I had a reader recently ask about the Cy Young and Irv Young mixup on the E97 and E98 cards. This is something I’ve studied before but, to be honest, it had sort of drifted from memory so I had to recall some old notes I had.
It was actually an article topic I figured on addressing at some point and also expect it’s something a few people were probably interested in, so here goes.
We Know Cy Young, but who is Irv Young?
Back in the early 1900s, there was a player named Irv Young. Young had the ill fortune of having an obscenely common last name and was also a pitcher during a time when a guy named Cy Young, one of the best pitchers in baseball, was still around.
Irv was a decent player but nothing like Cy, as his 63-95 record will attest. Others probably found the situation of being a pitcher named Young sort of amusing and according to Baseball-Reference, he was nicknamed Young Cy or Cy the Second.
Being granted that nickname, of course, seems to make little sense. But it’s possible that he got the nickname early in his career because, there was a time when he showed potential.
Irv won 20 games as a 27-year-old rookie with Boston in 1905. At the time, while he pitched for the city’s National League franchise, the Boston Doves, Cy Young was pitching for the city’s American League team, the Boston Americans, who would become the Red Sox.
Irv was also an extreme workhorse early in his career. In his first two seasons, he led the league in complete games and games started. Now, he also had an ERA that hovered around 3.00 and gave up a league-best 116 earned runs in 1906, his second year. But he also had shown a little promise earlier on and, playing in the same city as Cy, the nickname makes a little more sense.
Unfortunately for him, his career would head south in a hurry. He never had a season with a winning record and was out of the majors after only six seasons.
The Card Mishap
The two Youngs pitched in the same era, although Irv came along later. Cy started his career in 1890 while Irv didn’t start until 1905. By that point, Cy was past his prime but still a serviceable pitcher, winning about 20 games a year.
Because they pitched at the same time, they had some baseball cards at the same time. And as the pair shared the same last name and same position, it led to them being misidentified in at least two card sets.
The picture in question features an apparent pitcher, even though his title isn’t formally on the card in either set. Cy Young’s name is printed along the bottom of both with the picture featuring Irv. The pictures on the cards in the two sets are exactly the same with the exception of the background. The E98 cards have various single-color backgrounds. More than one Young exists in that set, only with different background colors. The E97 set (card shown here) has a background showing Young on a playing field with a sunset in the background.
So whose card was this intended to be? In my opinion, it’s easily intended to be a Cy Young issue.
The Case for Cy
Today if you ask collectors if the card should be considered an Irv Young card or a Cy Young card, you get varied responses. Often, a seller will demand Cy Young money while a buyer wants to pay Irv Young money. Go figure. Here are a few reasons why I believe it’s supposed to be a Cy Young card.
Cy Young’s Name
Cy’s name appears both on the front and on the checklist on the back. Sure that could have been just a mistake but, as I’ll get into in a bit, that the name was never modified is a big deal.
The C.A. Briggs set really helps us understand that these cards should have been Cy Young issues. That set included two versions of the Young card – one stating he was a Cleveland pitcher and the other stating he was a Boston pitcher. Young did go from Cleveland to Boston in August of 1911 so the change could reflect his new team. But more likely, it was a mistake since Irv was, at the time, in Boston. We know that it was probably an error because a Cleveland variation exists. Simply put, if it wasn’t a mistake, the Cleveland card never gets made. There’s no reason for it to, after all.
The biggest evidence for the Cy Young camp aside from his name on the front and back is the Cleveland variation of the card. That version appears to correct the mistake of a Boston name. As stated above, there’s really no other reason it would have been printed. Irv Young never played in Cleveland and there’s no logistical way that those cards could be considered Irv Young issues. That would mean that the name on the front, team, and name on the checklist are all wrong and only the picture is correct. Kind of a tough sell, no?
Sure, you can flip the tables on this one. After all, maybe the Cleveland card was printed first as an error and the Boston version was the correction, right? Not really. That still doesn’t make sense for two reasons that I’ll explain shortly – Cy Young’s name was not updated to Irv’s name and by the time these were printed, Irv was long gone from Boston.
Other Errors Fixed … Except this One?
Want more evidence? Think about this – is it plausible to name a player and print the wrong picture? Sure, happens all the time. Players have been routinely misidentified in sets throughout history.
Now, imagine this. Imagine you are the producer of a baseball card set. Great! Your first task is what? Probably come up with a list of players you want in the set. As we’ve learned from the T206 set, you can’t just up and start printing pictures of players without their permission. So you carefully decide who you want in the set. You reach out to those players. The checklist becomes the primary thing until you’re ready to start determining how you will secure the artwork.
You have a list of checklisted players but when you go to print, somehow the wrong name is printed. Huh? I mean, how does that happen? But, fine – a mistake’s been made. Let’s fix it. Well, the only problem is that the Irv Young thing was never fixed. The elephant in the room is that other things were fixed, such as the names of teams and typos of player names. Topsy Hartsel and Harry Steinfeldt, for example, both had their names misspelled. Later editions corrected those mistakes.
If the card really was to depict Irv Young instead of Cy, why was that name not corrected? Well, in reality, the error was corrected. The error was the Boston National League print – not the name.
But why wasn’t the picture corrected? That’s easy. Artwork was not easy to come by and would have required a drastic overhaul with the cards printed on sheets. Type changes were easy – simply put a strip of replacement type over the old type and, voila – fixed. Complete artwork changes? Not so much.
An Explanation for Boston National League Print
Typically, supporters in the ‘This is Irv Young’ camp will point to the Boston National team designation printed at the bottom of some of the cards.
Irv played there in 1908, after all. That is certainly true but Irv was also gone from that team by June of 1908 as he was traded to the Pirates. If we’re really saying these are Irv Young cards, that would have meant that the set was printed in 1908 instead of 1909 since a 1909 printing would have surely listed him as a member of the Pirates.
In the end, there’s nothing sexy about the Boston National League print. It’s just another simple mistake in a quirky set with all sorts of issues. Irv was long gone from Boston by the middle of 1908 and a 1909 set wouldn’t have still depicted him as a member of that team.
The reality is that the cards were almost certainly meant to be Cy Young issues but instead included the wrong picture and, on one variation, the wrong team.
But what about the Cy Young Nickname?
Another go to argument for calling this an Irv Young card is that he was nicknamed as Young Cy or Cy the Second.
That is certainly true, as mentioned before. But here’s the thing – Irv isn’t referred to as that name on many, if any cards – certainly not his two most famous ones. T206 card? Nope. 1906 Fan Craze? Nada.
Also, look at old print mentions of Irv. Dig through old newspapers. I have. You rarely see him called Cy – especially without the mention of his real name as Irv or Irving. You might see him called Irv “Young Cy” Young but rarely is he blatantly called Cy Young. It just wasn’t the ‘thing’ that a lot of people think it might be.
Not only that, but think about it. If you have two players with the same name, why would you confuse collectors by calling Irv by Cy’s name? That name, even as a nickname, was avoided entirely in two popular sets where both appeared – the Fan Craze game cards and the T206 set. There, Young is simply called Young or Irv Young to avoid confusion.
It would be one thing if Irv had a history of being called Cy on his cards but that isn’t really the case.
I can understand some initial belief of these cards being Irv Young issues but the smoking gun, so to speak, is the lack of a name change to Irv when other mistakes were fixed and also the fact that a Cleveland card was produced that seems to correct the error of listing Young as a member of the Boston Nationals. Changing the name to Irv, in particular, would have been the easiest thing in the world. It’s too hard to believe that it simply wasn’t while other typographical edits were made.
That’s too much evidence in the Cy Young camp for me and why I believe these were intended to be Cy Young cards.