Cy Who? Baseball's Forgotten Cys

Cy Young in 1902 via upload.wikimedia.org

This Phillies rotation is quite familiar with him. Roy Halladay has two--one in each league. Cliff Lee has one. Roy Oswalt has six top-ten finishes. In his still young career, Cole Hamels has one top-ten finish, and will likely retire with several more. It is the Cy Young Award. Now, just invoking the name "Cy" in reference to a pitcher is sufficient to say "that pitcher is among the very best in baseball at this moment--a master of his craft."

The man for whom the award is named, Denton True "Cy" Young, is of course recognized as one of the greatest pitchers ever to play the game. While his career ERA+ of 138 is good for 17th in baseball all-time, he is best remembered for perhaps the least important thing about him as a pitcher: his 511 career wins. This staggering win total can easily be explained by the era Young played in and his longevity. His 22 year career spanned from 1890 to 1911--a time when pitchers often made upwards of 40 starts per season and were rarely removed from games for relievers. Young, for example, completed 749 of the 815 games he started and thus earned decisions in 827 of the 901 games he appeared in. So in addition to his 511 wins, his 7,356 innings pitched, 7,092 hits, 2,147 earned runs, and 316 losses also lead baseball. Yes, even by deadball era standards Cy Young was a great pitcher, just not for the reasons most think. 

This is not the story of Cy Young though. It is the story of a name. Cy was once a common name and nickname among baseball players. Although the official story is disputed, one legend holds that Young himself acquired the nickname when, as a minor league hopeful, his fastball was judged by catchers to be "as fast as a cyclone." Young's successful career clearly spawned a number of subsequent Cys--pitchers in particular. Since the 1940s, however, the name has all but disappeared. While it was at the height of its popularity during the deadball era, Baseball Reference counts 34 Cys between 1872 and 1946. Since then, just one--and that was in the 70s. Part of this can likely be attributed to naming trends; names that can be shortened to Cy, like "Cyrus," "Cyril," and "Seymour,"  have gone out of fashion. Perhaps another factor in its disappearance was Cy Young's canonization as a baseball saint following his death in 1955, signaled by the creation of the Cy Young Award in 1956. For a pitcher to refer to oneself as "Cy" after Young's consecration would be seen as the height of arrogance. On the other hand, others referring to a pitcher as such came to denote that pitcher's worthiness for the award that bears Young's name--hence, it is a temporary moniker. More recently, the name has come to be deployed ironically by fans to express exasperation at the inexplicable good results of a league-average or worse starting pitcher against their team. 

Still, with 34 other Cys, it is likely that even the most learned of baseball historians could name only a handful of them from memory. Naturally, the massive numbers Young accumulated over the course of his career have a great deal to do with this. Meanwhile, a number of the forgotten Cys have been relegated to obscurity for good reason--they were simply not good at baseball. Others were perfectly adequate players who nevertheless remain relatively unknown.

I do not attempt to advance any major statistical argument in this article. I merely wish to give some of those overlooked bearers of one of baseball's most hallowed names their moment in the sun after spending so many years in Cy Young's shadow. In doing so, I believe we are provided with a unique vantage point from which to view the early history of the sport. So let us take a moment to commemorate baseball's other Cys--the good, the bad, and the interesting.

Cy and Cy

Cy Young was not even the only "Cy" on his team. After nine seasons with the Cleveland Spiders and two with the St. Louis Perfectos, Young became a member of the Boston Americans in 1901. In 1907, the 40-year-old Young was joined in the rotation by 28-year-old righty Harry Richard "Cy" Morgan (not to be confused with Cyril Arlon "Cy" Morgan) when the latter was purchased from the St. Louis Browns at mid-season. Like the elder Cy, Morgan was an Ohio native--his hometown of Pomeroy was about two hours south of Young's hometown of Gilmore. In their first season together, Morgan actually outpitched Young, posting an ERA+ of 131 to Young's 129. Of course, it helps to remember that Young was in the twilight of his career and Morgan was in his prime. The following year, now with the newly-named Boston Red Sox, Morgan could only manage a league-average ERA+ of 100 in 205 innings while Young staved off age-related decline to post a 195 ERA+ in 299 innings, good for the second best of his career. That season, Young also became the oldest pitcher to throw a no-hitter--a record that wasn't broken until Nolan Ryan threw one in 1990 at the age of 43.

Cy_morgan_medium

  Cy Morgan

The two Cys parted ways in 1909. Young was traded back to Cleveland prior to the season, this time to the Naps (the predecessor to the Cleveland Indians, named for player, captain, and coach Nap Lajoie). Early in the 1909 season, Morgan was sent to the Philadelphia Athletics where he enjoyed two of his best seasons as a member of the 1910 and 1911 World Series champions, posting ERA+'s of 153 and 118 respectively. His decline came rapidly, however. Following a poor 1912 season that saw him post an ERA+ of just 83, he joined the Cincinnati Reds in 1913 for whom he made just one appearance--the last major league start of his career: 2.1 innings, 5 hits, 4 earned runs. He retired from baseball in 1915 after several unsuccessful minor league stints, finishing with a respectable 105 career ERA+. More interestingly, Morgan has the distinct honor of being the only Cy to appear above Young on the all-time ERA leaderboard: his 2.51 ERA ranks 43rd in baseball history; Young's 2.63 puts him in a tie for 59th. 

Meanwhile, as a member of the Naps, Young once again found himself with a rotationmate named Cy. This time with the tall, lanky, emery-balling, 29-year-old righty Frederick "Cy" Falkenberg. At the time one of the few major leaguers to have attended college (University of Illinois), Falkenberg had been in the majors since 1903 but could boast an ERA+ of only 91 to that point. Young pitched two and half largely unproductive seasons with the Naps, finally retiring in 1911. Falkenberg did not fare much better over that span. In fact, it was not until 1913--on the heels of a full year spent in the minor leagues--that he emerged as an above-average starter. That year he logged 276 innings and posted an impressive 136 ERA+ with 166 strikeouts along with 23 wins. Falkenberg joined the Indianapolis Hoosiers of the fledgling Federal League in the season that followed. His 43 starts, 377.1 innings pitched, and 236 strikeouts led baseball that season. Indeed, to this day Falkenberg remains the Federal League single-season strikeout leader--it went under in 1915.

Cy_falkenberg_medium Cy_perkins_medium

Cy Falkenberg & Cy Perkins

The tradition of Cy-Cy pairings was kept alive when Falkenberg was traded to the Philadelphia Athletics in 1917. This time, however, he was joined not by a pitcher but a 21-year-old catcher named Cy Perkins (not to be confused with the Negro League catcher William "Cy" Perkins). The coupling was fleeting. Still a rookie, Perkins appeared in just 6 games and managed just a .417 OPS in 21 plate appears that season while Philadelphia marked Falkenberg's last major league stint--he retired from baseball in 1919. 

Born in Gloucester, Massachusetts in 1896, Perkins earned the starting job in 1919. Despite being the very essence of a replacement-level player (in 17 seasons he posted a total WAR of 2.2 and a line of .259/.319/.352), he nevertheless garnered MVP votes in 1922 and 1923, placing 26th and 20th, respectively. Perkins was replaced as the A's starting catcher in 1925 by future Hall of Famer Mickey Cochrane, but remained in the majors as a backup until 1931. He remained involved in baseball as a coach in his post-playing days. From 1946 to 1954 he served as a coach for the Phillies--most notably under manager Eddie Sawyer for the 1950 NL Champion Whiz Kids. He died in 1963 in Philadelphia.

In addition to Young-Morgan, Young-Falkenberg, and Falkenberg-Perkins, I was able to find one Cy-Cy-Cy troika in major league history. The roster of the 1915 Pittsburgh Rebels of the Federal League featured righthanded pitcher/outfielder Eros Bolivar "Cy" Barger, outfielder Kenneth Johnston "Cy" Rheam, and catcher Orie "Cy" Kerlin. Of the three, Barger was by far the most accomplished player. Prior to joining the the Rebels in 1914, he had done stints with the New York Highlanders from 1906-1907 and the Brooklyn Superbas/Dodgers from 1910-1912. In his best (and last) season in 1915, he served as the Rebels' closer, finishing a league-high 19 games and posting a career-best 131 ERA+. Cy Rheam played just two seasons at the major league level--both with the Rebels--posting a career batting line of .201/.229/.251 in a backup role. Finally, there is Kerlin, who qualifies as one of baseball's most obscure Cys. In three games with the Rebels he made one plate appearance and one out. Little else is known about him.

Cy_barger_medium Cy_rheam_medium Orie_kerlin_medium

Barger, Rheam, & Kerlin

The Lesser Cys

Cy Kerlin was hardly the only Cy to have a short and unspectacular career. There was Ed "Cy" Cihocki, a shortstop on the 1932 and 1933 Philadelphia A's, who posted a miserable .144/.202/.227 batting line in 107 plate appearances. In 15 career innings as a member of the 1904 Tigers and the 1905 Naps, Alfred "Cy" Ferry issued 11 walks and allowed 12 earned runs. Seven years after pitching to an ERA+ of 99 in 24 innings with the 1911 Chicago Cubs in his first cup of coffee, career minor leaguer Cyril Charles "Cy" Slapnicka (owner of one of the truly great baseball names in history) finally got a second call. Unfortunately he could not duplicate his earlier results, posting an ERA+ of 61 in 49.1 innings. Slapnicka is better remembered in baseball for his off-the-field contributions. He served as the General Manager of the Cleveland Indians from 1935 to 1940 and then as a major league scout until his retirement in 1961 and was the force behind signing future Hall of Fame pitchers Bob Feller and Bob Lemon. If Edwin Parker "Cy" Twombley is remembered for anything, it is for being father of well-known artist Cy Twombley, Jr. and certainly not the 73 ERA+ he posted in 27.2 innings with the 1921 White Sox.

Only a few Cys, though, can rival Kerlin's career in duration. Arthur Edwin "Cy" Fried appeared in two games and pitched 1.2 innings with the 1920 Tigers. He appeared in the minors from 1921 to 1925, but never reached the majors again. Harvard alumni, WWI veteran, and third baseman Alfred "Cy" Cypert appeared in one game with the 1914 Cleveland Naps and made one career plate appearance. He struck out. Lastly, there was Cecil Fleming "Cy" Neighbors. A leftfielder, Neighbors played 14 minor-league seasons between 1905 and 1920, earning his first and only call-up to the majors in 1908 with the Pittsburgh Pirates for one game. Unfortunately, he never got an at-bat. By being well below average major leaguers or not being good enough minor leaguers to even warrant significant major league playing time, it certainly appears that these Cys earned their obscurity. 

Cy Seasons  WAR
Young 22  143.2
Seymour 16  36.6
Williams 19  30.6
Falkenberg 12  19.3
Blanton 9  12.7

 

Yet other Cys were quite decent players who nevertheless remain relatively unknown. Take James Bentley "Cy" Seymour, for instance. The lefty from Albany, New York began his career as a pitcher for the New York Giants. Like Cy Young, Seymour was given the nickname "Cyclone," which was then shortened to "Cy." He preferred to be called by his first name, but sportswriters and teammates insisted. In his three seasons as a starter from 1897 to 1899, Seymour led the league in walks, but also led the league in strikeouts in '97 and '98. "Effectively wild" was very much his calling card, over that span he posted 9.0 WAR. His employment of a screwball eventually diminished his effectiveness as a pitcher and he began to log more innings as an outfielder. Prior to the 1901 season, he jumped to the Baltimore Orioles where he completed his conversion into a centerfielder. However, it was not until he signed with the Reds in 1902 that he began to enjoy any success as a hitter. From '02 to '08 he posted a .312/.358/.428 line and a 131 OPS+. His peak didn't come until his age 32 season in 1905 when he fell a home run short of winning the triple crown. Yes, he was aided by a career-high .368 BABIP, but his 219 hits, 40 doubles, 19 triples, 121 RBI, .377 AVG, .559 SLG, .988 OPS, and 181 OPS+ all led baseball. His 8.4 WAR that season was second only to Honus Wagner's 10.6. The rivalry with Wagner indeed became one of the 1905 season's central storylines. When the two faced off in a late-season double header, a reporter wrote:

10,000 were more interested in the batting achievements of Wagner and Seymour than the games. Cheer upon cheer greeted the mighty batsmen upon each appearance at the plate, and mighty cheering greeted the sound of bat upon ball as mighty Cy drove out hit after hit. The boss slugger got four-for-seven while Wagner could only get two-for-seven.

 If they awarded an MVP award in 1905, Seymour would have been among the front-runners.

Seymour played his last major league game in 1913 and went to work at the shipyards in 1918, where he contracted tuberculosis and died the following year at the age of 46. He remains one of two players to have both 50 career wins and 50 career home runs. The other? Babe Ruth.

Cy-seymour_medium

Cy Seymour

While the World Champion 1927 Yankees are better remembered for their prolific "Murderers Row" offense than their pitching, Wilcy "Cy" Moore (not to be confused with William Austin "Cy" Moore, or his nephew, minor leaguer WIlcy Moore) was perhaps their best pitcher that season. As a 30-year-old rookie, the righty served primarily as the team's relief ace, or "fireman", and as an occasional starter. His league-best 2.28 ERA in 213 innings that season would have earned him an ERA title, but in 12 starts he finished with six complete games--short of the 10 required at the time to qualify. Moore also developed a friendship with Babe Ruth that year. Poking fun at Moore's batting ability, Ruth wagered 300 dollars that he could not hit a home run in a game. Sure enough, on September 16th he hit the only home run of his career (he finished the season with six hits in 86 plate appearances). Ruth honored the bet and Moore used the money to purchase two mules for his Hollis, Oklahoma farm; he named them "Babe" and "Ruth." (Click here to see Moore's nephew discuss his uncle and Babe Ruth)

Wilcy_moore_medium

Wilcy "Cy" Moore

Moore made two appearances against the Pirates in the 1927 World Series. With the Yankees leading 5-3 in the eighth inning of game one, he entered in relief of Waite Hoyt with runners on first and second. He allowed one inherited runner to score on a single, but escaped the inning with the Yankees still leading. Remaining in the game for the ninth inning, he pitched a perfect frame to give his team the lead in the series. He was called on again in game four--this time to start--with his team holding a commanding 3-0 series lead. All he did was pitch a complete game while allowing one earned run and notching the win in the clincher. 

Moore never matched the productiveness of his rookie season. That year, he posted an exceptional ERA+ of 171. In five subsequent major league seasons it was just 96. He spent 1931 and part of 1932 with the Red Sox before being reunited with his friend Ruth on the Yankees where he received one final shot at glory. Again the team found itself up 3-0 in the World Series--this time against the Cubs--again they called on Moore to pitch in game four, and again he was the pitcher of record in a World Series clincher. Ineffective in his last major league season in 1934, Moore spent seven more seasons in the minors and retired in 1940 at the age of 43.

The Philadelphia Cys

Beside being the current home to two pitchers who own plaques that bear his name, Philadelphia has seen more than its fair share of Cys over the years. Of the 35 Cys in major league history, 11 of them--several of whom we have already discussed--either played in or were from Philadelphia. It certainly helps that major league baseball has been played in Philadelphia for well over a century, but it is a remarkable stat considering the majority of Cys passed through the city at a time when there were far fewer teams in the league. 

By far the best of the Philadelphia Cys--indeed, one of the best non-Cy Young Cys and among the best Phillies of all time--was Fred "Cy" WilliamsA native of the small town of Wadena, Indiana and an alumni of University of Notre Dame, Williams was a tall, speedy, and powerful left-handed centerfielder with good range in the field. Prior to joining the Fighting Irish in 1908, Williams had very little baseball experience, but his sheer athleticism (he also played football and lettered in track there) and raw talent led a Chicago Cubs scout to offer him a contract. He began his major league career with the team in 1912, but did not take over the starting role until 1915 at the age of 27. Of his 12 home runs that season (good for second in the league), six of them were inside-the-parkers--a testament to his speed. As the South Bend Tribune observed at the time, he was "said by many competent judges to be the fastest runner in the national game."  

His development continued in 1916 when his 12 home runs and .831 OPS led the league, prompting a Baseball Magazine article entitled "The Greatest Outfielder in the National League" to dub him a "great all 'round talent with a wealth of sheer natural ability which is unrivaled in the older circuit." However, Williams had a down year in 1918, causing the Cubs to trade him to the Phillies in the offseason for veteran centerfielder Dode Paskert. As The Sporting News wrote at the time:

"[Pat] Moran expects to develop Williams into a hitting star. Certainly the Broad and Huntingdon grounds here will help hike Williams' batting averages. He always hit a million when he came here. Cy is one of the fastest outfielders in the country and he is expected to more than make good here. Williams is 29 and Paskert is 36, so about the only way the Phils can get the worst of the exchange is for the Army to draft tall Cy."

The move to Philadelphia coincided with the advent of the lively ball era, which--with some help from the short rightfield porch of the Baker Bowl and his dead pull tendencies--saw Williams emerge as one of the most prolific power hitters of his generation. Between 1918 and 1927, he finished in the top three in the national league in home runs eight times. In 1920, 1923, and 1927, he led the majors with 15, 41, and 30 home runs, respectively. Over that same span, he finished in the top 10 in OPS+ seven times. His .300/.380/.500 line and 217 home runs in 13 seasons with the Phillies is made more impressive by the fact that he was able to maintain this level of production through his 30s and into his early 40s. Meanwhile, in four seasons with the Cubs after the trade, Dode Paskert posted a .257/.336/.350 line. Perhaps this was the karmatic precedent for the regrettable Ryne Sandberg trade more than 60 years later. 

Cy_williams_medium

Cy Williams

Williams retired at the age of 43 after the 1930 season with 251 career home runs. His 217 home runs as a Phillie rank seventh in franchise history. After baseball, he returned to his farm in Wisconsin and went to work in architecture and construction. He died in 1974. 

On the other end of the spectrum of baseball productivity was pitcher Cyrus Sol "Cy" Malis. His story is no less fascinating, however. Born in Philadelphia in 1907, Malis, along with Cubs infielder Seymour "Cy" Block, was one of just two Jewish Cys in major league history. He was a three sport star at Brown Preparatory School where, at just 15 years old, he struck out 22 batters in a game against Villanova Prep. In 1924 and 1925 he pitched for the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association team and in 1928 he was signed by the hometown Philadelphia Phillies. He bounced around in the low minors for a few years and was eventually released without having reached the big leagues. 

Malis was out of baseball for several years when he got a second call from the Phillies in 1934. By that point, the team had been mired in a 16 year rut during which they had turned in only one winning season. Fan interest was at an all-time low. Thus, in a feeble attempt to drum up support, they once again signed the local arm. Predictably, it didn't work. Malis appeared in just one game as a reliever--a blowout, with the Phillies losing 10-2. He lasted 3.2 innings and allowed four hits, two walks, and two earned runs. More interesting than the result is the fact that the game marked the only recorded* instance of two Cys from the same team pitching in the same game. The starter for the Phillies that game was the righty William Austin "Cy" Moore. Moore was shelled that day and for most of that season--his last in the majors--as his 6.47 ERA in 126.2 innings illustrates. Malis was released a few weeks later, never again to reach the major leagues.

Cy_malis_medium

Cy Malis

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Malis joined the Navy but severely injured his neck and back when he was hit by a moving gun turret. As a result of his injuries he began using morphine, which he soon developed an addiction to. Now living in Los Angeles, he was able to break his dependency and began giving motivational speeches to addicts in California prisons. As one inmate in San Quentin said, "[Malis] is the best friend we dope fiends have." Moreover, his experience with addiction led him to become a co-founder of one of California's first Narcotics Anonymous programs. Around this time he also began a long career as a bit actor in films and television shows, most notably "Around the World in 80 Days" (1956), "The Alamo" (1960), and "Perry Mason." From 1938 to 1962 he appeared in 40 films in total. An injury sustained on set eventually slowed his film career and he spent his last years coaching Little League in Hollywood. He died on January 21, 1971. 

Darrell Elijah "Cy" Blanton** battled a substance abuse problem of his own. Unfortunately, in his case, alcoholism claimed not just his promising career, but his life. Blanton, a right handed pitcher from Oklahoma, began his major league career with the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was there that he enjoyed the most success. In his rookie year in 1935 he led the National League in ERA (2.58), ERA+ (158), WHIP (1.08), shutouts (4) and placed second in WAR (6.5) in 254.1 innings. His outstanding performance was acknowledged with a 15th place finish in the MVP voting. While he would not match his rookie year performance again, he remained a valuable pitcher for the Pirates until he was struck by an arm injury during spring training in 1939. He struggled in 42 innings that season and was granted free agency.

Cy_blanton_medium

The Phillies signed him with the hope that they could harness the great potential he once displayed, but injuries and his heavy drinking combined to render him ineffective in his two-plus seasons with the team. From 1940 to 1942, he pitched just 263 innings at an ERA+ of 82 (although he did make the All Star team in 1941). He was released early in the 1942 season. In a final attempt to get his career back on track, Blanton joined the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League in 1943, but his drinking problem persisted. In 1945 he was released for failing to get in shape in time for the season. That same year, he got a call from the military to report for pre-induction testing. Unsurprisingly, he was rejected. In fact, his health had deteriorated so severely by that point that he was sent home to Oklahoma and admitted to the hospital. Thirteen days later, he was dead. He was 35.

***

Cy Young was not the first Cy in major league history. That honor belongs to Clytus George "Cy" Bentley. From East Haven, Connecticut, Bentley pitched for the Middletown Mansfields during the 1872 season. To say he pitched quite poorly might be putting it charitably; in 144 innings, he allowed 259 hits and posted a 6.06 ERA. In those times, of course, playing baseball was not a viable career option so players also held regular jobs. In the offseason, Bentley worked as an iron moulder. That winter, he contracted tuberculosis and died at the age of 22. As it turns out, Cy Young was not even the only "Cy Young" in major league history. Philadelphia native Charles "Cy" Young pitched 35 innings with the 1915 Baltimore Terrapins.

Cy Bentley and Cy Young were separated by an 18 year stretch without any major league Cys. Between Cy Buker, who pitched for one season with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1945, and the most recent Cy--Cy Acosta--was a 27 year dry spell. Acosta pitched four seasons in the majors, last appearing with the Phillies for 8.2 innings in 1975. With his last major league pitch on May 5th, 1975, the clock began to tick once again. It has been ticking for nearly 36 years. 

No, looking back at the many Cys in major league history does not reveal any great statistical truth about the game of baseball. As we have seen, however, doing so does provide a window into the history of the first six decades of our national pastime. 

 

Footnotes:

*It is possible that it happened more than once, but not after 1920, when Baseball Reference's record of box scores begins. 

**I have not been able to locate any evidence to confirm that he bears any relation to the Phillies' own Joe Blanton, though it is certainly possible.

Sources:

Photos via wikipedia and Baseball Reference. 

Statistics and some biographical information via Baseball Reference.

Cappy Gagnon, "Cy Williams."

Peter S. Horvitz, Joachim Horvitz, The Big Book of Jewish Baseball: An Illustrated Encyclopedia & Anecdotal History.

Rob Neyer, Big Book of Baseball Legends: The Truth, The Lies, and Everything Else.

Tom Simon, ed., Deadball Stars of the National League.

D. Stevens, "Original Wilcy a friend of the Babe's."

Josh Wilker, "Cy Acosta."

THE JEWISH LISTS: Major League Jews.

SB Nation Featured Video
X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join The Good Phight

You must be a member of The Good Phight to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at The Good Phight. You should read them.

Join The Good Phight

You must be a member of The Good Phight to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at The Good Phight. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_9351_tracker