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Yankee 'Cy' Moore changed relief pitching forever

Crescent Lake Park is something of a hidden gem in St. Petersburg, Florida, with beautifully manicured grounds, a giant banyan tree and a baseball field just below the lake. The diamond is called Huggins-Stengel Field for a reason: This is where the New York Yankees, as well as the New York Mets, used to train.

"They say Babe Ruth hit one into the lake," groundskeeper Mike Seid said. "That's like 600 feet away."

Now, St. Petersburg High School is the only baseball team that plays here on a regular basis. There's a nondescript building along the right-field line that belongs to Tasco Technical School, but 90 years ago, it was the clubhouse for the '27 Yankees -- there's a small shrine inside to Ruth, with a No. 3 jersey hanging up in the facsimile of a locker. It was in this room that the veteran Yankees must have eyed a 30-year-old rookie right-hander from Hollis, Oklahoma, and wondered, "What the hell is he doing here?"

What he was about to do was to increase the value of the relief pitcher forever. His name was William "Wilcy" Moore, more familiarly known as "Cy," and he was a side-arming sinkerballer who would go on to win 19 games and save another 13 for the '27 Yankees in 50 appearances -- roughly a third of their games, an amazing total, considering that 12 of them were starts.

Even more remarkable than his numbers was his backstory. Cy Moore was a cotton farmer who made added income by pitching in the minors. One day, while pitching for Greenville (South Carolina) in the Class B South Atlantic (Sally) League, his arm was broken by a batted ball. When he returned to the mound, he found that his old, conventional delivery was too painful, so he dropped down and discovered that his pitches now had a gyration that made them sink.

Yankees general manager Ed Barrow noticed his 1926 Greenville stats in The Sporting News -- 30-4 with a 2.86 ERA and 31 complete games -- and bought Moore for $3,500. But, as Fred Glueckstein of the Society For American Baseball Research relates, not before Moore told his teammates that he was giving up the game: "I wasn't coming back because my farm needed my attention. The night before I left, they told me I had been sold to the Yankees. I decided I might as well see how they play in the majors, so I went."

On Feb. 21, 1927, Barrow signed Moore to a contract for just $2,500, with a $500 bonus if he lasted the whole season.

The manager, Miller Huggins, still needed to be convinced. He already had three premier starters in Waite Hoyt, Herb Pennock and Urban Shocker, and a stable of veteran pitchers. What did he need with a 30-year-old rookie?

"He seems to have pretty good stuff," Huggins told the writers gathered at Crescent Lake Park. "Despite his remarkable record last year, I figure it is more sensible to take a pessimistic view of his chances to make the grade."

But when the season started, Moore was still on the club, and Huggins quickly found out he had a rubber arm. He pitched in three straight games, April 19-21, winning the third one against the Athletics with 4 innings in relief of Hoyt.

During the course of the '27 season, Moore pitched in both games of two doubleheaders, eight times with no rest between games and 10 times with only a day's rest. In August alone, he pitched 11 times, with five wins, three saves and a complete game.

Nobody had any idea in March that Moore would pitch so much. And if he had a weakness, it was that he couldn't hit. His swing was so bad that back in spring training at Crescent Lake, Ruth made him a bet, $300 to $100, that he wouldn't get three hits all season.

He didn't get his first until July 8, when he got two in a 10-8 win over the Tigers. Then, on Aug. 26, against the Tigers again, Cy got his third hit -- a slow roller down the third base line. The Yankees' dugout erupted with glee. And Ruth paid up.

After the season, Moore used the money to buy two mules for his farm in Hollis. He named them Babe and Ruth.

The 1927 Yankees weren't named Murderers' Row for nothing: They won 110 games and finished 19 games ahead of the A's. Still stinging from their 1926 World Series loss to the Cardinals, they swept the poor Pirates in the Fall Classic, with Moore getting the save for Hoyt in their 5-4 victory in Game 1 and a complete-game, 4-3 victory in Game 4. By choosing Moore to start Game 4, and letting him finish, Huggins seemed intent on giving him his due. Yes, the Yankees had Ruth and Gehrig, Combs and Lazzeri, Hoyt and Pennock, but their real MVP might have been Cy Moore.

At least one impartial observer came away impressed. Writing for the Washington Post after Game 4, Giants manager John McGraw gave this tribute to Moore: "He has seen enough of life to know that there is no use in getting excited about anything. He simply took his time and gave them the best he had. It was a remarkable exhibition of steadiness."

Moore would pitch five more years in the majors. While he never again matched his 1927 brilliance, he did appear in one more World Series game, winning Game 4 in the Yankees' sweep of the Cubs with 5 innings of two-hit relief. He returned to the farm -- both his own and the minors. His last appearance came in 1940, when he was managing and pitching for the Borger Gassers in the West Texas-New Mexico League. At age 43, he was 5-1 with 2.81.

Cy Moore died of cancer at age 65 on March 29, 1963, exactly 36 years after Huggins decided to go north with him.

These days, there's one very interested observer at the St. Pete High games on Huggins-Stengel Field. His name is Bill Livesey, and he's a baseball lifer who used to work for the Yankees, Devil Rays, Blue Jays, Mets and Pirates.

"I love the place," Livesey said. "When I was with the Yankees, the clubhouse man Pete Sheehy talked about Crescent Lake all the time, and when I was with the Devil Rays, we trained here."

Livesey is retired now, but he comes to watch Hudson Livesey, his grandson and a senior catcher for the Green Devils. He'll be playing for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, next year.

"A lot of history here," Livesey said. "I want Hudson to appreciate that Ruth and Gehrig and DiMaggio played on the same field he's playing on."

Hudson might also be interested to know that Wilcy Moore showed up at Crescent Lake 90 years ago and proceeded to revolutionize relief pitching.

He is also a reliever.

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