Top 50 Sox Seasons #5: Cy Young, 1901

33-10, 1.62/0.972/.236, 371.1 IP, 158 K, 37 BB, 7.9 H/9, 3.8 K/9, 0.9 BB/9, 4.3 K/BB, 5 SHO, 216 ERA+

There are plenty of reasons why Cy Young – the first dominant pitcher of the American League – is deserving of so high a rank for his 1901 campaign. The pitching Triple Crown (the first and only time he would manage that), the stratospheric ERA+ (fourth-highest in team history), the silly-low walk rate (which he would actually surpass three times in Boston).

But the real reason is because without Cy Young performing so well, American League baseball may never have survived in Boston. Granted, players like Buck Freeman and Eddie Collins also played roles, but Young was the fan favorite, and his 33 wins equaled 42 percent of the team’s total of 79 (in 2008 terms, that’s 94 wins, and a pitcher would have to win 39 games to equal Young’s percentage, which stood as a big-league record until Steve Carlton broke it in 1972). It should be no surprise that the pitcher whose blazing fastball was partially responsible for moving the mound back 10-and-a-half feet played such an important role in Boston.

Boston scored a coup, making headlines across the country when it signed Young on March 10 – something the Trenton Times called a “clever trick.” He opened the Huntington Avenue Grounds less than two months later with a 12-4 win. In July, he won 12 straight games, including his 300th. He won 20 games by his first start in August and 25 wins before September. Although the Americans slumped in August and fell from the race, Young was the Red Sox’ first superstar, enshrining Boston’s love with its superstar pitchers – those who won or contended for the award named for Young himself, from Lonborg to Clemens to Martinez to Schilling to Beckett.

Key game: Aug. 27. With Boston and Chicago fighting in the first American League pennant race, Young is lights out against Detroit, giving up just a first-inning run. But Roscoe Miller is just as good, allowing Boston to tie in the second but giving nothing more. They match zeroes for another 12 innings before Boston breaks through for a second run in the top of the 15th. Young retires the side in the bottom half, having managed to scatter 11 hits and two walks for his 25th win.

12 comments… add one

  • // But the real reason is because without Cy Young performing so well, American League baseball may never have survived in Boston. //
    OK, I can appreciate the big-picture observations…
    But another real reason? 33 frickin’ wins.
    In a much shorter season.
    Cy Young makes pretty much everyone in my lifetime except Luis Tiant look glass-armed.

    Hudson March 28, 2008, 2:34 pm
  • The Hardball Times had a great article back in February discussing the merits of Cy Young in comparison to the other pitchers of his time, concluding that the CYA should quite probably have been named after someone other than Cy Young.

    attackgerbil March 28, 2008, 2:55 pm
  • I don’t think anyone would question that Walter Johnson was far and away the best of the dead-ball pitchers (I say this not having read the article). Johnson had the misfortune of playing for the Expos of his day, while Young played for very good teams, including the first World Champions.
    Still, Young’s no slouch. And his 1901 was up there with (some of) the Big Train’s best seasons. Nothing beats Johnson’s 1913 though. Well, almost nothing. ;-)

    Paul SF March 28, 2008, 7:32 pm
  • It is interesting to note that Young vs. Johnson is also something of a peak vs. career issue. Johnson had an amazing six straight seasons with a 170 ERA+ or better. But Young had 14 straight seasons at 120 or better, which is just a phenomenal stretch of great pitching without a single off year.

    Paul SF March 28, 2008, 7:37 pm
  • The thrust of the article is that Big Train or the Christian Gentleman would have been arguably better candidates, among others to be the namesake of the greatest pitcher in the game, but then again Cy Young has the best ring to it. Anyway, I look forward to your write-up of the one that is the “almost nothing,” knowing full well what you are talking about.

    attackgerbil March 28, 2008, 7:40 pm
  • at least they didn’t call it the “denny mclain award”: http://espn.go.com/classic/biography/s/McLain_Denny.html

    dc March 29, 2008, 8:14 am
  • Worth noting re the walk rate; during the dead ball era there was, as the name suggests, a greater propensity to “pitch to contact.” With the home run much less of a threat, and the ball an inert, dirt-darkened sphere, a smart pitcher let batters get themselves out.

    YF March 29, 2008, 11:51 am
  • This is probably known by a lot of people, but when and how did the dead ball era end? I feel like I read this in Spalding’s World Tour in an aside, but I’m blanking, so apologies to the author in advance:)

    Nick-YF March 29, 2008, 12:16 pm
  • It’s an informal designation, so there is no concrete timeline, but the essential end came when Babe Ruth started jacking balls out of parks with regularity. That changed the face of the game.

    YF March 29, 2008, 12:26 pm
  • Who’s Babe Ruth?

    Nick-YF March 29, 2008, 12:33 pm
  • Did MLB not change the type of baseballs used between the 1919 and 1920 seasons? This is always the explanation I’ve heard, and the difference in output between the two seasons (4.09 RPG/240 home runs in the AL in 1919, 4.76/369 in 1920) seems to support this.
    Much like a similar jump between 1993 and 1995 seems to likewise support a change in baseball makeup, regardless of what MLB claims.

    Paul SF March 29, 2008, 1:10 pm
  • Yes, the ball was made livelier in 1920, and a new day born. But it’s worth noting that the deadball style of play, as exemplified by Ty Cobb, lived on for some time after.

    YF March 29, 2008, 2:14 pm

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