm, he was unable to field his position and was bunted into retirement. Occasionally Cy Young is seen in photos taken in his retirement years wearing a uniform that says “Old Timers” on its shirt front. This was a souvenir from a special game played in Cleveland in 1921 to celebrate the city’s 75th anniversary. It brought back the stars of the past to play a team of sandlot stars and, of course, Cy Young was named to start the game. With players like Nap Lajoie, Elmer Flick, and Jesse Burkett behind him, and Chief Zimmer, who had been his barehanded batterymate when he broke in back in 1890, old Cy Young fanned a pair in his two innings as his team of veterans won the game.
It is fitting that baseball honors its most prolific winner, whose career winning percentage was .620, by giving his name to the annual Cy Young Awards. His name invokes the tradition and sense of history some of the recipients of the award seem to lack. When Denny McLain became the latest pitcher to win 30 games, in 1968, he had to ask about the man for whom his Cy Young Award was named. He was told, “you’ve done it once; Cy Young topped 30 victories five times.”