511 Wins?

Strange as it may seem, there is still disagreement over how many games Cy Young won. 1 You won't, to be sure, detect hints of uncertainty in the most authoritative works. Baseball's two chief reference books, The Baseball Encyclopedia and Total Baseball, accept the figure of 511, which is (not entirely coincidentally) the total celebrated when Young was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1939. 2 We may call 511 the canonical figure. But early record books sometimes credited him with 508 lifetime victories. 3 Some people today prefer 510. 4 And as I will try to show, there are reasons for arguing that the figure could be 512 or even 513. The whole dispute adds a wry footnote to Young's oft-quoted throwaway line that although he was proud at having gained 511 victories, “I won one they didn't give me credit for.” 5

This disagreement does not, of course, call into doubt that Cy Young won more major league games than any other pitcher. After all, confusion about who should be deemed the pitcher of record in any game can arise only if more than one hurler takes the mound for a team, and since Young's club won 477 times when he pitched a complete game, there can be no dispute that he is the winning pitcher in each of those contests. 6 That figure easily exceeds Walter Johnson's 417 wins. The logical possibility of doubt exists only for the additional 60 games which Young's team won but for which he shared hurling responsibilities. The canonical count awards 34 of these games to Young, 29 through relief appearances and 5 from those rare occasions when he started but did not finish a victorious game.

One source of the confusion is that before 1950—and this too may surprise the reader—there was no “official” rule for designating who the pitcher of record was. That means that, though the practice of ascribing


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Cy Young: A Baseball Life


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