SABR

Irv Young

This article was written by Will Anderson.

Irving Melrose “Cy the Second”/“Young Cy” Young was born on July 21, 1877, and raised in Colum­bia Falls, Maine, 16 miles west of Machias. At age 17, Irv and his family moved to Concord, New Hampshire, so that he could find employment as a fireman on the Boston & Maine Railroad. Although working 60 hours a week on the railroad, Irv managed to find time to pitch for the YMCA and other local amateur clubs on weekends. In 1904, at the rather advanced age of 27, he turned pro, joining Concord in the New England League. There he won 18 games and caught the eye of scout Billy Hamilton. Hamilton strongly recommended him to the Boston Beaneaters (later the Braves)... who bought his contract for $500.

At age 28 in 1905, Irv Young had his shot at the major leagues. He made the most of it. He led the league in three categories: most innings pitched (378); most games started (42); most complete games (41). He was also second in the league in shutouts with seven (only the immortal Christy Mathewson, with eight, had more) and fifth in strikeouts. His earned run average was 2.90, respectable in any league. And he won 20 games. Yet, alas, he lost 21. But let’s discount that. Irv Young, in playing for the 1905 Beaneaters, was playing for one of the more inept teams in baseball’s long history. Let’s concentrate - and celebrate - on the fact that he won 20 games. As a rookie.

All these years later, Irv’s 1905 total of 378 innings pitched and 41 complete games are still major-league records for a rookie in the 20th century. Needless to say, in this day and age of almost incessant relief pitching, they are records that will most likely last forever. And that's a long, long time. Irv’s total of seven shutouts was also a long-standing rookie high, lasting for 63 years as the National League mark until tied by Jerry Koosman in 1968 and eventually broken by Fernando Valenzuela in 1981.

Irv Young’s banner season started well. He appeared in relief, pitching the final four innings of the Beaneaters’ April 14 opening day game before a crowd of 40,000 at the Polo Grounds. And he pitched effectively, holding the World Champion McGrawmen to but four hits and two runs. He also knocked in Boston’s only run in the eighth inning. Four days later he started the club’s home opener, gaining his first major league win in a 4-2 performance over Brooklyn. Per the New York Times, the man whose nicknames compared him to the legendary Cy Young “made an excellent impression, striking out six men and keeping the Brooklyn hits well scattered.” On the 28th, Irv pitched the first of his seven shutouts of the year, holding the Phillies to three hits in a 2-0 Boston win. “Inability to hit Young's delivery was responsible for the home team’s defeat today by Boston” was the rather quaint way the Bangor Daily News explained the game’s out­come.

On May 6, Irv bested Christy Mathewson in a 2-1 cliffhanger. The Giants managed but seven hits off the Boston southpaw. Irv picked up his second shutout on May 11, scattering 10 Chicago hits in a 5-0 match. South Bridgton, Maine native Virgin “Rip” Cannell - who played all 154 games in the outfield for the Beaneaters that year - got the game’s only extra base hit, a double.

Other highlights in Cy the Second’s steady march toward becoming Maine’s only 20-game winner of the century include:

May 15 - Beats Reds, 2-1, on a nine-hitter

May 23 - Tosses a five-hit shutout over the Pirates, 1-0

May 27 - Tosses another shutout in three-hitting the Phillies, 3-0

June 3 - Hurls yet another shutout ~ again a three-hitter – against John McGraw’s World Champion Giants, 2-0. Writes the New York Times, “Young ‘Cy’ Young gave the champion New Yorks a sample of his pitching powers in the first game of a double header in this city to-day by allow­ing them only three hits during the entire nine innings.

June 24 - Loses a heartbreaker, 2-1, to the Giants in 12 innings. Again the Times: “Young, one of the sensational pitchers of the year, who had worsted the champions on the Polo Grounds this season, and who subsequently shut them out at Boston, proved just as effective as upon the other occasions, only two hits being made off his delivery up to the ninth inning”

July 10 - Defeats the Phillies, 3-2, in 10 innings

July 13 - Five-hits the Reds in a 6-1 Boston win

July 24 - Tosses four-hitter vs. Pitts­burgh in an 8-1 win

August 21 - Allows five hits and strikes out seven in downing St. Louis, 1-0

September 1 - Tops Brooklyn, 4-2, on an eight-hitter

September 7 - Again shuts out the Giants, allowing but four hits. Highlight of the game is a catch in center field by Rip Cannell in the sixth inning. The Times terms it “astonishing.”

September 13 - Six-hits the Phils in a 3-2 win (while also getting two hits and scoring a run)

September 20 - Defeats Brooklyn, 6-5, with a bases-loaded triple by fellow Mainer Rip Cannell the big blow

What’s amazing is the number of games Irv Young could have - and probably should have - won in 1905. If he had come away victorious in all the games he lost by one run - mostly all by scores of 2-1 or 3-2 - he could well have been a 30-game winner. Wouldn't that have put Columbia Falls on the map!

The truth is that the Beaneaters were terrible. They won but 51 games the entire season (while dropping slightly more than twice that many, 103). Young Cy’s 20 wins, therefore, constituted virtually 40% of the team's victories. With any kind of run production behind him - the team’s anemic .234 batting average was the lowest in the league - Young would have easily had another eight or ten games in the win column. Ironically, Young Cy’s namesake - the winningest pitcher in baseball history and the man for whom the Cy Young Award is named - had a very similar season. Pitching for Boston’s American League entry (the team we know now as the Red Sox), he also lost one game more than he won. His record for the year was 18-19.

In late September, the Pirates offered to buy Irv Young for the then-hefty price of $7,500. But Boston management would have none of it. The Bangor Daily News, in a September 29 article, put the area’s many Beaneater fans at ease. The paper reported Boston management as emphatically stating that “Such a deal will not be thought of” - Irv was just too valuable to the team.

That the offer was not accepted, however, was most unfortunate for Cy the Second. With the Pirates he would have been with a winner. With Boston he was destined to forever pitch for a loser. In 1906 the Beaneaters were even more futile than the year before. Their batting average dropped to .226; their won-lost record to 49-102; their starting catcher batted .189; their second baseman hit .202; and reserve outfielder Gene Good - a sometimes actor/sometimes ballplayer who weighed in at 126 pounds -stroked a lowly .151. The team made 11 errors in one game in June. They were the doormat of the league, and almost nothing Irv Young did was going to change that.

In that second season in the bigs, 1906, Irv again led the National League in innings pitched (358), games started (41), and complete games (37). He was sixth in the league in strikeouts and his earned run average remained virtually unchanged at 2.91. Yet with the club worse than ever they lost 19 games in a row during one especially dismal stretch in May and Tune - our man from Down East saw his record drop to 16-25. He was one of four 20-game losers on the team!

Nevertheless, John McGraw - recognizing talent when he saw it - offered $10,000 for the southpaw, only to be turned down. Boston management clearly liked Irv Young. So did his teammates: when he got married in September, they bought a brass bed for the new bride and groom.

Before the start of the 1907 season, the futile ballclub’s ownership changed hands. The new owners were a Pittsburgh theatrical man named John Harris and two brothers, George and John Dovey from Kentucky. The Doveys ran the team and, in their honor, the club’s nickname was changed to the Doves. It was an appropriate appellation: on the field the ballclub was almost invariably the per­sonification of peace. They finished seventh, 47 games behind the front-running Cubs. Worse, the toll of constant­ly losing was having its effect on Cy the Second. His earned run average jumped to 3.96; his won-lost record fell to a most disheartening 10-23.

Irv started 1908, his last year in the National League, with the Doves. He was 4-9 for them when, on June 18, he was traded to the Pirates for two other pitchers, Tom McCarthy and Harley Young (who, ironically, was nicknamed Cy the Third). Appearing in 16 games for the Bucs, Young Cy was 4-3. For the entire season, then, he was 8-12 with his lowest-ever ERA, 2.42. It was not good enough.

In 1909, the southpaw found himself with Minneapolis in the American Association. There he pitched well enough to earn one last shot in the bigs. Charlie Comiskey, owner of the White Sox, picked up his contract for 1910. For the Sox, Irv pitched effectively, sporting a 2.72 ERA. Again, however, he was with a weak club. Poor Irv was forever with bad clubs: in the two years he toiled for the Chisox, the best that can be said is that their won-lost record approached .500. The 1910 White Sox won 68, lost 85, and finished sixth. Young Cy was 4-8. It is worthy of note that all four victories were shutouts.

The year 1911 was Irv Young’s last in the major leagues, and the team was 77-74. His record was 5-6, but his ERA leapt to a career-high of 4.37. With a week left to go in the season, the Sox released him back to Minneapolis. He remained in the American Association, pitching for both Minneapolis and later Milwaukee, through mid-1916. He later played and coached in the Southern League. Later still, while living in Orrington, Maine, he played a bit and coached there, too.

Young passed away unexpectedly at the home of a nephew in South Brewer, Maine, on January 14, 1935. A rather small death notice ap­peared toward the back of the Bangor Daily News two days later. One can only suspect that if Irv Young had toiled for the Giants or the Cubs or the Pirates - the powerhouse, run-scoring teams of his National League heyday - rather than the lowly Beaneaters/Doves, his passing would have instead been front-page stuff.

Sources

This biography originally appeared in Will Anderson’s self-published 1992 book Was Baseball Really Invented in Maine? and is presented here with the author’s permission. Bill Nowlin has added new material and slightly revised the original version.

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