Around 4,000 fans turned out to League Park on a Thursday afternoon in hopes that their Cleveland Bronchos could knock off the visiting Boston Americans, who were sending Northeast Ohio hero Cy Young to the mound to face touted rookie Addie Joss.
Little did any of those fans know that they would witness the first installment of a classic rivalry that spanned the next six seasons.
Young, a 35-year-old native of the tiny community of Gilmore in east central Ohio, roughly 60 miles south of Akron, had pitched for the National League’s Cleveland Spiders from 1890 through 1898, and the crafty veteran was still revered in his first major-league city.1 Joss, a 22-year-old Wisconsinite who made a name for himself as a minor leaguer in Toledo, had an up-and-down start to his career, but he had flashed some brilliance and came into the game on June 5, 1902, with three straight wins.
While Joss pitched admirably, it was Young who did enough with his arm, bat, and legs to capture his ninth straight complete-game victory in the middle meeting of a three-game series. Young’s third-inning hit that rolled through a hole under League Park’s scoreboard resulted in an unconventional home run, and his baserunning later played a key role in Boston’s game-deciding rally in the eighth inning of a 3-2 triumph that pushed the Americans to within half a game of the league-leading Philadelphia Athletics.2
Cleveland’s offense tried to give its young hurler some run support early, but opportunities in each of the first two innings died at home plate. Harry Bay led off the game with a double but was eventually cut down trying to score on an infield grounder. Charlie Hickman hit his first of two triples to open the second inning,3 but he was thrown out at the plate.
In the third, Young helped his own cause when he sent a shot inside the first-base foul line that curved into foul territory in the outfield and rolled under the scoreboard. By the time the ball was recovered by Cleveland right fielder Elmer Flick, Young was already around the bases and back on the bench. By the rules of the era, the play was scored as a home run, which was Young’s first since 1900, when he was in his second and final season in St. Louis.
“If Cy had stood all day trying to throw the ball into the hole beneath the scoreboard,” opined the Cleveland Plain Dealer after the game, “it is doubtful he would have succeeded.”4
Then with the Cleveland Spiders, Young hit that home run on July 17, 1891, in a 12-8 victory over the Cincinnati Reds. It was the first homer of his career.
As for anyone else hitting another home run under League Park’s scoreboard, head groundskeeper Henry Hamilton made sure it wouldn’t happen. Before the next day’s game – which saw Cleveland pound out 21 hits in a 14-3 thrashing – Hamilton boarded up the hole.6 Young spent time with the Cleveland Naps from 1909 through 1911, but never hit another home run at League Park.
Cleveland took a 2-1 lead in the fourth on a double by Nap Lajoie, another triple by Hickman, and a single by Bill Bradley.7 Otherwise, Young allowed six hits that were spread throughout the game. He walked none and improved his record to 12-1.8
In the sixth, Flick and Lajoie each singled but both were caught stealing, ending what was Cleveland’s only other decent scoring opportunity. Both men – along with pitcher Bill Bernhard – had come to Cleveland during the season after jumping their contracts with the Philadelphia Phillies to join the Philadelphia Athletics.9
To keep Lajoie’s star power in the newly founded American League after a court ruling barred him from playing in Pennsylvania for the AL, he and Bernhard were transferred to Cleveland for the start of the June series with Boston. Their presence was a boost to the Bronchos, who went 58-43 after they joined the team. Bernhard was slated to pitch in the final game of the Boston series but didn’t make his Cleveland debut until the following day, when the Bronchos beat the Baltimore Orioles.
As the game wore on, Joss – whose emergence also helped Cleveland’s turnaround after an 11-24 start to the season – looked as though he was up to the task of outdueling Young until he ran into trouble in the eighth. Boston’s Lou Criger reached second on a pair of errors by first baseman Hickman, and Young followed with a sacrifice attempt that instead went as a popup over second base and landed safely for a single. Patsy Dougherty walked to load the bases, and Harry Gleason – who had replaced manager and third baseman Jimmy Collins after his ejection in the second inning – popped an RBI single over Hickman’s head to tie the game.
After Flick chased down Chick Stahl’s deep fly to center with a “magnificent run,”10 Young tagged up and scored. On the same play, Gleason was retired to close the inning after ending up on second because he didn’t realize a catch had been made. Reports from Boston questioned whether Young left third too early, but his run was counted because he crossed the plate before Gleason was recorded as out.11
In the bottom of the ninth, the Bronchos had the hitters they wanted due up in Lajoie, Hickman, and Bradley. Hickman ended up on third with two outs after Candy LaChance committed Boston’s only error of the game and John Gochnaur moved him ahead with a hit, but Bob Wood grounded out to second to end the game.
“Yes, I was lucky to get away with today’s game,” Young said, “but I want to tell you that any pitcher is lucky to win from the present Cleveland bunch.”12
The loss sent Joss to a 5-4 record, but he’d finish his rookie campaign with a 17-13 mark.
Young and Joss matched up again 12 days later, on June 17, with Joss and the Bronchos taking a 4-3 victory, and Joss was again the victor on August 1 in a 6-3 victory over Young and the Americans.13 Young got the win in their final matchup of the season, helping Boston to an 11-inning, 3-1 win over Joss and Cleveland on August 31.
The duo met head-to-head at least once in every season except 1905 until they became teammates in 1909.14 Joss held an 8-5 overall advantage and pitched all three shutouts in the rivalry. Five other games were decided by a single run (Joss held a 3-2 edge in those meetings).
Critics argued that Joss was able to finish on the winning side only because Young’s abilities were declining as he reached the twilight of his career, Joss and Young were tied with five wins apiece before Joss won the final three meetings in 1906 and ’07. Joss disagreed, writing an opinion in the Toledo News Bee that Young was as strong as ever, even as he approached age 40.
“Some people are under the impression that Denton has about outlived his usefulness, but should anyone with this impression happen to be at the plate sometime next July and see him whipping them through with the same old cannon ball speed and accuracy for which he is noted, most likely he would change his opinion,” Joss wrote going into the 1907 campaign after Young suffered back-to-back losing seasons. “Last season, he missed the services of his old running mate, Louis Criger, that great catcher, and was correspondingly handicapped.”15
Young posted consecutive seasons with 21 wins and an ERA under 2.00 in 1907 and ’08, and joined the Cleveland Naps for the 1909 season. Despite their rivalry, by the time Young and Joss became teammates, they had developed a close and respectful friendship. In 1907 Joss recounted a story to The Sporting News about how he and Young “became better friends than ever right there and then” after Joss apologized for almost hitting Young with a pitch.
“I don’t believe Cy ever hit a pitcher with a pitched ball. He scarcely ever hits anybody, but I’ll bet he wouldn’t hit the other pitcher and disable him for a million dollars,” Joss said. “Once the ball got away from me when Cy was at bat and missed his leg by only an inch. ‘Pshaw, Addie,’ he called out, ‘that ain’t no good system.’ ‘I know it, Cy,’ I said, ‘I didn’t mean that one.’ ‘I know you didn’t,’ Cy said, and we became better friends than ever right there and then.”16
That relationship grew fonder until Joss’s unexpected death from tubercular meningitis at age 31 at the start of the 1911 season. In 1951 Young, then in his 80s, was present to unveil the plaque when Joss was inducted as part of the inaugural class of the Wisconsin Sports Hall of Fame.
“My baseball experience has thrown me with practically every man in the league for more than twenty years,” Young said when Joss died, “but I never met a fairer or squarer man than Addie.”17
This article was fact-checked by Kevin Larkin and copy-edited by Len Levin.
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 noted below. He also used information obtained from game coverage by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Boston Globe, and Boston Post, as well as from Addie Joss: King of the Pitchers by Scott Longert, Addie Joss on Baseball: Collected Newspaper Columns and World Series Reports by Rich Levins, and the SABR Baseball Biography Project biography of Addie Joss, which was written by Alex Semchuck.
1 Local fans were able to look past Young’s 5-1 mark against the Cleveland Blues the year before in the American League’s first season of existence.
2 While Boston had been tied for the lead in the standings in the week before, the Americans wouldn’t get any closer to the top spot the rest of the season on the way to a third-place finish.
3 Hickman was the fourth player in franchise history to hit two triples in a game and the fifth American Leaguer to accomplish the feat in the 1902 season.
4 “Boston Had All the Luck,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 6, 1902: 6.
5 “Boston Had All the Luck.”
6 “Wore Their Batting Togs,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 7, 1902: 6.
8 Young’s 32 victories by season’s end led the American League for the second straight season.
9 After the Phillies filed a legal challenge against players who went to the A’s in 1901, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that Lajoie and teammate Bill Bernhard couldn’t play for any other team in the state besides the Phillies. Flick was not enjoined in the lawsuit because he had left the Phillies for the 1902 season, but he still joined Cleveland to prevent any potential legal ramifications.
10 “Now in the Lead,” Boston Globe, June 6, 1902: 11.
11 In the Boston Globe, it was reported “many thought that Young had left the base before the ball was caught,” while in the Boston Post, game coverage reported Young was halfway home and never returned to third base to tag up. The Plain Dealer made no mention of the play being controversial. “Now in the Lead,” and “Young’s Hit Won Game for Boston,” Boston Post, June 6, 1902: 10.
12 “Boston Had All the Luck.”
13 Joss earned the win after pitching the first five innings.
14 Young went 4-1 against Cleveland in 1905 in four starts and one relief appearance, while Joss went 2-2 against Boston in 1905 in three starts and a relief appearance. Those appearances came in nine different games.
15 Rich Blevins, Addie Joss on Baseball: Collected Newspaper Columns and World Series Reports, 1907-1909 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2012), Kindle Edition.
16 “Gossip of the Players,” The Sporting News, December 19, 1907: 4.
17 Reed Browning, Cy Young: A Baseball Life (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press), 190.