Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Top 100 Red Sox: No. 3

You could make a reasonable argument for either of two pitchers to claim the No. 2 spot on the Top 100 list. (If you're hoping for a surprise pick at No. 1, well, you're going to be disappointed. There's not much suspense there.)

Here's the Top 10 list so far:
(For the full countdown, click here.)
10. Smoky Joe Wood, P
9. Babe Ruth, P
8. Tris Speaker, OF
7. Lefty Grove, P
6. Manny Ramirez, OF
5. Roger Clemens, P
4. Jimmie Foxx, 1B

And the second-greatest pitcher in Red Sox history is:

3. Denton True "Cy" Young
Had he pitched his entire career with the Red Sox, he'd be a clear choice for top pitcher in franchise history -- and he'd probably be No. 1 on this list. He weas 34 years old, though, when he jumped from the St. Louis Browns to the brand-new American League franchise in Boston; he'd already won 30 games three different times and thrown, to that point, 418 complete games. (That total alone would rank him 16th in baseball history.)

He would win 192 more games with the Red Sox; he's tied with Roger Clemens for first in franchise history in that category. His ERA tucked nicely in at 1.99, second-best in franchise history. No one in franchise history has a lower WHIP (0.970).

He was coming off a 19-19 season with the St. Louis Browns in which his ERA had skyrocketed -- skyrocketed! -- to 3.00. In 1901, though, he went 33-10 with a league-best 1.62 ERA; he pitched 371 1/3 innings, starting 41 games and completing 38 of them. His adjusted ERA+ of 216 ranks fifth in Red Sox history for a single season.

A year later, he went 32-11 with a 2.15 ERA and 41 complete games. Ho-hum.

In 1903, he went 28-9 with a 2.08 ERA and 34 complete games, including seven shutouts. He even earned two saves. And in the World Series, he turned in a 1.85 ERA; he struck out 17 and walked just four. His best effort came when he allowed only two runs -- both unearned -- in nine innings in Game 5. He came back on two days' rest to throw nine more innings, allowing three runs, and earn his second win of the series in Game 7.

By the time he was finished -- he played out the string with Cleveland as a 42-, 43- and 44-year-old before an abbreviated stint with the Boston Braves -- he'd won 511 games and sealed a legacy as the greatest pitcher baseball has ever seen.

We'd be remiss, though, if we finished without addressing the really pressing question: Where did that nickname come from, anyway?

He was pitching for Canton, Ohio, in the Tri-State League, a minor league with an affiliation agreement with the National League and American Association. He'd just agreed to a deal that would pay him $60 a month for his services. He was eager to impress his new team, so he threw a couple of fastballs against a fence at the home park.

"I threw the ball so hard," he later said, "I tore a couple of boards off the grandstand. One of the fellows said the stand looked like a cyclone struck it."

By the spring, the local newspaper was listing "Cyclone, p" in its box scores. By 1956, his name was synonymous with the best pitcher in baseball.

Coming up: Pedro.

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