There are some great pitchers from before 1959 who will never be able to be judged in history by the number of Cy Young Awards they have won. That is the year the now-prestigious award came into being.
From that season, on, pitching icons have been defined by, and doors to baseball’s Hall of Fame have been opened, by winning that piece of hardware. Those who have won the trophy multiple times have earned a special place in pitching lore. If a hurler can distinguish himself among his peers over multiple seasons, he must truly be great.
Roger Clemens won baseball’s top pitching prize a record seven times. He would be enshrined in Cooperstown if not for getting entangled in the steroid mess that has stained the careers of may players from the 1990s and early 2000s. Randy Johnson won the Cy five times, while Greg Maddux and Steve Carlton earned it four times each. All three players are in the Hall of Fame. Pedro Martinez, Tom Seaver, Jim Palmer and Sandy Koufax won the trophy three times – ditto on the Hall.
You can see where this is going. Earn multiple Cy Young Award and earn a lifetime of respect and honor. Only 19 men in the history of the game, at least dating back to 1959, have garnered the necessary votes from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America to take home more than one Cy Young trophy. Ten of them are in the Hall while one, Clemens, would be under normal circumstances. Active pitchers Clayton Kershaw, with three Cys, and Max Scherzer, who won his third this past week, seem to be on a collision course with enshrinement after their great careers end. That is 12 of 19. The recently deceased Roy Halladay may eventually get there, potentially making it 13 multiple winners to earn a place in Cooperstown’s hallowed Hall.
On Wednesday, Scherzer earned his third Cy Young Award and Cleveland’s Corey Kluber joined the rarefied air of multiple award winners. He won his first in 2014. His second trophy came as little surprise after a 2017 campaign in which he was the hands down ace of what was arguably the game’s best starting pitching rotation.
Tribe fans have been watching greatness on the mound for the past four years now. Kluer has won 18 games three out of the last four seasons, nabbing a pair of Cys and finishing third in the voting in 2016. Only a lack of run support kept the Klubot from a great season in 2015.
Kluber was a late bloomer, not hitting his stride in the big leagues until 2013 (his age 27 season). Because of that, he only has five full big league seasons to his credit as he will enter his age 32 season in 2018.
Despite the late start to his MLB career, he has not wasted time piling up numbers. In those five full years, and parts of two others, Kluber is 76-48 with a 3.13 ERA in 163 games. He has been the Tribe’s best starter for four seasons and is starting to climb the ladder toward being among the all-time pitching greats in Cleveland history.
Kluber can certainly be argued as the best pitcher to wear the Wahoo Red, White, and Blue in recent history. He is the only Tribe pitcher to win two Cy Young Awards. The other Cy winners have been Gaylord Perry, C.C. Sabathia, and Cliff Lee. Sabathia and Lee have more career wins with the Indians, due to more seasons to this point, but Kluber has the better ERA and has been dominant more than either of those two. Perry, who had a great three-and-a-half seasons with the Tribe, is merely a footnote in the club’s rich history due to his lack of longevity as an Indian. He traveled the MLB landscape during his Hall of Fame career, best known for his time with the Giants.
Charles Nagy and Sam McDowell also had great Tribe careers that never saw either win the big pitching hardware, despite multiple fabulous and All-Star campaigns from both. McDowell may actually be the one pitcher Kluber trails when it comes to being recognized as the best Cleveland pitcher of the last 60 years. “Sudden Sam” spent his first 11 summers in an Indians uniform, winning 122 games with a sterling ERA of 2.99. He was an All-Star six times while with the Tribe and finished third in the Cy voting one season.
McDowell often gets overlooked in the pantheon of former Indians greats because of the era in which he pitched. The team was not great during his years of 1961-1971. He came on the scene a little after the 1954 World Series Tribe and long before the great and ballyhooed squads of the 1990s.
With another handful of quality seasons, Kluber should be at or near the win totals of the likes of McDowell, Nagy, and Sabathia, who all had 120 or more wins during their tenures with the Tribe. He should be able to get there. Unlike Sabathia and Lee, who were traded away the year after their Cy Young seasons, Kluber should not be going anywhere, any time soon.
The Klubot is under team control for four more seasons (2020 and 2021 are team option years). Provided Kluber is still pitching at an All-Star or Cy Young-caliber level, he will be a steal at $13.5 million and $14 million each of those final two seasons. That would take him through his age 35 season and near the climax of what could then be shaping up as a truly great career, especially if another piece of pitching hardware or two gets added.
Still, it is going to be hard for Kluber to earn the title of greatest Indians pitcher of all time. That is because Cleveland had some very special arms on the mound during the game’s early years. Some great pitchers wore Cleveland unis before the 1959 inception of the Cy Young Award. That includes Young, himself, who spent the turn of the century in Cleveland before the franchise was known as the Indians. He won many of his record 511 games in Cleveland, with a chunk coming as a member of the city’s long deceased National League Spiders club.
Then there are the likes of the great Bob Feller, considered by many as the best player in franchise history, Bob Lemon, and Addie Joss, who all are enshrined in Cooperstown. Mel Harder probably should be in the Hall. Those are four legendary Indians pitchers who were around too early to have the number of Cy Youngs listed on their Wikipedia pages. It would take a lot, certainly, and would require playing a few more seasons in Cleveland after his current contract and pitching to nearly 40 for Kluber to come close to having the career of some of those pre-1959 Indians hurlers.
It is likely Kluber will have to settle for merely being among the greats in team history. Like Jim Thome, from the club’s run of the 1990s, Kluber is likely to someday be memorialized with a statue outside Progressive Field for being perhaps the most important player in the most recent surge for Cleveland that has seen consecutive winning seasons and three playoff years from 2013-2017.
Adding more hardware would only add more fuel to the debate as to whether or not Kluber is the greatest Indians pitcher of them all. He is starting to inch closer to that debate after Wednesday’s announcement that he won his second Cy Young Award. Two trophies does not ensure a player to be remember among the game’s greats after retirement. However, it certainly helps and Kluber is rocketing ever closer to that sort of stratosphere.
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