Wednesday, June 30, 2010

June 30, 1908: Like a Cyclone

NEW YORK - When Denton True Young was a young pitcher, not yet established in the Major Leagues, he was seen once passing the time by throwing baseballs against a wooden fence. The speed on his pitches caused tore the fence apart, to the point where a witness said it looked like the fence had "been hit by a cyclone."

And so Denton True Young became Cyclone Young, soon thereafter shortened to Cy Young.

There are many reasons why baseball's award for most outstanding pitcher is named after Cy Young. The most obvious is his record of 511 career wins, which is 94 more than the second place total of Walter Johnson. With those wins - and the all-time record of 316 losses - you would expect to see longevity, and you'd be right, as Young pitched professionally for 22 years, pitching effectively well past his 40th birthday. There's also the sublime consistency, with 15 seasons of 20 or more wins and 18 seasons of 15 or more wins, both records. Young pitched in the National League of the 1800s and in the fledging American League of the 1900s. He succeeded when pitchers stood only 54 feet away from the batters, and he succeeded when they were moved back to 60 feet, 6 inches.

The Cy Young that took the mound on June 30, 1908, didn't have a lot in common with his younger self. Instead of blowing hitters away with his cyclone-like fastball, he relied on breaking balls, using precision and intelligence to win games. And he was still good, going 21-11 with a career-best 1.26 earned-run average that year at the age of 41. And on June 30 of that year, he came the closest any pitcher has ever come to throwing a second perfect game.

Young's threw a perfect game in 1904 against Philadelphia at the age of 37. It was the first perfect game in American League history and only the third ever thrown, and he finished it in a tidy one hour, 25 minuts. The game, his second no-hitter, seemed to be a fitting cap to an incomparable career.

He wasn't quite done yet, however. Facing the Highlanders on June 30 - the New York team didn't change its name to the Yankees until 1913 - Young walked leadoff batter Harry Niles to open the game, only to watch him get caught stealing during the next at bat. That threat taken care of, Young retired the next 26 batters in a row, facing the minimum 27 batters in a no-hitter. And if becoming the oldest man to throw a no-hitter and coming within a batter of a second perfect game wasn't enough, Young also had three hits and four runs batted in as the Red Sox won 8-0.

Cy Young in 1908, the year of his third no-hitter

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