Transaction of Today…August 19, 1911 – The Boston Rustlers signed Cy Young as a free agent.
The Braves franchise, in addition to going by many names over their long history, has also seen some of the greatest players to ever play baseball play for the team. The original Home Run King, Babe Ruth, was a Brave. As was the guy who passed him many years later for that title, Hank Aaron. Perhaps the greatest second baseman of all-time, Rogers Hornsby, played for the franchise along with one of the best southpaws ever – and a war hero to boot – named Warren Spahn.
But not a lot of people know that the guy who an award was later named for the individual best pitcher of a season also spent some time with the Braves. Perhaps it’s because the Braves were named the Rustlers at the time.
Or perhaps – and yeah, it’s this one – it’s because he only pitched eleven games for the team and they were the final eleven starts of his career. But whatever, it’s still a fun factoid that Cy Young was a Brave. Err, a Rustler.
Long before 1911, Young arrived in the National League during 1890 as a member of the Cleveland Spiders. The Spiders played from 1887 until 1899, the first two years spent as part of the American Association. Their top three seasons (1892, 1895, 1896) still saw the Spiders finish at least three games behind the league leader. All three times, it was the Boston franchise that kept Young from being a champion. The two squads did play a “World Series” in 1892 as the top two teams in the NL. Young pitched extremely well, but Boston still won the series despite Young’s efforts. Three years later, Young’s Spiders did beat the Baltimore Orioles in the Temple Cup, which was kind of an attempt to build a baseball version of the Stanley Cup. It didn’t last for long.
But individually, Young was quickly becoming one of the best pitchers in professional baseball. In an era where pitchers exploded on the scene and faded just as quickly, Young was durable, effective, and superb. From 1891-1898, the only pitcher who was comparable was Boston’s own Kid Nichols, who was leading the Beaneaters passed Young’s Spiders with regularity. To be fair, that was not because of Young. In 1892, Young won his first of two ERA titles. He also took home the first of two strikeout titles in 1896.
Young was especially gifted when it came to control. Starting in 1895, Young delivered 16 consecutive seasons of a BB/9 under 2.0. Four times, his BB/9 fell under 1.0 and he had the lowest BB/9 in the league an incredible 14 times.
Cleveland’s owners, a pair of brothers named Frank and Stanley Robison, owned the Spiders for much of their existence. In 1899, they also bought the lowly Browns in St. Louis. At the time, there were no rules barring an owner from owning more than one team. The super predictable happened. After changing St. Louis’s team name to the Perfectos – the change to the Cardinals would come soon after – the brothers essentially assigned Cleveland’s best players to St. Louis. The Spiders had been relegated to a minor league team, though that’s probably not fair. They couldn’t beat some minor league teams. The result of the Robisons questionable tactics was a Cleveland team that fell to 20-134 in 1899 before folding after the year. The team had finished .500 or better for seven consecutive seasons before the Robisons bought the soon-to-be Redbirds.
Young’s stay in St. Louis wouldn’t last long. He continued to excel, though injuries and frustration with results on the field kept him from pitching at his top level. The normally even-keeled Young even charged the stands after a heckler after being accused of quitting on the Perfectos. After two years, Young jumped to the American League, joining the Boston Americans, after Robison insisted that Young was washed up. So washed up was Young that he had a 1.62 ERA during the 1901 season. Add in 33 wins and 158 strikeouts and Young had won the Pitcher’s Triple Crown. And if you’re curious, the Americans would later adopt a name that stuck – the Red Sox.
From 1901 until 1908, Young continued to add gaudy totals to his career marks. Though he was losing velocity seemingly every year, he developed a few breaking pitches that kept hitters off-balanced. Young went on to throw the first pitch of what we know as the World Series in 1903. He lost that game but won Game Five and Game Seven of the then-best-of-nine as Boston took home the title. They were still nearly two decades away from worrying about a curse after all.
After 1908, the then-42-year-old Young was dealt back to his old stomping grounds in Cleveland. At the time, they went by the name “the Naps.” Around a half-dozen years later, they would become the Indians. After one more solid season, Young finally started to break down in 1910 as he failed to pitch at least 280 innings for the first time since his rookie season two decades before. Young did pass 500 wins in 1910 and added three more with Cleveland in 1911 before the Naps released him on August 16.
He didn’t stay unemployed for the long. It was on this day in 1911 that the Boston Rustlers signed Young and added him to the mix. Boston was a terrible team. Playing under former Beaneaters stalwart, Fred Tenney, the club was young and only had a few of the stars that would shock the world three years later. Lefty Tyler was just a 21-year-old with an ERA over 5 while future team captain and backstop, Hank Gowdy, was biding his time as a first baseman.
But Young could draw a crowd. The 44-year-old had a team-low ERA of 3.71 (minimum 5 starts) and even tossed a pair of shutouts, something the rest of the roster could only do three times total. On August 30, he outdueled Claude Hendrix for a 6-0 victory over Pittsburgh. Three weeks later, again against the Pirates, he outpitched Babe Adams for a 1-0 win. It was win #511 and the 76th shutout of his career. Of course, it was also the final time he accomplished either.
Young tried to keep pitching with Boston in 1912. His arm kept him on the bench for the first month before he gave it a try on May 23. After testing the arm, he called it quits – both to the warm-up and to his career.
Over 22 years, Young put up incredible marks that still amaze today. Walter Johnson ranks second in wins – 94 fewer than Young. His 7,356 career innings are over 1,300 more than second place. Young started 42 more games than Nolan Ryan for the top spot in games started. He had 103 more complete games than Pud Galvin to lead that category. He’s also the only pitcher with more career bWAR than Walter Johnson. Or any other pitcher in history.
His time with the Braves franchise was brief and pretty forgetful. Unless you’re me and you see his name pop up in an old transaction and think, “oh, yeah, that happened.”