Denton True Young was born on March 29, 1867 in Gilmore, Ohio, the oldest of five children of McKinzie Jr. and Nancy (Miller) Young. Gilmore was a small farming community located about 100 miles south of Cleveland, and the Young family was raised on a farm owned by McKinzie's father, McKinzie Sr. Cy's education stopped at the sixth grade so he could help his parents with farming chores, but it was also at this time that he discovered the game of baseball. Encouraged by their father, the Young boys played baseball every chance they got. Developing into a better pitcher than hitter, Denton would practice throwing during lunch breaks from farm work. In addition to practicing and playing in recreational games, he organized his own team in Gilmore, then in the summer of 1884, played on semi-pro teams in Newcomerstown, Cadiz and Uhrichsville, Ohio.
Believing he could make money playing the sport, plus having to make a living after his marriage to Robba Miller, Cy signed with Canton of the Tri-States League in 1890. After compiling a 15-15 record in his rookie season, the right-hander's contract was sold to the National League's Cleveland Spiders for $500. Young's quick ascendancy to the majors was the result of the emergence of the ill-fated Players League, which forced National League teams to dig deep into the minor leagues for any available talent.
Young pitched with the Spiders through the 1898 season, winning 30 games or more three times, and capturing the 1892 ERA title with a 1.93 mark. The following year, the pitcher's mound was moved back five feet to its present distance of 60' 6", and Young responded well, finishing the year with a 34-16 record and 3.36 ERA, third best in the league. Young was able to compensate for the increased distance with his terrific fastball. It had been the pitch that reportedly gave rise to his nickname, Cyclone (or "Cy" for short). Honus Wagner, who regularly faced Young in the National League toward the end of the decade, thought it the greatest fastball he had ever seen. "Walter Johnson was fast, but no faster than Rusie," Wagner observed. "And Rusie was no faster than Johnson. But Young was faster than both of ?em!" Another contemporary, Cap Anson, observed that when the 6'2", 210 lb. Young unleashed his speed, it seemed as if "the ball was shooting down from the hands of a giant."
His greatest achievement, however, may have come on May 5, 1904, when Young pitched the first perfect game in American League history--just the third in all of baseball history, and the first from the 60'6" pitching distance--against Rube Waddell and the Philadelphia Athletics. Prior to the game, Waddell, who had defeated Young in their previous encounter a weak earlier, taunted the old pitcher, promising to beat him again. After Young pitched his masterpiece and Boston won, 3-0, Cy uncharacteristically returned fire, shouting to Waddell, "How did you like that one, you hayseed?" It was his second career no-hitter (his first came in 1897); he would pitch a third in 1908, against New York.
As Young approached and then surpassed his fortieth birthday, he continued to rank among the game's best pitchers, thanks in large part to the wide assortment of breaking pitches and arm deliveries he employed to fool opposing batters. "If a right-hander crowded my plate," Young later said, "I side-armed him with a curve, and then, when he stepped back, I'd throw an overhand fastball low and outside. I was fortunate in having good speed from overhand, three-quarter, or side-arm. I had a variety of curves--threw a so-called screwball or indrop, too--and I used whatever delivery seemed best. And I never had but one sore arm." After enduring the worst season of his career in 1906, when he finished the year 13-21 with a terrible 3.19 ERA, Young came back strong in 1907 and 1908, winning 21 games in each season and posting ERAs of 1.99 and 1.26, respectively.
In retirement, Cy returned to his home in Peoli, where he lived out a quiet retirement on his farm, growing potatoes and tending to his sheep, hogs, and chickens. He and his wife Robba did not raise any children; their only offspring, a daughter, died a few hours after her birth in 1907, leaving, in the words of Young biographer Reed Browning, "an almost inexpungeable hole" in their lives. When Robba passed away in 1934, a grieving Young sold his farm. "Somehow, after she died I didn't want to live there any more," he explained. Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1937, Young was formally inducted with the Hall's first class at the museum's opening in 1939. Despite his frugal habits and status as a baseball legend, however, Young was beset by financial problems late in life. In 1935, he traveled to Augusta, Georgia where he joined a group of baseball veterans looking to make some money during the Great Depression by playing exhibition games. When this venture failed, Young returned to Ohio, where he found work as a clerk in a retail store, and lived with a local couple, John and Ruth Benedum. He was still living with the Benedums when he died of a coronary occlusion on November 4, 1955, at the age of 88. He was buried in Peoli Cemetery. The next year, baseball instituted the pitching award that still bears his name.
Cy Young, Lefty Grove, Walter Johnson at Fenway