The Foundations of Success
THE TIME HAS COME to look at Cy Young's pitching practices systematically. In the foregoing chapters I have had occasion to mention various kinds of pitches Young used, to allude to some of the strategies he employed, and to note several of the conventions he adopted on the mound. Now I want to aggregate and scrutinize these references, to try to explain—at least as far as analysis allows us to approach the mysteries of prodigious talent — his remarkable success as a pitcher.
We ought to begin our discussion with his mechanics, but here we immediately run into an obstacle. As far as I know, there are no publicly available moving pictures of Cy Young in his playing days delivering pitches to a batter, so we don't know what he looked like in action. I'm sure that somewhere such footage exists. After all, we have film of Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson, whose careers overlapped Young's, and we know that motion pictures were made of ball playing in the opening decade of the twentieth century. But in this case, as in many others, Young's preference not to be a public figure may have reduced the likelihood that motion pictures were created or preserved. So we must rely on contemporary written accounts to draw our conclusions about what Cy Young looked like when he was pitching.
When Young came into the major leagues in 1890, the pitching rubber as we know it today did not exist. Instead, the pitcher made his delivery from within a marked-off rectangular box. The back line of the box was 55 feet, 6 inches in front of the plate, and rules required the pitcher to be in contact with this line as he began his delivery. Since the front line of the box was 50 feet from the plate, the pitcher had a legal space of 5 feet, 6 inches in which to stride forward as he hurled the ball toward the plate. The box was also 4 feet wide, thus allowing the pitcher a small element