A romp through Cincinnati's Cy Young Award history
Jose Rijo was robbed
Next week, the finalists for the big four awards -- MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year and Manager of the Year -- will be revealed. (November 2 at 6 p.m. ET on MLB Network, if you want to watch.) The Reds will almost certainly not have any finalists for three of those four, but starting pitcher Trevor Bauer is a virtual lock to be named as one of the finalists for the Cy Young Award, honoring the best pitcher in the league.
Further, when the winner is announced on November 11, Bauer — who was recently named by his peers as the best pitcher in the National League — stands a great chance of taking home the trophy. If that happens, it will be something new: if you can believe it, a Cincinnati Reds pitcher has never won the Cy Young Award.
It’s really kind of amazing that, in the sixty-five year history of the award, no Reds pitcher has been able to win. I mean, it’s not like the Reds haven’t had some good pitchers over the years, and there have been some great performances. Five times, in fact, a Reds pitcher has finished second in Cy Young balloting.
Tom Seaver (1981): The one Hall of Fame pitcher to ply his trade for the Redlegs since the introduction of the Cy Young award, Seaver won the title three different times (1969, 1973, 1975), but couldn’t capture it while wearing the red and white despite finishing in the top four twice in six years. In the strike-shortened 1981 season, Seaver was spectacular, finishing 14-2 with a 2.54 ERA.
He narrowly lost the Cy Young Award to Fernando Valenzuela, however, despite tying with Valenzuela in first-place votes. Seaver just couldn’t overcome Fernando-Mania.
Mario Soto (1983): One of the most underrated pitchers in Reds history, Soto was outstanding for some really bad teams. In 1983, the 26-year-old Soto was in the second year of a three-season streak of All-Star appearances, and though he was arguably even better in 1982, Soto finished a distant second to Philadelphia’s John Denny in Cy Young voting. His 1983 stats: 17-13, 2.70 ERA.
Over that three year stretch, Soto went 49-33 with a 2.99 ERA and finished in the top ten in CYA balloting each year. Not too shabby.
Danny Jackson (1988): I remember this season really well. Jackson had just come over to Cincinnati in a trade that saw former top draft pick Kurt Stillwell and reliable pitcher Ted Power pack their bags for Kansas City. A lefty, Jackson had been effective in six seasons with the Royals, but in his first season for the Reds (at age 26), he was very nearly unhittable.
In 35 starts for a Reds team that finished second to the future World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers, Jackson went 23-8 with a 2.73 ERA and a league-leading 15 complete games. (!) Much like his team, however, Jackson would finish second to LA in Cy Young voting, with the Dodger’s Orel Hershiser taking the honors.
Perhaps this is just my memory playing tricks on me, but I feel certain that Jackson would have won the Award if it weren’t for Hershiser’s 58-inning scoreless streak late in the season that made him the talk of the baseball world.
Pete Schourek (1995): Who? I mean, that’s what you’d be saying if you didn’t live through that magical 1995 season. Schourek had been reclaimed off the scrap heap and the lefty finished 18-7 with a 3.22 ERA in 1995. Good numbers that paled in comparison to Greg Maddux’s brilliance: 19-2, 1.63 ERA.
I still maintain that the 1995 team was the best team in my lifetime, despite losing in the National League Championship Series to Atlanta. Schourek was a big reason for that (including a 1.26 ERA in the post-season), though he never came close to replicating the glories of that particular season.
Johnny Cueto (2014): One of the greatest pitchers in franchise history, Cueto was never better than he was in 2014 when he went 20-9 with a 2.25 ERA and a league-leading 242 strikeouts. He lost out on the Cy Young to Clayton Kershaw, who went 21-3 with a 1.77 ERA.
Interestingly enough, of the top ten pitching seasons in Reds history in the Cy Young era, only Cueto and Soto came close to winning the award. Here’s the list:
In that brilliant 1993 season, Rijo (9.2 WAR!) finished in a distant fifth place in the Cy Young race. It was a complete sham; Maddux won the award and he was brilliant but the only reason Rijo finished so low is because all four pitchers ahead of him (Bill Swift, Tom Glavine, John Burkett) won 20+ games. Remember, in those days, that’s all that mattered, despite the fact that Rijo was far better than all but (arguably) Maddux. (He also came in fourth in voting in 1991.)
Here’s how the rest of these pitchers fared:
Jim Maloney (1965): No CYA votes; Sandy Koufax was the unanimous winner, and in those days, voters only named one player on their ballots.
Soto (1982): Finished in 9th place (!) in the voting; Philly’s Steve Carlton was the winner. Three relief pitchers finished ahead of Soto, whose paltry total of 14 wins (on a team that lost 101 games, remember) was the reason he didn’t get much support.
Bob Purkey (1962): Purkey received one vote for the 1962 CYA, but finished in a tie for third place. LA’s Don Drysdale won the award.
Maloney (1966): Same thing as 1965; for the second consecutive season, Maloney couldn’t garner even a single vote because Koufax was the unanimous selection.
Bronson Arroyo (2006): Despite a WAR total higher than every other NL pitcher except the eventual CYA winner (Brandon Webb, Arizona and Ashland, KY), Arroyo couldn’t even get a single third-place vote unlike eight other pitchers. He did have great hair, however, so he has that going for him, which is nice.
Gary Nolan (1967): Only three pitchers received CYA votes in 1967, and none were Reds. Nolan was brilliant as a 19-year-old that season, but couldn’t even manage to finish higher than third place in Rookie of the Year voting. Lame.
Ted Abernathy (1967): A reliever who led the league in saves and appearances, Abernathy was able to manage a 20th-place finish in NL MVP voting. You may not think that’s great, but he finished higher than four future Hall of Famers (Jim Bunning, Bob Gibson, Seaver, Willie McCovey). So he has that going for him, which is nice.
Hopefully, in a couple of weeks, we can put all this history to rest, with Bauer finally grabbing the coveted award as a member of the ol’ Redlegs. Then we’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed that Bauer returns for an encore in 2021.
Blast From The Past
Bengals and Browns, in a simpler time.
If you have a Cincinnati sports-related picture you’d like to share here, send it my way (email@example.com). Only rule: it has to be a picture from before 2000.
What I’m Reading
Robert Weintraub: Some Bengals losses hurt more than others
Doug Gray: Reds Instructional League Updates and Notes
C. Trent Rosecrans: Trevor Bauer’s happiness with Reds a selling point for possible return ($)
Grant Freking: FC Cincinnati (likely) squashed their playoff hopes
Justin Williams: Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati make an emphatic national statement at SMU’s expense ($)
Clayton Trutor: Cincinnati Makes a Statement, Hammers SMU 42-13
What Chad’s Watching
Couple of great movies I finally caught up with this week: The Heiress and Diabolique.
The Heiress, directed by William Wyler (Ben Hur, Roman Holiday, The Best Years of Our Lives), features Olivia de Havilland in a really engaging performance. She plays — wait for it… — the titular heiress who falls in love with a handsome young man with a secret. I was intrigued from beginning to end.
But I was completely absorbed by the Hitchcock-esque French thriller Diabolique. Here’s the synopsis, which gives away far less than it appears: The cruel and abusive headmaster of a boarding school, Michel Delassalle, is murdered by an unlikely duo – his meek wife and the mistress he brazenly flaunts. The women become increasingly unhinged by a series of odd occurrences after Delassalle’s corpse mysteriously disappears. The last twenty minutes had me on the edge of my seat, almost literally. Five stars for the best movie that Hitchcock never made.
Finally, we watched Hubie Halloween this weekend. It’s Adam Sandler’s latest and it’s just as dumb as you’d expect. And kinda hilarious. Typical Sandler, if you like that sort of thing. (I do.)
The World’s Most Dangerous Podcast
Fun discussion this week about GM Nick Krall’s ascension to the head spot in the Reds baseball operations department, and what it means for the future of the club. Also: awards season is upon us, and the Reds have three players firmly in the mix.
We talk about the Cincinnati Reds — for better or for worse — every single week on RNR. Join us for free by subscribing everywhere you find dangerous podcasts. Or any other podcast, really. And you can support the podcast here.
Thanks for subscribing! The Riverfront is designed to be a place we can explore the experience of being a sports fan in a city that often seems to break our hearts. I want to investigate the things that bring us together as a community, instead of the constant drumbeat you hear elsewhere about the things that divide us.
Feel free to forward this newsletter to any of your Cincinnati sports-loving friends, or send them to our Substack site so they can subscribe for free.
If you have any comments, or just want to argue with me about anything I’ve written, feel free to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The best comments will be featured in a future newsletter.