I am a former sports editor who's been a baseball fan for over 30 years. I'm predominantly a Cleveland fan, but enjoy all 30 teams!
Did Bob Feller Win the Cy Young Award?
The Cy Young Award was created in 1956 as a way to honor Cy Young, a Hall of Fame pitcher who won 511 games and died in 1955. Baseball commissioner Ford Frick developed the award, which was then given annually to the best pitcher in all of baseball. In 1967, one award began getting presented to the top pitcher in each league, and that has remained the case ever since.
The greatest pitcher in Cleveland Indians history is Bob Feller, who retired after the 1956 season, so he never had a chance to claim the award. But what if the award was handed out to the best pitcher in the league during Feller’s career? How many Cy Young Awards might he have won? In this article, I’ll look into the six best seasons of Feller’s career and find out how many times he might have been in line to win the award.
- Win-Loss Record: 24–9
- ERA: 2.85
- Strikeouts: 246
- MVP Finish: 3rd (three first-place votes)
- Team Finish: 87–67 (3rd in the AL)
At just 20 years old, Bob Feller had already established himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball. In his second full season in the Majors (fourth overall), Feller led the American League in wins (24), complete games (24), strikeouts (246), and innings pitched (296⅔). For his efforts, Feller finished third in the AL MVP voting with 155 voting points—well ahead of the next-best pitcher, Red Ruffing of the New York Yankees, who garnered 116 points.
In the National League, however, Cincinnati’s Bucky Walters was named the MVP by a wide margin after finishing 27–11 with a 2.29 ERA over 319 innings to lead the Reds to the NL pennant. Under original rules, Walters clearly would have taken home Cy Young Award honors, but Feller likely would have picked up the award in AL-only voting.
After the season, the Associated Press deemed Feller the “star of the season,” and when Feller turned 21 in November, the AP heaped praise upon him again, claiming his “exploits as a youth are only the beginning of a long career that will rank him with baseball’s pitching immortals” (AP, 1939).
- Win-Loss Record: 27–11
- ERA: 2.61
- Strikeouts: 261
- MVP Finish: 2nd (six first-place votes)
- Team Finish: 89–65 (2nd in the AL)
Bob Feller won the pitching Triple Crown in 1940, leading the American League with 27 wins, 261 strikeouts, and a 2.61 ERA. He did so over a league-high 320⅓ innings of work, while also pacing the Junior Circuit with 31 complete games and four shutouts, and pitching a no-hitter on Opening Day. He finished as the runner-up in MVP voting to Hank Greenberg, who was superb at the plate with a .340 average, 40 home runs, and 150 RBI. Feller received 222 voting points, significantly higher than Bobo Newsom, Detroit’s ace who finished fourth in MVP voting with just 120 points. Feller also was named Player of the Year by the New York chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America.
In the National League, two Reds pitchers were voted as the top pitchers in the league, but only finished third and fourth in MVP voting. Bucky Walters (22–10, 2.48 ERA) and Paul Derringer (20–12, 3.06 ERA) were nowhere close to matching Feller’s stellar season. No matter the format, Feller certainly would have been the 1940 Cy Young Award winner.
- Win-Loss Record: 25–13
- ERA: 3.15
- Strikeouts: 260
- MVP Finish: 3rd (no first-place votes)
- Team Finish: 75–79 (4th in the AL)
For the third year in a row, Bob Feller was the top finishing pitcher in American League MVP voting, but his place as the league’s top pitcher wasn’t as clear-cut in 1941, as Thornton Lee of the Chicago White Sox provided a formidable challenger. Lee led the AL with 30 complete games and a 2.37 ERA to help the White Sox finish third in the standings, while Feller was tops in the league in wins (25), strikeouts (260), and shutouts (6) but the Indians finished fourth. Feller compiled 174 points to finish third in the MVP race, while Lee scored 144 points to finish fourth in his breakout season and also garnered one first-place vote.
In the National League, the top pitcher was Brooklyn’s Whit Wyatt, who finished third in MVP voting after going 22–10 with a 2.34 ERA for the NL champions. No matter which format is used, the race would have been tight, but I do suspect Feller would have had a strong chance to have won a second straight Cy Young Award in either format.
- Win-Loss Record: 26–15
- ERA: 2.18
- Strikeouts: 348
- MVP Finish: 6th (one first-place vote)
- Team Finish: 68–86 (6th in the AL)
After missing three full seasons and most of a fourth due to military service in World War II, Bob Feller was back to form in 1946. But even with a monumental season, he likely wouldn’t have won the Cy Young Award. Feller nearly won a second pitching Triple Crown after leading the American League with 26 wins and a career-high 348 strikeouts, but he lost the ERA title (despite a 2.18 mark) to Detroit’s Hal Newhouser, who had a tremendous season of his own. Newhouser went 26–9 with a 1.94 ERA and 275 strikeouts for the Tigers, who finished as runners-up in the AL. He claimed third place in MVP voting, while Feller tallied enough votes to finish sixth.
In the National League, top pitchers were Howie Pollett of the St. Louis Cardinals (21–10, 2.10 ERA) and Johnny Sain of the Boston Braves (20–14, 2.21 ERA). Neither of them would have been in contention against Newhouser and Feller in a league-wide vote, but I’ve got to believe that Newhouser would have been named the Cy Young Award winner over Feller in either format.
- Win-Loss Record: 20–11
- ERA: 2.68
- Strikeouts: 196
- MVP Finish: 8th (no first-place votes)
- Team Finish: 80–74 (4th in the AL)
Bob Feller was once again an ERA title short of the pitching Triple Crown in 1947, and was still regarded as one of the top pitchers in the American League. Feller led the AL with 20 wins and 196 strikeouts but finished second in ERA with a 2.68 mark (Chicago’s Joe Haynes beat him out with a 2.42 mark). Among AL pitchers, Feller received the second-most MVP votes, despite finishing in eighth place with just 58 points. Leading the charge was a relief extraordinaire from the World Series champion New York Yankees, Joe Page, who received eight first-place votes on the way to a fourth-place MVP finish (167 points). Page went 14–8 with 116 strikeouts in 141⅓ innings, and finished off a league-high 44 games.
In the National League, Cincinnati’s Ewell Blackwell led the way as the MVP runner-up. He went 22–8 with a 2.47 ERA and 193 strikeouts over 273 innings. Like Feller, he was an ERA title away from the Triple Crown (Blackwell was the runner-up to Warren Spahn’s 2.33 mark) but he also led the NL with 23 complete games. In a league-wide vote, it would have likely been a tight race between Page and Blackwell, while in AL-only voting, Page’s exploits probably would have pushed him above Feller.
- Win-Loss Record: 22–8
- ERA: 3.50
- Strikeouts: 111
- MVP Finish: 5th (no first-place votes)
- Team Finish: 93–61 (2nd in the AL)
Bob Feller’s last hurrah came during the 1951 season. While the 32-year-old wasn’t producing like he was a decade earlier, he still was among the most dominating pitchers in baseball. Feller led the American League with 22 victories, but his ERA (3.50) and strikeouts (111) dipped significantly from the prime of his career. He finished fifth in MVP voting but was the third pitcher in the standings. Competition came from MVP runner-up Ned Garver of the St. Louis Browns (20–12, 3.73 ERA) and third-place finisher Allie Reynolds of the New York Yankees (17–8, 3.05 ERA).
It was in the National League where the top pitchers resided in 1951. New York Giants standout Sal Maglie posted an NL-leading 23 wins (against six losses) with a 2.93 ERA and 146 strikeouts, while Brooklyn Dodgers ace Preacher Roe went 22–3 with a 3.04 ERA and 113 strikeouts. They finished fourth and fifth, respectively, in MVP voting. I’d imagine Reynolds might win an AL-only Cy Young Award for 1951, while Maglie and Roe would have been neck-and-neck in a battle for a league-wide vote.
How Many Cy Young Awards Might Bob Feller Have Won?
There is no doubt Bob Feller would have claimed at least one Cy Young Award had they existed during his career. I believe Feller would have won an American League award from 1939 to ‘41, while taking tough-luck losses in 1946, '47, and '51. In an overall league vote, Feller would have been the Cy Young Award winner in 1940 and possibly in ‘41.
The real question when it comes to Feller is what could have been from 1942 to ‘45. Feller unselfishly spent four of what would have been his premier seasons serving in the Navy during World War II. It’s reasonable to expect that, if healthy, Feller would have been one of the best pitchers in baseball in each of those seasons and could have won up to seven AL-only Cy Young Awards.
Some frequently asked questions about the Cy Young Award and how Bob Feller might have fit in.
Who Has Won the Most Cy Young Awards?
Roger Clemens won seven Cy Young Awards during his career, the most of any player in history. Bob Feller may have challenged that mark if the award existed during his career and he didn’t serve in the military.
Has Any Pitcher Won Three Cy Young Awards in a Row?
Greg Maddux became the first player to win three straight Cy Young Awards when he won four straight from 1992 to ‘95, and Randy Johnson matched the feat from 1999 to 2002. Bob Feller could have won three straight American League Cy Young Awards if they had been awarded from 1939 to ‘41.
How Many Cleveland Indians Pitchers Have Won the Cy Young Award?
There have been five Cleveland Indians pitchers to win the Cy Young Award. Gaylord Perry (1972), C.C. Sabathia (2007), Cliff Lee (2008), Corey Kluber (2014 and ‘17), and Shane Bieber (2020) each won the Cy Young Award with the Indians.
Associated Press. “Bob Feller Season Star in the Majors.” The Daily Advertiser. October 2, 1939. Page 8.
Associated Press. “The Big Milestone … Bob Feller Reaches 21.” Detroit Free Press. November 3, 1939. Page 23.
© 2021 Andrew Harner