Imagining Cy Young
A winner in any generation
Another in an informal series of ponderings on players featured in the Fleer 2001 “Greats of the Game” set, as inspired by Joe Posnanski’s book The Baseball 100.
2001 Fleer Greats of the Game
#6 Cy Young
P, Cleveland Spiders
The beauty of baseball is how little it has changed relative to football and basketball. Sure, there are dead-ball eras and live-ball eras, the pitching mound has been raised and lowered, the designated hitter has been added, players are stronger and faster, but the game’s staples — 60-feet-six-inches; 90 feet; 9 innings; 3 strikes; 3 outs — have remained fixed for almost a century.
So even though Cy Young played before my parents were born, I can appreciate his greatness via statistics and imagination. The most staggering stat about Cy, of course, is his career total of 511 wins (against 316 losses). This corresponds to a eye-popping number of innings (7,356) and a whopping 749 complete games. Records were made to be broken, but I’d bet the mortgage those numbers will never be topped.
Many pitching stats are subjective. In today’s game, where managers change pitchers like wet socks, it can be complicated to determine which hurler should be credited with the victory. Not so in Cy’s day. Pitchers went nine innings (or longer), and at the end of the day the scoreboard told the story. Here’s the tale it tells of Young: 32 victories in five different seasons. An average of 27 wins a year over 14 seasons beginning in 1891. A lifetime ERA of 2.63.
Baseball was different then, of course. One huge difference was that, barring catastrophe, only one ball was used per game. Today balls are changed out if they so much as nick the dirt. Home runs were first unheard of, then rare, through the end of Cy’s career in 1911. Still. Great is great. You can play only against your peers.
Could Cy have been great today? Why not? He was 6–2, 210, according to his card. I wonder what it was like to see him pitch. My father was born too late, but did my grandfather ever see him? Or his father? Or someone in the family? I wish I’d asked.
Baseball boasts so many superb hurlers throughout history it seems wrong to name the annual award for best pitcher in each league after just one of them. Except with Cy it doesn’t. The Cy Young Award still sounds and feels right, a hundred years later.
We all love winners. Scoreboard, baby!