The Blessed Boon of Boston
CHICAGO – Along with that of Napoleon Lajoie, Cy Young’s defection to the American League in 1901 generated instant credibility for the upstart circuit, as the league gained one of the game’s greatest pitchers. Winner of 286 games in his first eleven seasons, Cy Young had established himself as a model of consistency and excellence, pitching more than 300 innings every year from 1891 to 1900, and ranking among the National League’s top five in ERA six times during that span. Still, cracks were starting to show in the great pitcher’s façade. At 34 years of age, Young had already entered the phase of his career when most pitchers start to break down. Indeed, in 1900, Young suffered through one of his worst seasons to date, failing to win 20 games for the first time since his rookie season, and pitching fewer innings than he had in any previous full season. Opposing batters attested that Young was more hittable than ever, and newspaper reporters began routinely affixing the adjective “Old” in front of his name. By all appearances, then, when the Boston Americans signed Young to a $3,500 salary, the acquisition represented more a public relations coup than a legitimate pitching upgrade.
As it turned out, Boston, not to mention the rest of the American League, got much more than it ever could have expected. He won pitching’s Triple Crown in 1901 – with 33 wins, a 1.62 ERA and 158 strikeouts – and tossed the first perfect game in American League history. The next year was almost just as good, with a league-leading 32 wins, a second place 2.15 ERA and a third place 160 strikeouts.
Though the great Young was a man advancing in years and gaining in weight, his pitching control only seemed to sharpen. In 1901 and 1902, he finished first and second in the league with the fewest walks per nine innings. And though his fastball had lost some of its effectiveness, the wily Young more than made up for it with a pair of curveballs: one thrown overhand with a sharp break, the other thrown side-armed with a sweeping arc. Both pitches were delivered from a variety of arm angles as well; occasionally, Young even threw submarine-style to upset the batter’s timing. In his continued mastery of opposing batters in the face of declining strength and advancing age, Young rose pitching to an art form, and earned his place in baseball’s pantheon of all-time greats.
His success helped the Boston Americans win both the pennant and the first World Series in 1903.