In 1955, legendary pitcher, Cy Young, died at the age of 88. The following year, Major League Baseball honored Young by creating an award in his name, which was originally to be given out to the very best pitcher in all of baseball. Brooklyn’s Don Newcombe won the inaugural award (even though it totally should have gone to Herb Score of the Indians). To that point in history, Young was probably not the greatest pitcher of all-time. The fact that he wasn’t inducted into the first Hall of Fame class of 1936 is pretty indicative of that. But he did have the most career wins, career losses, complete games, innings pitched, etc, etc. So that got me thinking: Cy Young pitched from 1890-1911. If his own award had existed way back then, how many would The Man, Himself have won? Let’s take a look.
1890. Just to be clear, this was still old-timey baseball. 1890 was only the second season in history that four balls equaled a walk. And only the fourth season where batters weren’t allowed to call for a high pitch or a low pitch. Pitchers had to throw underhand with a stiff wrist and elbow until 1883. And they couldn’t even throw all the way overhand until 1884. Coincidentally, that was the same year the catcher’s chest protector was introduced. Times were a tad different, to say the least. On top of all of that pitchers pitched inside of a flat box from 50 feet away. Nevertheless, my winner for 1890 is Kid Nichols of the Boston Beaneaters. Like Cy Young, Nichols was also a rookie and a future Hall of Famer. He’d go on to become the youngest pitcher to win 300 games. And he also claimed that (even though he started 562 games in his career) he was never removed from a game for a relief pitcher.
1891. I’d give the award to Kid Nichols again. But this was also the first season when catchers were allowed to wear large padded mitts. And one of Young’s catchers was said to put a steak inside his glove to better protect himself.
1892. Young had the best standard stats of anyone in baseball. He led the league in wins, ERA, WHIP and shutouts. But “Wild” Bill Hutchinson of the Chicago Colts had better advanced stats, so he wins. Still, his 36-36 record that year makes my brain hurt.
1893. Because of hard-throwing pitchers like Young, Amos Rusie and Jouett Meekin, Major League Baseball decided to move the pitcher’s box back to its current distance of 60 feet, six inches. Nobody knows for sure how hard those guys threw. But Young got the nickname ‘Cy’ in 1889, because the fences he threw against looked like a cyclone hit them. The odd thing was, Young was only recording 2-3 strikeouts per game during that period. He later said, “I aimed to make the batter hit the ball, and I threw as few pitches as possible. That’s why I was able to work every other day.” I’d give the Cy Young Award to Cy Young in 1893. I wish I could give it to ERA champion, Ted Breitenstein, because I like his last name. But it’s pretty impressive that Cy Young’s first Cy Young Award would have been in a transition year for every pitcher in the league.
1894. I’d give this one to “The Hoosier Thunderbolt” Amos Rusie of the New York Giants. People have tried to estimate that Rusie threw in the mid to upper 90s. But he was also wild as shit. And he led the league in walks from 1890-94. Even so, in 1894, he won the pitching Triple Crown and had the best advanced stats of anyone in baseball. A sensation during his career in New York, and considered huge by 19th Century standards (at 6’1″, 200 lbs), Rusie was eventually elected into the Hall of Fame in 1977.
1895. Cy Young would have won his second Cy Young Award. It was the year he added a ‘slow ball’ to his repertoire. And it was also the year he started wearing a glove.
1896. Cy Young would have won his third Cy Young. He also led the majors with 3 saves.
1897. I’d give Kid Nichols his third Cy Young Award. But in 1897, Cy Young also pitched his first no-hitter. Young initially gave up a hit down the third base line in the game, but his third baseman sent a note to the press box saying he’d committed an error, so they reversed the call. Throughout his career, Young still considered the game a one-hitter.
1898. Cy Young would have won his fourth Cy Young.
1899. I’d give it to Noodles Hahn of the Cincinnati Reds. Although he wasn’t a power pitcher, Noodles led the league in strikeouts from 1899-1901. He’d go on to pitch the first no-hitter of the 20th Century. After retiring in 1906, Hahn continued to work out with the Reds on game days until he was almost 70. It’s been said that the Reds players of the 1940’s had no idea ol’ Noodles was a former big league player.
1900. Cy Young would have won his fifth Cy Young. It was also around this time that the pitchers mound was invented. Seriously.
1901. That was the first year of the American League, and Young moved to the Boston Americans, where he won the pitching Triple Crown. He would have won his 6th Cy Young. 1901 was the year he began as a pitching coach for Harvard, which the Boston media found hilarious, since Young only had a 6th grade education. This was also the first year that catchers (in both leagues) had to remain under the bat.
1902. I’d give it to Rube Waddell of the Philadelphia Athletics, who is one of the most unusual and unpredictable players in the history of baseball. He once left the mound in the middle of a game to go fishing. He’d sometimes chase after fire trucks during games. Opposing fans held up puppies and shiny objects to distract him. He wrestled alligators in the offseason and was once bitten by a lion. They called him ‘Sousepaw’ because he once spent his entire signing bonus on a drinking binge. He forgot how many wives he’d had. Nobody really wanted him on their team, and yet he was the premier power pitcher of his day. In exhibition games, he’d wave his players off the field and then strike out the side. He’s even the second guy in history to strike out the side on 9 pitches. And he probably had some sort of mental disorder or spectrum-y thing. All that being said, Waddell was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1946. He and Young would have a rivalry for many years.
1903. Rube Waddell would have won his second Cy Young Award. But Cy Young would go on to pass Pud Galvin as the all-time winningest pitcher in 1903. And he’d start in Game 1 of the first modern World Series, throwing the first pitch in World Series history.
1904. Rube Waddell would have won his third Cy Young. On May 2, Waddell one-hit Young’s Boston Americans and then taunted Young to face him in a game, so he could do it again. On May 5, they went head-to-head and Young pitched the first perfect game of the modern era. Waddell was the 27th and final batter. And as Waddell flied out, Young shouted at him, “How do you like that, you hayseed?” Young went on to pitch 25 1/3 innings without giving up a hit (still a record), as well as 45 consecutive scoreless innings. Still, somehow Waddell had better advanced stats. Also, Young’s perfecto was the first of the modern era because two pitchers in 1880 (when you still had to toss underhand and batters could call for pitches) threw perfect games. We know that in one of them, three outs were made when a fielder caught a foul ball on one bounce. Rules are rules (and that used to be the rule), but that’s fucking stupid.
1905. Cy Young would have won his 7th Cy Young. Roger Clemens currently has the most ever at 7.
1906. Cy Young would have won his 8th Cy Young. Roger Clemens can suck it.
1907. Rube Waddell would have won his fourth Cy Young.
1908. Cy Young pitched his third no-hitter and broke the all-time record for strikeouts. But I would give the award to spitballer, Ed Walsh of the Chicago White Sox. Walsh has the lowest ERA in Major League history (1.82) and in 1910, he had a 1.27 ERA with a losing record. Legend has it that when they built Comiskey Park in Chicago, the architect consulted with Walsh before creating the park’s dimensions. He was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1946.
1909. I’d give it to Chief Bender of the Philadelphia Athletics. Bender got his nickname because he was part Native American and was raised on a reservation in Minnesota. Throughout his career, Bender faced discrimination and racist taunts from the opposing dugout. The only thing was, Bender was awesome. Sometimes when he’d shut down a team, he’d yell, “Foreigners! Foreigners!” right back at them. Oh, and he also invented the slider. Bender was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1953. His brother also played Major League Baseball, but wasn’t as fortunate. He ended up getting suspended after stabbing his manager multiple times.
1910. Cy Young won his 500th game, but his torch was finally passed. Walter Johnson of the Washington Senators would have won the Cy Young. And he’d go on to win 417 games, the second-most all-time. He also lost an amazing 65 games because his Senators failed to score a run. In 1936, Johnson was part of the inaugural class at the Baseball Hall of Fame, along with Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner and Christy Mathewson.
Young retired after the 1911 season with 511 career wins. To put that into perspective, that’s about what Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez had combined. And it’s more than Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Zack Greinke currently have combined. It’s a record that will never be broken. Young was also seen as the bridge between the early days of baseball and the modern era. He pitched against Cap Anson, who became a pro in 1871. And he also pitched against Eddie Collins, who played until 1930. And he absolutely deserves to have the award named after him.
The Answer: Cy Young should have won 8 Cy Young Awards.