Cy Young was 41 when he was honored with his own day at the Huntington Avenue Grounds on August 13, 1908. A crowd of 20,165 fans turned out to watch one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history take on the best players in the league. All-Stars from around the league faced Boston in the only American League game played that day. Hundreds of fans contributed to the purchase of a loving cup sponsored by the Boston Post.
Cy Young was born Denton True Young on an Ohio farm on March 29, 1867, the son of a Civil War veteran. The work ethic he learned on the family farm carried over to his baseball career. Young once said,
A man who isn’t willing to work from dreary morn till weary eve shouldn’t think about becoming a pitcher.
From 1891 through 1909, Cy Young was a workhorse, always ranking in the league’s top 10 for innings pitched. Over his 21-year career he won 511 games, threw three no-hitters and the first perfect game ever. He had a reputation for honesty and was sometimes pressed into service as an umpire. He was a member of the first class of players to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Young left school after the sixth grade and went to work on the family farm. He played for many amateur teams, and at 22 he signed with a Canton, Ohio, minor league team in 1889. He threw his fastball so hard it tore up the grandstand fences. Scouts took notice and reporters started calling him Cy – for ‘Cyclone,’ because the fences he tore up looked like a cyclone had hit them.
The Cleveland Spiders signed Cy Young in 1890. Spiders catcher Chief Zimmer put a piece of beefsteak in his mitt to protect his hand from Young’s fastball. At the end of the season, Chicago Colts’ player manager Cap Anson offered Spiders’ manager Gus Schmelz $1,000 for Young’s contract. Schmelz replied, “Cap, you can keep your thousand and we’ll keep the rube.”
In 1899, Young went to the St. Louis Perfectos (now the Cardinals). Two years later he went to the Boston Americans (now the Red Sox), where he won nearly 42 percent of the team’s victories and led the American League in wins, strikeouts and ERA. The Royal Rooters, Boston’s noisy Irish fan club, adopted him as a favorite. In1902, Boston newspapers reported the sixth-grade graduate was coaching the Harvard baseball team before the season started.
In 1903, Cy Young threw the first pitch in a modern World Series game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He lost that game but won two others and the Americans won the series.
On May 2, 1904, Philadelphia Athletics pitcher Rube Waddell pitched a one-hitter against the Americans. He taunted Young to face him so he could do it again. Three days later, Cy Young threw the first perfect game in American League history against the Athletics. Waddell was the 27th and last out. When he flied out, Young shouted, “How do you like that, you hayseed?”
Young considered his greatest game to be another matchup against Waddell a year later. It was a 20-inning game in which Young pitched 13 consecutive scoreless innings, giving up two unearned runs in the last inning for the 4-2 loss.
In 1908, at the age of 41, Cy Young pitched his third no-hitter. At the end of the season his ERA was a microscopic 1.26. During his eight years with Boston, he won 192 games, a record tied by Roger Clemens.
In 1909 he was back in Cleveland with the Naps, named after Woonsocket, R.I., native Napoleon Lajoie. His final year, 1911, was split between the Naps and the Boston Rustlers (now the Atlanta Braves).
The game of baseball evolved over his long career, in which he played against Cap Anson, who made his Major League debut in 1871, and Eddie Collins, who retired in 1930.
Cy Young died Nov. 4, 1955. About a year later, the Cy Young Award was created to honor the previous season’s best pitcher.
In 1993, a statue was dedicated to him by Northeastern University on the site of the Huntington Avenue Grounds, where Cy Young threw the first World Series pitch and the first perfect game in the American League. He was also honored with a poem by Ogden Nash:
Y is for Young
The magnificent Cy;
People batted against him,
But I never knew why.
The photo is from the collection of Nuf Ced McGreevey, who owned one of the first sports bars in America. He donated his collection of sporting memorabilia to the Boston Public Library.