Still the Juan: Best never to win Cy Young

Nolan Ryan, baseball’s all-time strikeout king, never won a Cy Young Award. Nor did Don Sutton, a fellow Hall of Famer and 300-game winner. Hall of Famers Bert Blyleven, Jim Bunning, Phil Niekro or Robin Roberts? Answer is no. Not even Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer in baseball history, could cop the Cy.

It’s not any of  those guys. The greatest pitcher never to win a Cy Young Award is Juan Marichal, the Dominican Dandy. He’s the Juan, the best player never to win pitching’s highest honor.

Marichal was 243-142, a .631 winning percentage and a 3.04 ERA during his Hall of Fame career, spent almost entirely with the San Francisco Giants. He won 20 games six times, and three of those were dominant performances, Cy Young type seasons almost any other year.

However Marchial had the bad luck to run up against even more superb performances by Sandy Koufax in 1963 and 1966, and then Bob Gibson in 1968.

In 1963, Juan Marichal was 25-8 with a 2.41 ERA and 248 strikeouts. One of those wins was an epic 1-0, 16-inning battle by the bay against Warren Spahn, in which both pitchers had complete games. But Sandy Koufax was even better, 25-5, 1.88 ERA and 306 strikeouts. Koufax was also the National League MVP that year.

Three years later, Marichal went 25-6, .2.23 ERA and 222 strikeouts. Again he was bested by Koufax, who in his final season was 27-9, 1.73 ERA and 317 strikeouts. From its inception in 1956 until 1967, only one Cy Young was awarded each season. Koufax won it three times – in 1963, 1965 and 1966.

In 1968, Marichal was a career high 26-9, 2.43 ERA and 218 K’s. This time he ran up against Bob Gibson and his 1.12 ERA, the lowest in baseball since Dutch Leonard’s 0.96 in 1914. No pitcher has come close to that mark since. Gibson was 22-9 that year and struck out 268 batters in winning both the Cy and MVP. Marichal was left behind at the altar once again.

Imagine that,winning 25, 25 an 26 games – and losing the Cy Young each time. Marichal failed to garner a single vote in 1963, 1966 or 1968 – Koufax twice and Gibson were unanimous winners.

Marichal also won 20 games in 1964, 1965 and 1969 – and yet did not get as much as a single first place vote in Cy Young balloting any of those years, or in any of the other years he was eligible.  Marichal’s highest finish was eighth, tied with Bill Stoneman, in 1971, when he was 18-11.

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