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Did Cy Young throw the first pitch in Cardinals history?

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Cy Young and friends

Cy Young (right) and four other former pitchers pose before playing in an exhibition game at Yankee Stadium in 1954. From left are: Dazzy Vance, Whitey Wiltse, Carl Hubbell, Big Ed Walsh and Young. (AP Photo)

ST. LOUIS • The last time the Cardinals started a season with a record this good (19-6), they weren’t called the Cardinals but they sure did look familiar.

With their 10-9, rally-to-win Monday night against the rival Cubs, the Cardinals established what the team has called the “best start in franchise history.” That comes with a qualifier. At 19-6 through 25 games, the Cardinals have started better than the 1944 team and the 1941 team and have what could be considered the best start in modern franchise history — that is, everything since 1900. That conveniently clips off the 1899 team, which might just be the first Cardinals team ever in history.

It all starts with Cy Young.

The Cardinals’ organization traces its history to 1892, which is the first year that a St. Louis team joined the National League. Baseball-Reference.com and many historical surveys trace the Cardinals history back to 1882 – when the club, the Brown Stockings, was a part of the American Association. For the purposes of the current start, the team says its modern history starts with 1900. All of that is true. But if you want to find the genesis of the modern Cardinals, 1899 is the season, Young is the pitcher, and the Perfectos are the team.

You can make the case — and I did in the book I wrote — that on April 15, 1899, the first pitch in Cardinals history was thrown by the first name in pitching.

From aforementioned book:

With a chilly wind testing the 18,000 fans, Denton True “Cy” Young led a lineup of transplanted professional baseball players, each decked out in posh new uniforms ornamented with rich red socks and accents, onto League Field (in St. Louis). Young, whose name now adorns the award given to the best pitcher in each league, delivered a six-hitter and a victory in what arguably is the genesis of today’s St. Louis Cardinals.

The origin of that game came a few years before. Professional baseball had been around for more than a decade in St. Louis, and there were professional ballparks dotting the city. From 1885 to 1889, the Browns won four consecutive American Association championships. But in 1898, disasters swallowed the season. The Browns finished 12th. A fire vaporized their ballpark’s tinder-box grandstand. Creditors and law suits followed. To save — or, rather, resuscitate — baseball in St. Louis, the Robison brothers and league pulled off an unusual switcheroo.

Rosters were uprooted and relocated. A franchise was, too. The Cleveland Spiders and the Browns essentially swapped towns, with the Spiders leaving behind disappointing crowds for a better situation in St. Louis — and a new name to go with bright new team colors.

Behold, the Perfectos.

Future Hall of Famers Young, Bobby Wallace, and Jesse Burkett came to St. Louis and slipped into the new jerseys with their flashy red and sharp look. With Young as the opening day starter, the Perfectos debuted by winning 10-1 against the new Spiders (those exiled Browns). Young, who threw a perfect game 111 years ago today, won 26 games for the Perfectos that season. The righthander claimed 45 of his record 511 wins while pitching for a St. Louis team. The Perfectos gained popularity with their strong start. They won their first seven in those snazzy unis, and they started the season 9-1. It still measures as one of the finest beginnings ever for the franchise, even though the ending didn’t measure up:

1899 Perfectos 19-6 start, finished 84-67 (4th in NL)

1941 Cardinals 18-7 start, finished 97-56 (2nd in NL)

1944 Cardinals 18-7 start, finished 105-49 (won World Series)

2015 Cardinals 19-6 start, finished TBD

The 1899 team lost its 26th game of the season, so this year's club has a chance to outpace their 26-game start to the season.

While the Cardinals can select many starting points to their history — 1882, 1892, or even 1900 — the argument for 1899 is simple. After that wholesale relocation of a franchise, it is possible to trace ownership, player changes, and performance directly from that day all the way through the first World Series championship in 1926 to today without a break, without a hitch in the ownership or wrinkle in the league affiliation, and with only one name change. It was the red in the Perfectos’ uniform that inspired a young fan to call it “a lovely shade of cardinal.”

Thus, the nickname was hatched.

The Cardinals’ history started at Cy Young’s fingertips.

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