- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 3, 2009

The game matched the American League’s best pitchers, and a throng of 10,267 overflowed Boston’s Huntington Avenue Grounds for the occasion. Before it started, Philadelphia Athletics ace Rube Waddell engaged in what today would be called trash talk.

“I’ll give old Cy the same what I gave Tannehill,” boasted Rube, referring to a one-hitter he had tossed three days earlier to beat Jesse Tannehill.

Denton True “Cy” Young of the American League’s Boston squad, already the major leagues’ biggest career winner with 379 victories, declined to reply in kind. Instead he simply went out to pitch - and how.

On May 5, 1904, the right-hander Young needed just 1 hour and 23 minutes to pitch the first modern perfect game, meaning since the distance between the mound and plate had been increased from 45 feet to 60 feet, 6 inches in 1893. Twenty-seven Philadelphia batters came up and returned to the bench without reaching base in Young’s 3-0 win.

Afterward, of course, it was Young who did all the talking. Although there was no detailed scoreboard at Boston’s old wooden ballpark, Cy knew he had done something special. He would win an incredible 511 games in a career that stretched from 1890 to 1911, but there was no question this was the best.

“How did you like that, you hayseed?” Cy shouted to Waddell, according to one account. Then he calmed down enough to tell reporters: “I am as proud as any man could be to pitch such a game. I never felt better in my life. [Catcher Lou] Criger says I didn’t throw two balls alike, and I guess I’ll take his word for it.”

In that florid newspaper era, the Boston press whooped it up. The Daily Globe called it the “Greatest Game Ever” and referred to Cy as the “King of Pitchers” in front-page headlines. Meanwhile, The Post said it was “the most wonderful game of ball in the annals of America’s national sport.”

Young’s performance was hardly a fluke. At 37, he no longer fired the fearsome fastball that had produced his nickname 14 years before - Cy was short for Cyclone - but he made up for it with guile and two dissimilar curves (one would be called a slider today).

In 134 seasons of major league baseball, there have been just 17 nine-inning perfect games, including two in the 19th century. When Don Larsen of the New York Yankees spun his gem against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1956 World Series, it was the first perfecto in 34 years.

Lately, however, they have become much more frequent - probably because most hitters swing from the heels instead of merely trying to make contact. Since 1964, no fewer than 11 perfect games have unfolded, the last by Randy Johnson on behalf of the Arizona Diamondbacks 100 years and 13 days after Young’s.

As with most of the others, luck and/or sharp fielding aided Young’s effort. Slugging right fielder Buck Freeman came tearing in to snatch a pop fly that threatened to drop in the third inning. Neat catches by Criger and left fielder Patsy Dougherty also helped the Red Sox, who would win their second straight pennant in 1904.

Pinch hitters were seldom employed then, so appropriately enough the mouthy and flaky Waddell was the last batter Young faced. Obligingly, Rube popped up to first baseman Jake Stahl, and the ecstatic crowd flooded the field.

In those days, baseball salaries were tiny, but there was an instant financial reward for Young nonetheless.

“One gray-haired fellow jumped the fence back of third and pressed a bill into my hand,” Young recalled in “My Greatest Day in Baseball,” published in 1945. “It was $5.”

Cy Young was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1937 and died in 1955 at age 88. The following year, an award bearing his name was given to Brooklyn’s Don Newcombe as the best pitcher in baseball. In 1967, separate awards were established for each major league.

When the Baseball Hall of Fame held its first induction ceremony in 1939, Young was one of the players so honored. Another was Walter Johnson, whose 417 victories for the Washington Senators still trailed Young by a whopping 94.

Old Cy was indeed something special - and never more so than on that literally perfect spring afternoon 115 years ago.

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