One of these men is Cy Falkenberg in his prime. The other is the Lord.
Quick! Name the pitcher who posted the fifth greatest season (by fWAR) in modern baseball history! Hint: it was greater than any season ever posted by Cy Young, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, or Randy Johnson, to name a few. Hint 2: it was said of this pitcher that he had “broken preconceived notions into a million scattered fragments.” Hint 3: the season was 1914. If you said “Cy Falkenberg,” then either a) you peeked at the leaderboard or b) you’re a dirty lying liar, because you couldn’t possibly have known such a preposterous thing.
Cy Falkenberg was a six-foot-five Norwegian beanpole with a degree in math. He really wanted to become an engineer and build canals and things, but it turned out he had a pretty durable arm and could throw a pretty decent fastball, and sooner or later he found his way into a big-league rotation. He muddled along for several years, putting up average numbers for mostly bad teams. Then, well into his thirties, he started scuffing baseballs on little scraps of emery paper tucked in his glove. And he turned from a washed-up innings-eater into a ridiculous phenomenon. Pitching for the Indianapolis Hoosiers in 1914, in a hitter’s park in a hitting-rich league (the abortive Federal League), he led the circuit in innings pitched (377.1), strikeouts (236), and FIP (2.06), won 25 games, and racked up 11.1 WAR. Hitters were psyched out by his wacky delivery and his notorious emeryball, which Cy took pains to hide and referred to as a “fadeaway” in interviews, and which was rumored to “stop at will in midair about where he wished to.” The pitch was officially banned at the end of that year, and Falkenberg was unofficially kaput. He moved to San Francisco and started a popular bowling tournament.
At least two things seem clear, based on the above:
1. The emeryball should be immediately relegalized, along with the spitball and the scuffball and whatever the hell else pitchers want to throw. Also, hitters should be allowed to take as many steroids as they want. It would all balance out, and baseball would become approximately one hundred times as exciting overnight.
2. The Cy Young Award should immediately be renamed the Cy Falkenberg Award.
I realize I’m facing an uphill battle in getting the Cy Young Award renamed the Cy Falkenberg Award. So in the meantime, I want to honor Cy Falkenberg with a separate award, which I will proceed to make up. And while I’m honoring Cy Falkenberg, I’d like to go ahead and honor those many other Cys who have languished for so long in the shadow of Mr. Denton True “Ooh, look at me and my five hundred shiny wins” Young. So, without further dalliance or dilatation, this year’s Alternative Cys:
The Cy Falkenberg Award. Awarded for: Accomplishments by a player with a degree in mathematics or the sciences. Named for: Frederick Peter “Cy” Falkenberg, proud owner of a three-year math BS from the U. of Illinois. Awarded to: Craig Breslow, proud owner of a BA in molecular biophysics and biochemistry from Yale, and proud owner of a 2.82 ERA in 60 innings of relief this year.
The Cy Acosta Award. Awarded for: Batting accomplishments by an American League pitcher. Named for: Cecilio “Cy” Acosta, who was the first AL pitcher to bat following the institution of the designated hitter. Awarded to: Jason Vargas, who went 2-for-5 at the plate this year in interleague play, with a walk, an RBI, and two runs scored.
The Cy Barger Award. Awarded for: Accomplishments by a player with a vaguely classical name. Named for: Eros Bolivar “Cy” Barger, a decent pitcher for a few years in the 1910s. Awarded to: Didi Gregorius, Reds prospect, and owner of a .316 average in the six games since his call-up.
The Cy Block Award. Awarded for: Accomplishments by a player in the literary arts. Named for: Seymour “Cy” Block, WWII-era Cubs infielder, best-known for his book So You Want to Be a Major Leaguer. Awarded to: R.A. Dickey, prose stylist extraordinaire.
The Cy Malis Award. Awarded for: Accomplishments by a player in the theatrical arts. Named for: Cyrus Sol “Cy” Malis, who pitched in one game for the Phillies in 1934, and later appeared on Perry Mason and in several movies. Awarded to: Shane Victorino, for his star turn in Hawaii Five-O this February.
The Cy Moore Award. Awarded for: Accomplishments by a player in the area of batting ineptitude. Named for: Wilcy “Cy” Moore, pitcher for the Murderers’ Row Yankees, and one of the most hapless hitters of his era. (Babe Ruth once bet him $300 that he couldn’t hit a home run in a major league game. He did. And used the money to buy mules for his farm.) Awarded to: Tommy Hanson, who is currently 1 for 48.
The Cy Morgan Award. Awarded for: Accomplishments by a player with unusual dietary choices. Named for: Cyril Arlon “Cy” Morgan, pitcher for the 1920s Braves, supposedly cut because the club couldn’t afford to feed him. (He once bet that he could eat a hundred scallops, and did, after digging them up himself.) Awarded to: Prince Fielder, proud owner of a .520 slugging percentage despite being grotesquely emaciated from his vegetarianism.
The Cy Neighbors Award. Awarded for: Accomplishments by a player appearing in no more than one game. Named for: Cecil Fleming “Cy” Neighbors, turn-of-the-century outfielder who had a cup of coffee with the Pirates. Awarded to: Adam Moore, Royals catcher, who went 1 for 3 with a home run and a walk on Sunday in his first game of the season.
The Cy Pieh Award. Awarded for: Accomplishments by a player with no more than six letters in his name. Named for: Edwin John “Cy” Pieh, Yankees right-hander of the 1910s. Awarded to: J.J. Putz, the only qualifying player this season.
The Cy Seymour Award. Awarded for: Accomplishments in pitching by a non-pitcher. Named for: James Bentley “Cy” Seymour, pitcher and center-fielder, trailing only Babe Ruth for combined wins and hits. Awarded to: Chris Davis, Orioles first baseman, for his two scoreless innings of relief that earned him a win on May 6.
The Cy Slapnicka Award. Awarded for: Accomplishments by a player returning to the game after an absence of two years or more. Named for: Cyril Charles “Cy” Slapnicka, pitcher for the Cubs in 1911, and for the Pirates in 1918. Awarded to: Ben Sheets, proud owner of a 3.54 ERA in eight starts since his comeback from a two-year retirement.
The Cy Twombly Award. Awarded for: Accomplishments by a player’s offspring. Named for: Edwin Parker “Cy” Twombly, no-count pitcher for the 1920s White Sox, whose son Cy Twombly Jr. became a renowned artist. Awarded to: Torii Hunter, whose son Torii Jr., a four-star wide receiver, recently committed to Notre Dame.
The Cy Williams Award. Awarded for: Accomplishments by a player aged 39 or older. Named for: Frederick “Cy” Williams, National League slugger of the twenties, and the oldest player ever to win a home run title. Awarded to: Chipper Jones, who is also old, and good.