Days after Hall of Fame pitcher Cy Young died in 1955, acclaimed New York sports columnist Red Smith predicted that Major League Baseball’s right-hander record of 511 career wins would never be broken. “It is manifestly unthinkable,” Smith wrote, “a provable impossibility as such on the unassailable authority of mathematics.”
More than half a century after Smith’s prediction, Young’s winning tally – one of the pitcher’s many MLB records – remains untouchable.
“Awesome,” longtime MLB baseball historian John Thorn calls Young’s record for career wins.
For an MLB pitcher to win 500 games – 11 short of Young’s incredible total – he must win 25 games a year for 20 seasons, an unfathomable feat. Few of the modern era players play for more than 20 years in the big leagues. The last MLB player to win 25 games in a season was Bob Welch of the Oakland A’s in 1990. The last National League pitcher to win 25 games or more was Steve Carlton of the Philadelphia Phillies, who won 27 in 1972. .
Other records set by Young, whose career spanned 1890 to 1911, were equally unassailable. He pitched more innings (7,356), started more games as a pitcher (815) and completed more (749) than anyone in big league history. Young, who played for the Cleveland Spiders, St. Louis Perfectos, Boston Americans / Red Sox, Cleveland Naps and Boston Rustlers, has also lost more games (315) than anyone else.
But “all recordings are the product of context,” says Thorn.
“When Young set his records, it was not uncommon for a pitcher to complete 40 games in a season,” says the baseball historian, referring to a number that no pitcher has hit since 1908. ” It was a different game. You had to complete a game that you started. “
Early career of Cy Young
Born in Gilmore, Ohio on March 29, 1867, less than two years after the end of the Civil War, Denton True “Cy” Young was raised on a farm. His father, who served in the 78th Ohio Infantry during the war, gave his son the middle name True, in honor of another soldier he served with.
After his fastball tore through the boards of a grandstand during a trial, Young earned the nickname “Cyclone”. This was quickly abbreviated as “Cy,” which stuck for the rest of her life and delighted editors of newspaper headlines.
When Chicago White Sox manager Cap Anson, future Hall of Famer, spotted Young in Ohio in 1890, he was not impressed. “No good, just another big farmer,” he reportedly said of Young. On August 6, 1890, Young joined his first MLB team, the Cleveland Spiders, whom he said years later gifted his Ohio manager with a new suit and paid $ 300 for the ‘to acquire. Young won his first match, quickly proving Anson wrong.
Baseball was a very different game in Young’s day. In the Dead Ball era of 1900-1919, matches were lightly marked and homers were scarce. The rosters were much smaller than in today’s game, and starting pitchers frequently finished games. Pitchers were also allowed to treat a baseball with saliva, dirt, and other substances to make it harder to hit. This practice of tampering with the ball was banned for the 1920 season. The same ball often remained in play throughout the game.
Young – whose top annual salary in the big leagues was $ 4,500 – has dominated most of his career with an overpowered fastball and remarkable control, Thorn says. Young threw so hard that Charles “Chief” Zimmer, who caught more of his big-league games than anyone else, put a steak in his glove to protect his hand.
“I’ve never had an arm pain to my knowledge. I’ve never missed a start,” Thorn says of Young.
In 1903, Young — then a 36-year-old star for the Boston Americans — launched the World Series I, against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Boston won the eight-game, 5-to-3 series, with Young winning two games.
On May 5, 1904, Young, who pitched three no-hitting matches in the big leagues, pitched the first perfect match of the 20th century. Decades later, he called it the greatest game of his 22-year career.
“Cy Young was a big league pitcher before many big league men were good enough to play ‘alongside the’ cutters’ in a wasteland after school,” a St. Louis newspaper reported after that. match, “and at his current speed, it looks to us like he could still be the biggest pitcher in the business when those same men retire. “
In 1911, Young, then with the Bostons in the National League, was too old and too heavy to line up. The 44-year-old picked up his latest victory, a 1-0 shutout for the Pirates in Pittsburgh on September 22. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Cy Young entered the Hall of Fame in 1937
During the last decades of his life, Young was a familiar figure in the events of the Alumni and the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. He also criticized “modern” launchers, who he said should work harder.
“In my day, it was like getting a physical beating when a pitcher was taken out of the game,” Young told friends, according to an Ohio newspaper in 1955.
“I would love modern baseball a lot more,” he said with a smile, “if there weren’t any relief pitchers.”
In 1937, Young was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY After his death at the age of 88, the MLB created the Cy Young Award to honor the best pitcher in baseball. The first winner was Don Newcombe, who finished with a 27-7 loss record for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956. Beginning in 1967, the award went to top pitchers in the National and US leagues.
Long after the end of his career, Young predicted “that one day they will erase everything [my records] right away in the books. But even Young’s total career wins remain 94 ahead of the closest player, fellow Hall of Famer Walter Johnson, who last played in 1927. And no one is close to his marks for the innings. started, games started as a pitcher, games ended and losses.
“The old boy can rest easy,” Smith wrote after Young’s death. “He won’t. He has always insisted that he really won 512. Wherever he goes, he will look for the official goalscorer who spared him from that one.