We know that the Cy Young Award is given to the best pitchers in baseball, one for the American League and one for the National League. Yet, how many of us or our children know why it is called that?
The National Hockey League’s trophy is named after Lord Stanley of Preston, who was appointed Governor General of Canada by England’s Queen Victoria. His family became avid hockey players and he contributed money to the competition, for the betterment of the country. The National Football League had the words ‘World Professional Football Championship’ on their trophy, until they renamed it after Vince Lombardi, the incredible leader of the Green Bay Packers who won the first two Super Bowls. The trophy given to the World Series winners does have a name: The Commissioner’s Trophy, named because the commissioner of Major League Baseball hands it to the winners. Not much of a name, compared to the other sports.
If the most important trophy in baseball is not named after someone, why did they take the time to name the award for the best pitcher after a particular man? Well, you had to know the man.
Denton True ‘Cy’ Young was the most dominant pitcher to play the game in an era where pitchers were not expected to be dominant. He was born in Gilmore, Ohio on March 29, 1867. The righty pitcher was a generation from the American Civil War, when the game developed into the nation’s pastime. Pitchers would have to put the ball into play for the batters, but they were not expected to strike them out nearly as much as today. Young’s amazing accuracy made it easy for him to place the ball anywhere he wanted, to the detriment of opposing lineups. Young said, “All us Youngs could throw. I used to kill squirrels with a stone when I was a kid, and my granddad once killed a turkey buzzard on the fly with a rock” (Baseball-Almanac.com). He transferred that legendary talent to the mound, and he did it so well that his portrait of him pitching in a Boston Red Sox uniform is the first thing you see when you walk into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown, New York.
His nickname was an interesting one. It represented not only his talent for blowing pitches by his opponents but also his American country era: “One of the fellows called me Cyclone, but finally shortened it to ‘Cy’ and its been that ever since” (Baseball-Almanac.com). Young felt that life is not so serious; success is to be enjoyed as well as earned. However, his tone changed when it came to discussing how a team should manage pitchers:
"Too many pitchers, that’s all, there are just too many pitchers. Ten or twelve on a team. Don’t see how any of them get enough work. Four starting pitchers and one relief man ought to be enough. Pitch’em every three days and you’d find they’d get control and good, strong arms. – Cy Young (Baseball-Almanac.com)"
Imagine trying to do that with young pitchers in the modern era? Everything you hear is about how much rest pitchers need. Their bodies need to be physically pampered and their egos need to be stroked to get them to perform at top quality and velocity.
Granted that many young pitchers can throw a fastball much harder than ever, but that did not stop Young. He professionally pitched twenty-two seasons, his memorable tenure with the Red Sox started in 1901 that lasted eight years. Young posted a 511-316 record, faced 29 565 batters, striking out 2803 of them. Young started 815 games, which he completed the game 749 times, logging a total of 7 356 innings pitched. He earned 76 shutouts, 38 for Boston with a 2.00 ERA. He ended his career with a 2.63 ERA, which by even today’s standards is fantastic. Young even came out in relief and recorded seven saves. An incredible amount of work for one arm, as the numbers calculate to him throwing over 300 innings a year on one or two days’ rest.
Young was strong and durable, but by all accounts and photographs, he was not a perfect physical specimen; he just did his job in the game he loved. It had nothing to do with money, as Young earned just over $16K for his career. The money would have been plenty for an old farm boy from Ohio, but he played in an era where the owners kept much of the profits. The players were merely a part of the show for the fans. Young certainly put on a show for Beantown, as he won two games of the first modern World Series in 1903. In 1904, he did one better by recording the first perfect game of the new century.
Young was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1937, after retiring from the game at the age of 45 in 1911. Young’s prime between the Cleveland Spiders and the Boston Americans (later known as the Red Sox) catapulted him to legendary status. The famous, early 20th-century sportswriter Grantland Rice once said, “So when a stalwart steps out from the throng, On with the tribute, let garlands be flung, Here’s to the sturdy and here’s to the strong, Here’s to the king of them all, Denton Young” (BaseballHall.org). His years with Boston were at the same time as the turn of the century, where the media became big business and the fledgling new team had an established star, who was putting on a show every time at the height of his powers.
In this new era, is it any wonder why the award is named after Young?
For the new Red Sox pitching staff, will any of them fit the bill? Justin Masterson? Clay Buchholz? Joe Kelly? Wade Miley? Rick Porcello? Maybe a young phenom prospect? Boston has 19 pitchers on their 40-man roster. If we remember what Young said, there seems to be a number of talented pitchers watching each other perform, wondering like the rest of Red Sox Nation if they will need help in relief. Some of them have been injured a few times in their careers. Others have logged many innings, but without that dominant, shut-down success an ace like Young had. Pedro Martinez, in 2000, was the last Red Sox pitcher to win the award. Can 2015 be the season where one of these men puts the Red Sox on his back and takes them to the promised land, winning the Cy Young Award along the way?
Whether it happens or not, we should teach our children about Cy Young. He was a reflection on what it meant to be American at that time. You had to fight for everything. You earned everything by hard work and determination. You were successful in the present because you had to let experience forge your past. You had to be good at many skills, not just a specialized one, showing durability and flexibility to get the job done and done right yourself. If each man and woman lived by that code, the nation would earn their freedom. And they did. So, why can we not do the same? Why not us?