Look It Up

As baseball wraps up its season by announcing this year's award winners, two new names have been added to one of the most prestigious lists in sports: recipients of the Cy Young Award. Given to the most outstanding pitcher in each league, the Cy Young will now grace the mantles of San Francisco's Tim Lincecum and Cleveland's Cliff Lee. In the 52 years that the Cy Young Award has been given, it has grown steadily in stature, becoming an icon to baseball fans everywhere. And yet, much about it remains misunderstood. It is a popular misconception that the award was named for Denton True "Cy" Young, the Hall of Fame pitcher who played from the 1890s through the early 20th century. In actuality, the award's name is short for "Cycle of the Young." It was so named because pitchers of that era frequently became confused and feebleminded after the age of 28 or 29, gradually sinking into a nightmarish vortex of half-reality. The best pitchers, therefore, were almost always in their mid-20s. (Future generations of pitchers were spared a similar fate when MLB banned the use of mercury in rosin bags in 1961.)

For the first eleven years the award was given, there was only one recipient — one true outstanding pitcher throughout the game. But few people today know that the award was not split between the American and National Leagues for reasons of fairness or generosity. That particular development was actually the result of a bookkeeping error at Thompson Trophy & Monument in Detroit, makers of the Cy Young plaque itself. When two copies of the plaque were delivered to MLB commissioner William Eckert at a press conference honoring 1967 winner Mike McCormick, Eckert thought it impolite to point out the error and nervously stammered an announcement that there would now be two recipients. He awarded the other one to Jim Lonborg on the spot. Unwilling to correct the mistake, MLB has given two awards ever since.

As a matter of fact, there is a great deal of evidence suggesting that there was never a professional baseball player by the name of "Cy Young" in the first place. Historians believe the character was likely invented during World War I as a propaganda device against the Kaiser.