If Cy Young accomplished nothing else during his baseball career, he went down in history as throwing out the first pitch in the first game of the first modern World Series. Of course, Young had plenty of other accomplishments. His 511 career victories - most in major league history - and the Cy Young Award given annually to the best pitchers in the American and National Leagues are testaments to Young's legend.
Born on March 29, 1867, in Gilmore, Ohio, Denton True Young was a farmer's son with a sixth-grade education. He discovered a natural pitching talent early in life and had a training regimen consisting of throwing balls and walnuts at a target on his father's barn door. Young moved to Nebraska with his father as a teenager and spent two years working as a farm hand. On Saturdays, he could be found playing in semi-pro baseball games. Returning to Ohio with his father in 1887, Young spent an additional two years playing semi-pro ball. A minor league team in Canton, Ohio, signed him in 1890.
Looking to impress his new teammates, Young began throwing balls against a fence and tore a couple of boards off the grandstand. Someone commented that it looked like a cyclone had struck the fence, leading Young to be nicknamed "Cyclone," which was later shortened to "Cy." At least, that's the story Young was quoted as giving in the 1965 book Kings of the Diamond. Another story suggests that his teammates called him "Cy" because at the time it was a common nickname for a seeming country hick. Whatever the inspiration, Young had soon established a reputation as the Tri-State League's best pitcher. After paying the Canton team $300 to release Young, the Cleveland Spiders signed him to a contract that increased his monthly salary from $60 to $75.
Prior to Young's major league pitching debut on Aug. 6, 1890, Cap Anson, player-manager of the visiting Chicago Colts, reportedly looked at him and called him "just another big farmer." Anson's skepticism didn't last long. Following an 8-1 Spiders victory in which Young gave up only three hits, Anson offered Spiders secretary Davis Hawley $1,000 in an unsuccessful attempt to send Young to Chicago. Young finished the 1890 season with a 9-7 record.
Young's 27-20 record in 1891 gave him the most wins of any Spiders pitcher. His 36-11 record the following year gave him the most wins of any National League pitcher. The league split its schedule into two seasons in 1892, and the Spiders won the Fall Series pennant race to advance to the championship series. The Spiders beat Boston, the spring champion, in the first game but lost the rest of them. Despite his team's defeat, Young was on the Sporting News cover in December 1892.
Young was one of the few pitchers to survive after baseball owners, in an effort to create more offense, changed the distance between the pitcher and home plate to 60 feet, six inches - a five-foot increase - in 1893. Not just survive, but thrive: Young had 32 wins that year, second best in the league. He had a mere 25-22 record in 1894 but led the league with 35 wins in 1895. The Spiders, helped by Young's three wins, beat the first-place Baltimore Orioles four games to one in the postseason Temple Cup championships.
Although his statistics were less impressive in the second half of the 1890s, Young recorded his first major league no-hitter during a 6-0 victory over Cincinnati in 1897. Spiders owner Frank Robison responded to declining attendance and a dispute with Cleveland authorities over playing home games on Sundays by trading all his best players, including Young, to his other team, the St. Louis Cardinals, at the end of 1898. Two unspectacular seasons in St. Louis prompted speculation that his career was winding down.
A change of scenery proved otherwise. The American League declared itself a major league in 1901, and Young signed with the Boston Pilgrims at a salary several hundred dollars higher than the National League's salary cap would allow. Young's 33 wins, 158 strikeouts and 1.62 earned run average topped the league in 1901, and he continued to lead the league in wins the next two seasons.
After two years of bitter competition, the leagues reached an agreement in January 1903 that settled contracts, approved common rules and created two eight-team circuits. On Sept. 16, 1903, Barney Dreyfuss, owner of the National League champion Pittsburgh Pirates, and Pilgrims owner Henry Killilea signed an agreement that arranged for a best-of-nine-games series, two umpires for every game and rosters consisting only of players who had been on the team as of Sept. 1. Standing in front of more than 16,000 hometown fans, Young threw out Game One's first pitch shortly after 3 p.m. on Oct. 1. The Pilgrims lost that game and two of the next three but rallied back to win the series five games to three. Young won the series' fifth and seventh games.
Facing the Philadelphia Athletics on May 5, 1904, Young pitched the first perfect game of the 1900s. He struck out 208 batters, the most of his career, in 1905 but had an 18-19 record. The next two years were uninspired, but Young's magic wasn't completely gone yet. In 1908, the 41-year-old Young went 21-11, had a career-best 1.26 earned run average and pitched his third no-hitter. Prior to the 1909 season, the Pilgrims traded Young to the Cleveland Naps. After winning 19 games that season, he only won seven in 1910. The Naps released him in August 1911. He signed with Boston, but pitching a 12-inning game late in the season against Philadelphia's Grover Cleveland Alexander and losing 1-0 convinced him to retire. Young nevertheless came to spring training in 1912, although he retired before the season started.
Retirement didn't sever his connection to baseball. Young attended several games a year and frequently appeared at old-timers' events. Denied entry to the Baseball Hall of Fame during the first round of voting in 1936, Young was inducted the following year. Cleveland Indians owner Bill Veeck chose to celebrate Young's 80th birthday in 1947 by inviting him and the approximately 1,000 residents of Newcomerstown, Ohio, to an Indians game. While sitting in his rocking chair on Nov. 4, 1955, the 88-year-old Young suffered a fatal heart attack. The Cy Young Award was created shortly after his death.