Cy Young Remembers His Greatest Day

Cy Young was an Ohio farmboy who became the most famous pitcher in all baseball history. Born two years after the end of the Civil War, he began his major league career in 1890 and ended it in 1911. In that time he won 511 games, a mark that no pitcher has ever matched or may dream of matching. Amazingly, Young’s major-league career spanned four rival leagues: the Players’ League of 1890; the American Association of 1882-91; the American League, which he more than anyone enabled to survive after its founding in 1901; and the Federal League, in which he managed in 1913, when it was not yet a major-league rival. He pitched to men who had played in 1871 (Cap Anson) and would play until 1930 (Eddie Collins). 

When Young first arrived in the major leagues, Hall of Famers John Clarkson, Tim Keefe, and Old Hoss Radbourn were still star pitchers. When he retired, Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson were well into their careers. Amos Rusie and Kid Nichols were among Young’s contemporaries, yet Young was still pitching years after they retired. 

Cy Young is one of a handful of Hall of Fame players whose name is known today by baseball fans of all ages and sophistication. His awe-inspiring, unbreakable record helps—no pitcher in the past eight decades has won more than Warren Spahn’s 363. So does the publicity surrounding his eponymous award. In 1956, one year after Young’s remarkably long and eventful life came to an end, Major League Baseball created an annual award to honor the best pitcher in the game, including both leagues (awards for each league did not kick in until 1967). What to call it? The Walter Johnson Award? The Christy Mathewson Award? No, there was really only one choice—the Cy Young Award.

Here’s Cy Young in his own words, as he related the tale of his greatest game to Francis J. Powers.

A pitcher’s got to be good and he’s got to be lucky to get a no-hit game.

But to get a perfect gameno run, no hit, no man reach first basehe’s got to have everything his way.

I certainly had my share of luck in the twenty-three years I pitched in the two big leagues because I threw three no-hitters and one of them was perfect. You look at the records and you’ll find that Larry Corcoran, who pitched for the Chicago Nationals “away back when,” was the only other big leaguer ever to get three no-hitters before me and none of his was perfect.

So it’s no job for me to pick out my greatest day in baseball. It was May 5, 1904, when I was pitching for the Boston Red Sox and beat the Philadelphia Athletics without a run, hit, or man reaching first. Of all the 906 games I pitched in the big leagues that one stands clearest in my mind.

The American League was pretty young then, just four seasons old, but it had a lot of good players and good teams. I was with St. Louis in the National when Ban Johnson organized the American League, and I was one of the many players who jumped to the new circuit.

Jimmy Collins, whom I regard as the greatest of all third basemen, was the first manager of the Boston team, and in 1903 we won the pennant and beat Pittsburgh in the first modern World Series.

Before I get into the details of my greatest day, I’d like to tell something about our Red Sox of those days. We had a great team. Besides Collins at third, we had Freddie Parent at short, Hobe Ferris at second, and Candy La Chance on first.

In the outfield were Buck Freeman, who was the Babe Ruth of that time, Patsy Dougherty, who later played with the White Sox, and Chick Stahl. Bill Dinneen was one of our other pitchers, and he’d licked the Pirates three games in the World Series the fall before.

Every great pitcher usually has a great catcher, like Mathewson had Roger Bresnahan and Miner Brown had Johnny Kling. Well, in my time I had two. First, there was Chief Zimmer, when I was with Cleveland in the National League, and then there was Lou Criger, who caught me at Boston and handled my perfect game.

As I said, my greatest game was against the Athletics, who were building up to win the 1905 pennant, and Rube Waddell was their pitcher. And I’d like to say that beating Rube anytime was a big job. I never saw many who were better pitchers.

I was real fast in those days, but what very few batters knew was that I had two curves. One of them sailed in there as hard as my fastball and broke in reverse. It was a narrow curve that broke away from the batter and went in just like a fastball. And the other was a wide break. I never said much about them until after I was through with the game.

There was a big crowd for those times out that day. Maybe 10,000, I guess, for Waddell always was a big attraction.

I don’t think I ever had more stuff and I fanned eight, getting Jasper Davis and Monte Cross, the Philly shortstop, twice. But the boys gave me some great support, and when I tell you about it, you’ll understand why I say a pitcher’s got to be awfully lucky to get a perfect game.

The closest the Athletics came to a hit was in the third, when Monte Cross hit a pop fly that was dropping just back of the infield between first and second. Buck Freeman came tearing in from right like a deer and barely caught the ball.

But Ollie Pickering, who played center field for Mr. Mack, gave me two bad scares. Once he hit a fly back of second that Chick Stahl caught around his knees after a long run from center. The other time Ollie hit a slow roller to short and Parent just got him by a step.

Patsy Dougherty helped me out in the seventh when he crashed into the left field fence to get Danny Hoffman’s long foul; and I recall that Criger almost went into the Boston bench to get a foul by Davis.

Most of the other batters were pretty easy, but all told there were ten flies hit, six to the outfield. The infielders had seven assists and I had two, and eighteen of the putouts were divided evenly between Criger and La Chance.

Well, sir, when I had two out in the ninth, and it was Waddell’s time to bat, some of the fans began to yell for Connie Mack to send up a pinch hitter. They wanted me to finish what looked like a perfect game against a stronger batter.

But Mr. Mack let Rube take his turn. Rube took a couple of strikes and then hit a fly that Stahl caught going away from the infield.

You can realize how perfect we all were that day when I tell you the game only took one hour and twenty-three minutes.

We got three runs off Waddell, and when the game was finished it looked like all the fans came down on the field and tried to shake my hand. One gray-haired fellow jumped the fence back of third and shoved a five-dollar bill into my hand.

The game was a sensation at the time. It was the first perfect game in twenty-four years, or since 1880, when both John M. Ward and Lee Richmond did the trick. It also was the second no-hitter ever pitched in the American League. Jimmy Callahan of the White Sox pitched the first against Detroit in 1902, but somehow a batter got to first base.

During my twenty-three years in the big leagues I pitched 516 games in the National League and won 289, and then I went into the American League and won 222 there. So all told I worked 906 games and won 511.

By the way, you might be interested to know that in my last big league game I was beaten 1-0 by a kid named Grover Cleveland Alexander. [Myth alert: This makes for a great last line, but in fact Young’s last big-league game was a loss to Brooklyn on October 6, 1911. The 1-0 game against Alexander and the Phils took place a month earlier, on September 7. Young lost and won games in between, including a 1-0 shutout over Babe Adams and the Pirates.]

1 Comment

You’re right about when Young faced Alexander in 1911. Unfortunately, I relied on this original piece for an encyclopedia entry I wrote on Young back in the 1990s, and Young’s erroneous claim thus entered a new millennium.

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