Baseball has a rich history; several of baseball’s best played their final games over 100 years ago. As such, they exist in a strange plane between recognizable legend and forgotten presence. People know the names, but the sheer extent of what these players accomplished has been lost in time.
Cy Young is one of these instances. While the award given to pitchers every year bears his name, the extent to which he dominated the game of baseball should still be recognized.
Cy Young’s baseball career
Young came into what’s now known as Major League Baseball in 1890 at 23 years old. His education had stopped after sixth grade. According to Britannica, Young began to play on semi-pro baseball teams as a teen to make extra money. With the full name Denton True Young, he developed the nickname Cyclone, which was eventually shortened to Cy.
By 1890, Young had the attention of the National League, and the Cleveland Spiders purchased his contract from a Canton, Ohio minor-league team. Young wasted no time, going 9-7 during his first partial season with the Spiders. By the next year, however, he was one of the best pitchers in baseball.
Young spent nearly a decade in Cleveland before a brief stint in St. Louis and a move to Boston, where he saw the Americans become the Boston Red Sox. Over a 22-year career, Young broke pitching records left and right and oversaw the pre-Babe Ruth era as baseball broke into the American mainstream.
Baseball was a different game at the turn of the 20th century. As such, Young got opportunities to break records that will likely go unmatched given how much the game has changed. He retired with a career 2.63 ERA and .619 winning percentage. His records, however, are downright impressive.
Young’s 511 wins
When Young was coming up in baseball, he started nearly 50 games per season. The league did not yet know or care about the effects that the load could have on a pitcher. To his credit, Young carved out more than two decades despite this workload. His best season saw him won 36 games for the Spiders with an ERA of 1.93.
Young was reliable and unafraid to do what it took to win. Just because he started more games than most pitchers, however, doesn’t mean his domination was matched by his contemporaries.
Young’s 511 career wins as a pitcher is still 94 more than second-place Walter Johnson, who came up as Cy Young went down. More recently, Roger Clemens needed 24 years to get nearly 160 fewer wins than Young. Pitchers nowadays are lucky to get 300 wins, showing how impressive Cy Young’s feat was.
Young’s 7,356 innings pitched and 749 complete games
Young was a juggernaut at pitching. While we can theorize what would happen if he had to pitch in 2020, the fact is he took what was afforded to him and was still the best of his era. When Young retired, he’d pitched in 7,356 innings — a healthy margin ahead of second-place Pud Galvin.
Aging veterans are lucky to have 3,000 innings pitched, even if they’re the best at what they do. When you account for the fact that Young had 749 complete games, however, you can see how he did it. That 749-win mark is 113 more than second-place Galvin. CC Sabathia led active players last season with 38 complete games, meaning 749 may be even more unbreakable.
Comparing eras can often seem like a fool’s errand when trying to decide who is better. Players of every era benefit and are held back by changes to the game. The fact remains that those who dominate a certain era did so with everything they had.
Young is like this. While his records don’t necessarily make him the best to ever do it, they remain a testament to why he’s still talked about 100 years later.
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