Things didn’t go so great here last week for Cy Young. The legendary Red Sox hurler, one of the game’s immortals, the award in his name considered the gold standard of pitching each year in both the American and National Leagues, didn’t quite cut it with Red Sox fans.
No, sir. When asked by Major League Baseball to name the top four players in franchise history, Sox fans figured Denton True “Cy” Young was not worthy. That, folks, is one tough ballpark to work. When the votes were tallied, Sox fans instead gave their Franchise Four votes to Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Pedro Martinez, and David Ortiz.
So thanks for coming, big fella, and don’t trip over your Cy Young Award when boarding the bus back to Loserville. Really nice knowing you and, hey, thanks for the 192 games you won in your eight seasons (1901-08) in Boston flannels. Awesome performance. Not a lot of guys could average almost 25 wins a year for eight seasons, especially after coming to town at age 34, in, you know, the twilight of your career.
OK, look, fan voting is fan voting. Results are fickle and memory shorter than a Rick Porcello start or a pair of Eddie Gaedel trousers. For the most part, fans are young(er) and live in the moment, and those moments grow ever fleeter now in the snapchat and smartphone era. Here today gone tomorrow has given way to here for a second and hit delete. Yesterday’s news is what happened eight seconds ago on the Twitter timeline.
For a month, April 8 to May 8, fans across the country were asked to pick their Franchise Four in all 30 major league cities and the results were made public prior to Tuesday night’s All-Star Game. No Cy Young. Not here in the Hub of Hardball. In fact, not anywhere. Cy Young didn’t find a spot on any city’s Mount Rushmore, in part because he made his bones playing his first nine seasons with the Cleveland Spiders, the NL team that went belly-up as the 19th century closed, leading eventually to Young arriving here after a two-year stop in St. Louis. Young didn’t cut the voting in Cleveland, either, because the Spiders are long gone and the Indians remain part of the junior circuit American Leaguers.
But rest easy, Sox fans, followers of a certain team in the Bronx got things right by selecting Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, and Boston castaway George Herman Ruth. Now there’s a little fuzzy something for Bostonians to hold on to in what thus far has been a torturous 2015 season.
We’re proud of our hardball heritage here, especially those of us who logged decades of allegiance in the franchise’s 1919-2003 “gap’’ years, when watching the Red Sox’ perennial failures was a cherished family tradition for many of us. As last week’s Franchise Four result underscores, Young is hardly in our daily discussion, or barely our consciousness. Fenway opened in 1912, his first year out of baseball, and he actually wore a Red Sox uniform only one year, in 1908, the season the “Americans’’ based on Huntington Avenue formally adopted the name that lives on 107 years later.
So, for those who don’t know or perhaps forgot, here are Young’s career basics:
■ Most career wins (511) and losses (316) of all major league pitchers. Not to mention most career starts (815), complete games (749), innings (7,356), and batters faced (29,565). Regarding that last stat, take a 25-man roster and multiply by 1,182. As pitching goes, there is no bigger body of work.
■ In his eight seasons in Boston, he went 192-112 (.632), and four times finished with 20-plus wins and added 30-plus wins in two other seasons. Vastly different eras, of course, but Martinez, age 26 upon arriving on Yawkey Way, went 117-37 (an astounding .760) in seven seasons with the Sox — 75 fewer victories and 96 fewer starts than Young.
■ In 1901, Young’s debut season in Boston, he won the pitching triple crown for recording the most wins (33), lowest ERA (1.62), and most strikeouts (158). Martinez matched him in 1999 with 23-2.07-313.
■ Young was essential in Boston winning the inaugural modern World Series in 1903, what was a best-of-nine affair between the AL and NL. He made three starts in the Series and went 2-1 in with a 1.85 ERA. Martinez helped the Sox finally break the Curse in 2004, his last year in Boston, and went 2-1 in the three playoff rounds, and won his only start vs. St. Louis in the World Series.
Obviously, Martinez is a worthy Franchise Four selection. Great pitcher, showman, entertainer. Williams and Yastrzemski are no-brainers. The debate to be had, in my opinion, is whether Martinez or Ortiz, a career designated hitter, should have been passed over for the guy whose award each year honors the game’s two best hurlers. And really, what’s the debate?
For Young not to make the Franchise Four cut is tantamount to Oscar himself being nominated for “Best Actor’’ at the Academy Awards, only to see, say, Tom Hanks or George Clooney go home with the replica Oscar. Theater of the absurd, I say. As much as I admired Martinez’s work here, I would have selected Young over him, a decision I think even Martinez would have understood. After all, Martinez won the Cy Young Award three times, once with Montreal, twice with the Sox.
Martinez will be formally inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame next Sunday. On the second floor of the Hall’s museum, the first display case visitors encounter is that of Cy Young. It is among the biggest single-player display cases in the entire museum and it is adjacent to another sprawling exhibit that pays tribute to Ruth.
In Cooperstown, at least from an exhibit point of view, no one gets bigger treatment than Young and Ruth. Here in Boston, albeit for different reasons, it seems we’ve all but erased both from memory.