Povich Rewind: No Mistaking These Guys for Cy Young
By Scott Greene
With Nationals’ pitcher Max Scherzer being accorded richly deserved support for the National League’s Cy Young award, we look back at Shirley Povich’s 1991 column on The Cy Young and how pitching and the game has changed..
His name was Cy Young, deceased since 1955, and he comes to mind because of the continuing travesties in his memory. The Cy Young Award designed to honor pitching excellence in his image is being profaned every year by guys with seemingly little understanding that baseball is a nine-inning game.
Cy Young is a proper icon in pitching history. He won more games than anyone, 511. More even that Walter Johnson. He was the master of the complete game, once pitching 54 in succession. He would not understand the new breed of pitchers, or managers who sometimes say in their praise, “He’ll give us five good innings.”
That would be a recipe for back to Binghamton in Cy Young’s era. As for last year’s Cy Young Award winners, he could be asking what planet did these types come from? Bob Welch of the Oakland A’s, in his 35 starts, pitched only two complete games. Doug Drabek of the Pirates completed nine of 33 starts.
By Young’s lights, these are pitchers? The man who pitched 750 complete games, who went the limit in 40 of his 41 starts one season, could be tempted to disassociate himself from the Cy Young Award or simply accept the truth that the complete game is a lost art.
He wouldn’t understand the new language of the game or the degree to which it has changed. The relief pitcher, a minor figure in most of baseball’s history, usually typed as not good enough to start, has in later years surged to highest importance. And not simply as a fellow who goes in to save a lead. Managers now talk to relief men as if they were members of several species. They speak of “short relievers,” and “long relievers” and “middle relievers,” with some types known as “closers.” What in the world is going on here?
The degree to which relief pitchers have superseded starters is best portrayed by the Yankees’ staff. Their starting pitchers as of this week were guilty of a horrendous 5.01 earned-run average. Where did the Yankees’ recent success come from? Their relievers whose 2.84 ERA kept the team alive and pennant hopeful.
It was the Yankees’ pitching coach, Mark Connor, who recently gave the most graphic picture of the thinking of modern managers. “The good bullpen,” he told the New York Times, “would have two set-up guys” – whatever they are – “one left-handed, one right-handed; two middle-inning guys, one left-handed, one right-handed; and a closer….And the way things have gotten today, you’d want a sixth guy to be your long man.”
But that’s the way it is in modern baseball, with the complete game an artifact and something of a surprise when one is pitched. Also, because of the frequent pitching changes the three-hour game is the norm, with the lapses leading some folks to believe baseball actually is dull. Remembered is the contrast the day the Senators’ Sid Hudson shut out the Yankees on three hits and it was written here, “Sid Hudson was the man of the hour and 34 minutes.”
The emphasis on relief pitching has also produced an inner breed of swaggering intimidators, the first of whom was probably Dick Radatz of the Red Sox, 6 feet 6, 230, a glowering flame-thrower who liked to be called “The Monster.”
Later came the two bearded types of the Cardinals, Al Hrabosky, known as “The Mad Hungarian,” and Bruce Sutter, both with foliage, and both throwing “heat,” another descriptive that has crept into the game.
The Reds’ Rob Dibble, 6-4, 235, reveled in being No. 1 in their Nasty Boys bullpen.
It is the belief here that the relief specialist was originated by Bucky Harris with the Senators in 1924 by unveiling his big Texan, Fred Marberry, as a fastballing intimidator. In 1925 Marberry set the record by appearing in 55 games without starting. Miller Huggins of the Yankees copied Harris by presenting Wilcy Moore as a relief specialist in 1927, and Casey Stengel later became the master of pitcher platooning.
Those fancy ERAs of relievers are not all that they’re cracked up to be and sometimes are a complete fraud. When they go in with men on base they have all the best of it, getting the advantage of force plays, sometimes at every base. And they can’t be charged when runners they inherited score, although they could have pitched a hell of a lot better in those instances.
Let me tell you of an extreme case of a relief pitcher getting more credit than he deserved. The scene is Fenway Park, bottom of the eighth, the Senators trailing by two runs, one out, two Red Sox on base. Al Crowder goes in as a reliever. On his first pitch, a double play, the inning is over. In the top of the ninth, the Senators pinch-hit for Crowder. They get three runs and win the game when the Red Sox are shut out in the bottom of the ninth. Winning pitcher: Crowder. On his one and only pitch of the game. So much for relief pitching, sometimes.
July 7, 1991