Because photography was rare when Cy Young first started pitching professionally, most images of him are from the latter stages of his career when he was thicker. Like Babe Ruth, who didn’t become a star until he was with the Yankees and wasn’t on film until late in his playing career, Young has been memorialized as a “fat guy” for many generations. But before his macaroni and cheese days, Young (like the Babe) was a slim, muscled athlete in his prime, a physical outlier. He was stronger and taller than most ballplayers and he could throw a baseball harder than anyone. He threw it so hard that one opponent recalled years later that “the sphere spun past me and made a hissing sound.”
The greatest pitchers are not always the hardest throwers. But that was pretty much the case in the 19th century and in the first four decades of the 20th century. Young, the “Great Cyclone,” was followed by Walter Johnson, who probably threw the ball 5-10 miles per hour faster than anyone else in his era. His fastball terrified opposing batters. Then there was Ol’ Pete Alexander, who could fire his fast one knee-high in the strike zone. Lefty Grove was the next fastball artist, then came teenager Bob Feller in the 1930s. Some may quibble, but those five are the best pitchers from the 1890s to the 1940s. After them the crown of “greatest pitcher” was worn by several hurlers who were more diversified on the mound, mixing fast stuff with other pitches.
When Young was a star he took the ball every third or fourth day when pitchers were expected to finish the games they started. He won at least 25 games in a season 12 times, topping 30 wins five times. He spent most of his career with the Cleveland Spiders of the old National League and the Boston Red Sox in the early 1900s. He was the hardest thrower of his era, earning the nickname “Cyclone,” which was simply shortened to Cy.
No one will ever top Young’s record for most wins (511), games started (815), or complete games (749), the game of baseball has changed too much to allow for that. For that matter, no pitcher will ever be able to lose 316 games like Young did.