After Sandy Koufax won the Cy Young Award in 1966, the Baseball Writers Association of America had seen enough. For the third time in four seasons, Koufax had won—unanimously. Plenty of other fine pitchers never sniffed a vote (like Juan Marichal, 25–6 in 1966). So the BBWAA did something about it.
For teams fighting for a pennant, the final weekend of the season is packed with tension and excitement. For those far out of contention, it is the end of a long grind and the anticipation of going home after an arduous, disappointing season.
On July 25, 1971, Vida Blue was on top of baseball.
Three days shy of his 22nd birthday, the Oakland Athletics’ ace had electrified the Majors by going 18–3 with a 1.41 ERA to this point in the season. He would win that day, on the road against the Detroit Tigers, dropping his ERA to 1.37 and giving him a chance to become just the second pitcher since 1935 to win at least 30 games in a season.
How sad that it took Cy Young’s death at age 88 to nudge the powers that be into honoring him. Soon after Young’s death late in 1955 came an announcement that the Cy Young Memorial Trophy would be awarded to the best pitcher in the Major Leagues in 1956. The initial balloting proved decisive: Don Newcombe of the Brooklyn Dodgers received 10 of the 16 votes.
Allegedly, Union officer Abner Doubleday pulled the cannon lanyard, the first shot in defense of Fort Sumter, which started the Civil War. Not that it isn’t noteworthy, but in reality, that’s his only first anything. His anointment as “The Father of Baseball”—still given in some isolated quarters—is fantasy, not even close to being in the ballpark.
On January 1, 1947, The Sporting News made note of the Chicago chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America’s voting 27-year-old Cubs first baseman Eddie Waitkus baseball’s Rookie of the Year for 1946.
Waitkus—whose greatest claim to fame would come two years later when a deranged female admirer shot him, helping inspire the plot of The Natural—had hit .304 for the Cubs.
Twenty-five starting pitchers won the Cy Young Award before the voters found a relief pitcher they felt deserved their votes. That pitcher was Mike Marshall of the 1974 Los Angeles Dodgers, who put up Herculean numbers out of the bullpen. Nobody had approached his figures of 106 games and 208 1/3 innings pitched—and nobody pitching today will get the chance to. But did Marshall actually have an award-worthy season in 1974?
In 1897, one of the most widely followed baseball stories in the country centered on an athlete who never played an inning of professional ball, and yet the event that thrust him into the national spotlight was so compelling, years later, it became the basis of the first feature film about a baseball player.
While the precise details of his story are a bit muddy, largely because of what I’ll call the “informal” nature of journalism in that era, the essential facts appear to be these:
Twenty-five Octobers ago, baseball’s World Series finally made it north of the border, when the Toronto Blue Jays took on the Atlanta Braves. Canadian teams had been knocking at the door for many years—the Montreal Expos got to the final game of the NLCS in 1981 and competed for a string of division titles, while the Blue Jays had lost three ALCS’s (1985, 1989, and 1991). But until 1992 the World Series had always been an all-USA affair.