CHAPTER FIVE

1896 —1898: A Durable Man

N MOST human activities, when you reach the top there's only one way to go — and that's down. In the three years following the Temple I Cup triumph of 1895 both Cy Young and the Spiders experienced the disappointments of falling short. They remained good, it's true. But as age corroded the core of the once-splendid Cleveland club, the team slowly lost its capacity to compete with the National League's best. And as Kid Nichols pulled away from the small pack of leading hurlers in the National League to establish himself as an unrivaled superstar, Young had to accommodate himself to continued membership in that group of reliable, dependable, strong, but only occasionally overwhelming pitchers. Meanwhile, as an ominous backdrop to all that happened on the ball field, there was a steady erosion of fan support for the Spiders in Cleveland. A businessman to the bone, Frank Robison was not slow to wonder whether he would be better off trying to hawk his diamond entertainment in another city. Still, in the early months of 1896 these difficulties were not yet discernible.

For preseason practice the Spiders returned to Hot Springs, site of their training prior to the successful 1892 season. Before leaving for the spa Cy Young declared his optimism about the coming season. “I am in fine shape, ” he said “and if the other Spiders are in as good shape as I am, no team in the league will be in it with Cleveland this season.” 1 This widely shared confidence was based on the belief that the returning Spider players would be as good as ever and that several new pitchers — Icebox Chamberlain, Zeke Wilson, and Cy Swaim — would fortify the team's already formidable hurling staff. The springtime work of the squad did nothing to undermine the hopes of its fans. In fact, by winning a

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