If citizens of tiny Gilmore, Ohio, trotted past McKinzie Young’s farm around noon in the late 1870s, they likely saw the family’s oldest son throwing apples or walnuts at a target on the barn door before heading back to work across nearly 200 acres of fields after lunch.
“Ah, young Denton,” they probably would say. “That boy is always throwing something.”
When combined with strength-building chores like crop-harvesting and wood-splitting, young Denton’s lunch-break throwing evolved into superb pitching, and stories of a Tuscarawas County farmer turned “Cyclone” pitcher caught the attention of major-league clubs as Cy Young took to the mound for semipro clubs in the region in the mid-1880s.1
A quarter-century later and just a few weeks shy of the 21st anniversary of Young’s debut appearance with the Cleveland Spiders of the National League, he reached a milestone that has never been matched and likely never will – a testament to the hard work and diligence he learned as a young farmhand. On July 19, 1910, the 43-year-old Young took the mound for the Cleveland Naps in the second game of a doubleheader against the Washington Senators. Though it took him 11 innings, he walked away from the mound at Washington’s American League Park with his 500th major-league victory.
Young was the oldest major leaguer with a regular playing role in 1910, his second season with Cleveland after a February 1909 trade from the Boston Red Sox, and he saw no reason he would not continue his success. He said splitting logs, making repairs, chopping wood, and looking after the stock on his Peoli, Ohio, farm kept him from growing “fat and soft” in the offseason,2 and despite a substandard record, he showed flashes of his old self in the first half of the season.3 Young had earned win number 499 in a two-hit, 5-0 shutout of the St. Louis Browns on June 30, but the Detroit Tigers, Red Sox, and New York Yankees foiled his first three tries at number 500.
Heavy rains in the nation’s capital had caused a postponement of the Naps-Senators series opener, necessitating the doubleheader on July 19. Knowing Young would try for history in the second game, 7,132 fans gathered on a Tuesday afternoon – a significant uptick at Washington’s turnstiles.4
The Senators treated those patrons to a dominant 7-0 victory in the afternoon’s opening game. Dolly Gray allowed only four hits in his first career shutout and supported his own cause with a career-high three hits at the plate.
Washington carried that momentum into Game Two, taking the lead with a run in the bottom of the first. Clyde Milan drew a leadoff walk and moved to second on Jack Lelivelt’s single. Milan went to third after Young hit him with a pickoff attempt, and he scored on a close play at the plate on Wid Conroy’s infield bouncer.
Meanwhile, Cleveland’s offense remained sluggish, failing to score against Doc Reisling over the first eight innings.5 Cleveland nearly scored in the fifth, but Washington catcher Gabby Street held onto the ball in a collision at the plate with George Stovall. Street left the game with an injury to his left wrist and did not return to action until August 1.
The Naps, however, were determined to bring Young his 500th victory, and Jack Graney drew an inning-opening walk in the ninth to spark a rally. Terry Turner laid a bunt up the first-base line and beat first baseman John Henry’s throw to the bag, and Nap Lajoie reached on a bunt of his own to load the bases. Ted Easterly and Stovall followed with back-to-back fly balls to give Cleveland a 2-1 lead.
Young trotted out to the mound to try to finish off the milestone victory with what would have become his fifth career two-hitter, but the Senators seemed intent on sweeping the doubleheader. After Milan drew a one-out walk, he advanced to third on Lelivelt’s single to right and scored the tying run on Conroy’s single to center. Young intentionally walked Doc Gessler to load the bases, and escaped the jam by retiring George McBride and Red Killefer, who went a combined 0-for-8 during the game.
After a scoreless 10th, the Naps broke through with another rally in the 11th. Harry Niles and Graney drew back-to-back walks, and Turner beat out a bunt up the third-base line to load the bases to open the inning. Bob Groom, who relieved Reisling in the 10th, walked Easterly on four pitches to let in the tiebreaking run, and Stovall followed with a two-run single to left.
Washington tried to respond in the bottom half, but after Milan’s leadoff single, Young retired the next three batters in order to secure his 500th victory and 731st complete game, crediting “the simple life” for his success in brief remarks after the game.6
“Denton T. Young, to my mind, is the greatest man who ever stepped upon the baseball diamond,” wrote longtime sportswriter Harry Neily. “He was a star in the days when catchers stood behind the plate bare-handed; he was a star when they used small finger gloves; he was a star when they developed the big mitt; and he is a star today.”7
“There is not a baseball fan nor a player in the country who does not rejoice today that Cy Young, the grand old man of the national game, has annexed his 500th victory in the big leagues,” the Cleveland Plain Dealer observed. “It is a mark that probably will never be equaled, for Cy is a freak in a way.”8
Young, who had won 20 or more games in 16 seasons, stood at 500-303 after the victory, well ahead of both Pud Galvin, second on the all-time wins list (365), and Christy Mathewson, second among active pitchers (252).9 By 1910, no pitcher had ever enjoyed a longer career than Young, and he had pitched 175 more games and thrown 1,173⅔ more innings than any other hurler in history after securing his 500th win. Cleveland sportswriter Henry P. Edwards used an estimation of 124 pitches per start to suggest that Young threw more than 100,000 pitches to compile his 500 victories.10
“It is a double pleasure to make this conspicuous mention of pitcher Young’s career – first, because of uniqueness; second, because of the personal worth of the performer,” said Sporting Life. “Throughout his long base ball career, he has been all that a good citizen and model ball player should be; a credit to himself, to his family and to the game; a striking illustration of the value of sobriety and right living; and shining example for the players of the past, present, and future generations. No greater, better, or more remarkable ball player than pitcher Young ever lived or lives now, and it is not likely that his professional record will ever be equalled; and it is still less likely that it will ever be excelled.”11
With the victory, Young’s season-long record stood at an uncharacteristic 3-7, but the milestone seemed to rejuvenate him. Young followed with four straight complete games to even his record at 7-7, though Cleveland continued to sit fifth in the American League at 34-40.12 The Naps closed the season with a 71-81 record, 32 games behind the eventual World Series champion Philadelphia Athletics. With the loss, Washington fell to 31-48, and the Senators closed the campaign in seventh place at 66-85 – the franchise’s 10th straight losing season.
Many within the baseball world rejoiced after Young’s milestone victory.
“Of all pitchers past and present, I admire Cy Young most,” Mathewson said. “He is the best example I know of the clean-living American athlete who is a model for the youth of the country. Young has lived the normal, natural out-of-door life. Never a teetotaler, he has been temperate in all things. As a result, he finds himself with his pitching arm unimpaired and his health perfect at 43. I can pay the veteran no greater compliment than to say that I have set my heart on being a second Cy Young [with 500 wins] pitching for New York in 1920. I heartily congratulate the Ohio farmer for winning 500 games in the big leagues, and my best wishes go with him in his determination to stay in the big show until he is 50 years old.”13
While Young did not play until age 50, he spent another season in the majors in 1911, splitting time with the Naps and the Boston Rustlers and adding seven more wins to his ledger to bring his career total to 511.14 Young earned his place in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1937 as a member of the second induction class.
This article was fact-checked by Kevin Larkin and copy-edited by Len Levin.
Photo credit: Trading Card DB.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted the Baseball-Reference.com, Stathead.com, and Retrosheet.org websites for pertinent materials and the box scores. He also used information obtained from Reed Browning’s 2000 biography, Cy Young: A Baseball Life, and Ralph H. Romig’s 1964 biography, Cy Young: Baseball’s Legendary Giant, as well as news coverage by The Sporting News, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Washington Post, and the Washington Herald.
1 Young’s hometown of Gilmore sits about 100 miles south of Cleveland.
2 Tip Wright (United Press), “What Makes Cy Young Star Pitcher,” Montgomery (Alabama) Times, March 17, 1910: 8.
3 Young pitched 14 innings in his third start of the season – a game against the St. Louis Browns that ended in a 3-3 tie due to darkness – and he struck out nine Yankees in a loss on June 15.
4 Prior to the game, the biggest Tuesday afternoon home attendance for the Senators came on May 24, when 5,209 fans joined President William Howard Taft in watching Washington defeat the Detroit Tigers 3-2 in a six-inning, rain-shortened game. One week before Young’s historic start, only 480 fans attended a game against the St. Louis Browns, which was twice interrupted by rain and ended in a 4-4 tie after eight innings because of darkness. Washington did not host a larger Tuesday crowd until more than a year later, when 8,000 fans showed up to watch the Tigers on July 25, 1911.
5 Cleveland’s 17-inning scoreless streak seemed modest compared to a seven-game August series against the Senators August 9-12. The Naps failed to score in four of those games, including a 23-inning scoreless stretch over three games.
6 United Press, “Simple Life Did It for Cy,” Wilmington (Delaware) Evening Journal, July 21, 1910: 8.
7 Harry Neily, “Will Pitcher Ever Equal Mark of 500 Victories Set by Young?” Detroit Evening Times, July 20, 1910: 4.
8 “Cy Young Has to Work Twenty-One Years to Win Five Hundred Big League Games,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 20, 1910: 6.
9 Mathewson also won on July 19, pitching 11 innings in a win over the Cincinnati Reds. By the end of his career in 1916, he had compiled 373 victories.
10 Henry P. Edwards, “Cy Young Witnesses the Passing of Hosts of Famous Pitchers,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 24, 1910: 16.
11 “Stands Alone!” Sporting Life, July 30, 1910: 4.
12 From May 17 until the end of the season, Cleveland stood fifth in the standings, except for the 18 days the Naps spent in sixth place.
13 “Christy Mathewson Hopes to Be a Second Cy Young,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 21, 1910: 9.
14 In addition to the career wins record, Young also tops the major-league leaderboards with 315 losses, 815 starts, 749 complete games, and 7,356 innings pitched. No player will likely ever surpass any of those marks.