I have a question for you. Just exactly how do you, as a Major League Baseball owner, replace a superstar? I ask because all the way back in 1901 the American League was formed and it took a lot of players away from the National League. One of those was Cy Young. You know Cy Young right? He’s the guy they named the pitching award after. So just how do you replace a guy like that? This is the story of one team’s attempt to do so.
In 1900 the St. Louis Cardinals were, to be candid about it, not very good. They finished 65-75, good for fifth in the NL. They did have Cy Young, however (and John McGraw). He was 33, went 19-19, had an ERA of exactly three, gave up more hits than he had innings pitched, walked all of 36 while striking out 115, put up 1.161 WHIP, had an ERA+ of 121, and had 7.3 WAR (tops on the team). Jim Hughey, Willie Sudhoff, Jack Powell, and Albert “Cowboy” Jones (the only lefty) made up the rest of the staff (those who pitched at least double figure games). Gus Weyhing, Tom Thomas, and Jack Harper were the other pitchers and got into a total of 13 games. All were right-handed.
This is the same staff in 1901: Powell, Harper, Sudhoff, Jones (again the only lefty), and new guy Ed Murphy (guys who pitched in double figure games). The rest of the staff was all new guys and topped out at five games (and 41 innings) pitched. So technically, I guess, Murphy is the guy who replaced Young (now with the Boston team in the AL). Murphy went 10-9 with an ERA of 4.20 (ERA+ 76), 36 more hits than innings pitched, 32 walks to 42 strikeouts, a 1.412 WHIP, and -1.3 WAR. Quite a comedown, right?
So how about the other new guys, the ones with less than 10 games pitched? They were a combined 5-6 in 96 innings. So there wasn’t much there either. Cy Young was, to be fairly blunt about it, tough to replace.
Interestingly enough, the Cards actually got better. They went 76-64 and finished fourth, a jump of 11 wins and one place in the standings. So maybe replacing Young actually worked, at least a little. The team ERA dropped (3.75 to 3.68), they gave up 40 fewer hits, struck out 120 more (Powell led the team with 133 and Harper had 128, both more than Young the year before), but walked 33 more men. Powell equalled Young’s 19-19 record (what do you supposed the chances of that are?) while Harper went 23-13. Both had good years and provided pitching that did manage to replace Young.
It was something of a fluke. The next time St. Louis was above .500 was in 1911. Neither Harper nor Powell sustained long periods of excellence while Young went on to the Hall of Fame. Replacing Cy Young worked for one year, then the team receded. In 1903 the Cards finished dead last while Young was instrumental in Boston winning the first ever World Series.