Pre-1956 Cy Young Award Winners: Part 1
In case you weren't aware, the Cy Young Award was invented in 1956 by then-Commissioner Ford Frick to commemorate the all-time wins leader who had died the year before.
Don Newcombe won the first award in 1956, Warren Spahn won the second in 1957, and so on. The award has been tweaked over the years. For example, through the first 11 years of the award, it was given to one pitcher in all of baseball.
Then in 1967, the rule changed, giving it to one pitcher in each league. Through the first three years of the award, a player could only win it once. After a tie in 1969, the format changed, with writers voting using a points system.
The award has helped us identify who the elite pitchers in baseball are, and beyond that, it is simply fun to try to predict who will win it every year.
But do you see anything wrong with this? I certainly do. The problem is that every pitcher before 1956 is being robbed of a chance to win the award they might deserve. That's where I come in.
This is the first part of an eight part slideshow that will take you back to 1876, prior to the creation of the American League, and a time when teams had one pitcher on their roster, rather than 11. I will, in a sense, try to name all of the Cy Young Award winners that were not given out in the 80 years of baseball before 1956.
But there will be one big change—I can't really call the award the Cy Young Award, being that Cy Young was only nine at the time the National League formed. So I will give it a much more conventional name—the Most Dominant Pitcher award, MDP for short.
So, in this first of eight slideshows, I will take you back to post-Civil War America, where baseball was gaining momentum faster than Danny Almonte's fastball in the eyes of a 12 year old. Enjoy.
1876 Most Dominant Pitcher: George Bradley
45-19, 1.23 ERA, 16 Shutouts, 573 Innings Pitched, 78 Earned Runs
George Bradley's numbers are extreme, but that was how baseball was played back in that time. In fact, baseball was so extreme compared to now that Bradley started every game for the St. Louis Brown Stockings that season. Though they finished third in the National League, Bradley had a .703 winning percentage. That also meant the Brown Stockings had a .703 winning percentage, because not only did he start all of their games, but he completed all but one of the Stockings 64 games.
Yes, it's true that if Bradley was pitching now he wouldn't have nearly the same numbers. He would be pitching once every fifth day, and would not complete nearly 99% of his games pitched. If he were lucky, he would complete 10% of his games.
But let's not compare his stats to today. Bradley put up an incredible 573 innings, and gave up a mere 78 earned runs! Factor in the 16 shutouts, and it's clear that Bradley had an unbelievable season. Also, factor in that the Stockings team had a mere .259 batting average that season, and it makes Bradley's 45 wins look way more impressive.
You could argue that Al Spalding, who had 47 wins and just 12 losses, should have taken the MDP award, but Spalding's Chicago White Stockings were batting a whole 78 points higher than Bradley's Brown Stockings. So, in a battle of forgotten pitchers, George Bradley is your 1876 Most Dominant Pitcher.
**Note: The picture presented is not actually a picture featuring the real George Bradley. There is a guy named George Bradley in the picture, and he is second from the left on the top row. Sorry for the inconvenience. I guess George Bradley wasn't a friend to the camera**
1877 Most Dominant Pitcher: Tommy Bond
40-17, 2.11 ERA , Six Shutouts, 521 Innings, 122 Earned Runs
Tommy Bond, other than being a great name for a movie character, is a pitcher who strung together some amazing seasons in 19th century professional baseball.
1877 was a year to remember for the Irishman born in Granard, Ireland. Bond led the National League with 40 wins and led the league in strikeouts with 170.
Bond's biggest weakness was the long ball, as he gave up a league-leading (no joke) five home runs, though he still maintained a league leading 2.11 ERA. Playing under Hall of Famer Harry Wright, Bond had an 1877 season deserving of the MDP award.
**Note: This picture, unlike the picture of Bradley, features the real Tommy Bond. He's on the left in the top row.**
1878 Most Dominant Pitcher: Tommy Bond
40-19, 2.06 ERA, Nine Shutouts, 532.2 Innings, 122 Earned Runs
Once again, Tommy Bond takes the cake. His win total remained the same from his previous MDP season, but his loss total went up by two, which is no big deal at all.
It seems that 1878 was a better season than 1876, based on the stats. His ERA was lower, he threw more shutouts and his strikeout total increased, going up to 182, which led the league for a second straight season.
Bond was making unbelievable contributions to the Boston Red Caps, as he led the Caps to a second straight first-place finish.
1879 Most Dominant Pitcher: Tommy Bond
43-19, 1.96 ERA, 11 Shutouts, 555.1 Innings, 121 Earned Runs
Man, this guy really doesn't get enough credit. While Bond didn't lead the National League in wins in 1879, he set a career high with 43. He also had the best ERA of his career at 1.96, and led the league in shutouts with 11.
But this MDP nomination doesn't go without a good argument for John Ward, who, unlike Bond is in the hall of fame. Ward led the league in wins (47) and strikeouts (239) in 1879, and one could say that Ward deserves the MDP award of 1879. But Ward's Providence Grays batted 22 points higher than Bond's Boston Red Caps, and Bond still tied Ward in the loss column.
You could really go either way in this argument, but it makes more sense to give it to Tommy Bond, who now has three straight MDP awards to his name.
Bond's three-year span between 1877 and 1879 was almost like Sandy Koufax was at the short prime of his career. In those years, if you do the math, Bond went 123-55 with an ERA of just 2.04.
But Bond just wasn't the same after that 1879 season. In 1880, he went just 26-29, and his ERA ballooned to 2.67. After a few other failed attempts to revive his once revered legacy, Bond called it quits in 1884, just 28 years old.
Though Bond isn't in the Hall of Fame, he was the most dominating pitcher in 1877, 1878 and 1879 and he shall be remembered for his accomplishments.
1880 Most Dominant Pitcher: Jim McCormick
45-28, 1.85 ERA, Seven Shutouts, 657.2 Innings, 135 Earned Runs
Those 657 innings should tell you something about the wear and tear a pitcher of the 19th century went through.
Speaking of wear and tear, McCormick not only led the National League in wins, but also led games started, complete games and innings pitched.
Larry Corcoran also stole some of the spotlight for the 1880 season. Corcoran, just a rookie, went 43-14 with a small 1.95 ERA and led the league in strikeouts, posting 268 of them.
But McCormick gets the nod over Corcoran because McCormick started more games than Corcoran and had a lower ERA.
In addition, McCormick didn't walk nearly as many batters as Corcoran did. In over 100 more innings, McCormick threw 75 walks, while Corcoran led the league in walks with 99.
While I completely understand if you think Larry Corcoran deserves the MDP award, McCormick would make the most sense to me.
1881 Most Dominant Pitcher: Larry Corcoran
31-14, 2.31 ERA, Four Shutouts, 396.2 Innings, 102 Earned Runs
I feel funny giving the 1881 MDP award to Corcoran because his 1880 performance was considerably better than his 1881 performance, yet 1880 was overshadowed by Jim McCormick.
His 31 wins led the league, but that was mainly due to the change in pitching philosophies at the time. In previous years, teams would have one pitcher on their roster, and they were expected not only to start every game, but complete every game. Now, teams were making the move towards having two starters, so the pitchers would get a break.
Corcoran's 2.31 ERA ranked fourth among National League pitchers, but in a league with fewer than 20 starters, fourth wasn't anything amazing. Add on the fact that he led the league in home runs given up, and it doesn't seem to be such a great season for Corcoran.
The fact, though, is that he was better than the other pitchers, so he gets the MDP nomination of 1881.
1882 Most Dominant Pitcher: Will White
40-12, 1.54 ERA, Eight Shutouts, 480 Innings, 82 Earned Runs
1882 was the first season of the American Association, which was the first competition to the National League. Will White was the perfect fit. Though his ERA was just 2.03 prior to 1882, White had a losing record (93-97) and pitched just two games in 1881 for the Detroit Wolverines, going 0-2 with an ERA of 5.
White saw the AA (no, he didn't have drinking problems) as an opportunity, and boy did he take that opportunity. He had the lowest ERA for any starter with more than 25 starts. In addition, he led the league in shutouts and innings pitched.
So, while the Cincinnati Red Stockings batted a mediocre .264, White's clutch pitching led them to a 55-25 record, which was good for first in the AA.
**Note: I am not sure if Will White is in this picture. Will White pictures aren't exactly the current trend, so it was difficult to find a picture of him. He could be in this picture, but he also might not be.**
1883 Most Dominant Pitcher: Charley Radbourn
48-25, 2.05 ERA, Four Shutouts, 632.1 Innings, 144 Earned Runs
Quite a nickname, quite a season. The "Old Hoss" led the National League with 48 wins, guiding the Providence Grays to a third-place finish.
Radbourn also led the league in games pitched (76) and strikeouts (201).
I also considered Will White, who like his 1882 campaign, had an excellent 1883 campaign. White led the American Association with 43 wins and posted the lowest ERA at 2.09. Although White had the lowest ERA in his league and Radbourn didn't, Radbourn still had a lower ERA than White did. In addition, White led the league in home runs (16).
You could make a good case for Will White, but in this instance, the "Old Hoss" wins without a big fuss.
1884 Most Dominant Pitcher: Charley Radbourn
59-12, 1.38 ERA , 11 Shutouts, 678.2 Innings, 104 Earned Runs
Radbourn's 1884 season was not just the best season of his career, it was the best season of that era. Along with Bob Gibson's 1968 season and Ron Guidry's 1978 season comes Charley Radbourn's 1884 season. His 59 wins wasn't just a career high, or a league lead, those 59 wins are the most wins in a single season by a pitcher.
Radbourn did much more than win 59 games. His 1.38 ERA was the lowest in the National League, and his 678.2 Innings Pitched were the most by any pitcher. But the most amazing statistic of his season (not including the 59 wins) was the 441 strikeouts he posted, which of course led the league. Radbourn, who led the league in strikeouts in 1882 with 201, more than doubled his total from that season.
So the next time you hear about Bob Gibson's 1.12 ERA of 1968 or Ron Guidry's 25 wins of 1978, don't be shy to mention "Old Hoss" Radbourn's 59 wins and 441 strikeouts of 1884.
1885 Most Dominant Pitcher: Mickey Welch
44-11, 1.66 ERA, Seven Shutouts, 492 Innings, 91 Earned Runs
It's quite tough to follow Radbourn's 59-win season, but New York Giants pitcher Mickey Welch did a great job of trying to repeat it.
Though his 44 wins didn't lead the league, his .800 winning percentage did.
Welch's competition for this award was John Clarkson of the Chicago White Stockings. His 53 wins led the league, along with his 10 shutouts and 308 strikeouts.
Based on these stats, it might seem weird to put Welch over Clarkson, but Clarkson led the league in home runs with 21, while Mickey Welch had just four, and Welch's ERA was .19 points lower than Clarkson's was.
This is a really debatable topic, and it really can go either way, but considering Welch made 15 fewer starts than Clarkson, and still managed 44 wins, I say Welch over Clarkson, but by next to nothing.
MDP's First 10 Years Recap
The first 10 years of National League baseball were quite exciting. It started out with George Bradley and his amazing 1.23 ERA. It then led us to Tommy Bond and his back to back-to-back MDPs.
Then guys like Jim McCormick and Larry Corcoran would take over for a few years. The emergence of the American Association saw Will White win the MDP in 1882, and than in a Roger Maris like situation (Maris hit 39 home runs and won the MVP in 1960 and then hit his famous 61 to win the MVP in 1961), "Old Hoss" Radbourn had a great year in 1883, and blew us off our feet in 1884, winning a record 59 games. And to close out the 10th anniversary of the National League, Mickey Welch takes the cake.
So that's the first 10 years of the National League and the beginning of the American Association condensed into a paragraph. I hope you enjoyed, and please feel free to comment.