Jerry Koosman’s closest call with the Cy Young
By Tim Boyle
The 1970s were far from the golden era of New York Mets baseball. Following their 1969 World Series victory, the team would win 83 games the next three seasons, always finishing in third place. In 1973, they got a little lucky with 82 wins and a National League East title.
Strictly looking at wins, the 1976 Mets are the leaders in the clubhouse. Although the 86-76 record is only a few better than .500 and wasn’t good enough to get them beyond third-place, it was one of the better years the franchise had in the decade. A huge reason for it was the pitching staff.
The 1970s were headlined by Tom Seaver and accompanied by a strong supporting cast. Nobody was closer to Seaver on the mound than Jerry Koosman, the guy who in 1976 would finish second in the Cy Young vote.
Mets pitcher Jerry Koosman would have won the 1976 Cy Young if not for a more historic season elsewhere
Koosman never did manage to win a Cy Young in his career. Somewhat surprising, he only ever received votes twice. Once was in 1979 when he was a member of the Minnesota Twins. The other came in this pitching-focused 1976 season where he went 21-10 with a 2.69 ERA.
Koosman received seven first-place votes and 69 total vote points. His 58% of the share was more than double anyone else on the list including teammates Jon Matlack and perennial contender for the award, Mr. Seaver. Matlack finished sixth (he even received a first-place vote) with Tom Terrific only getting a single vote point.
All of the criteria seemed to be met for Koosman to potentially win his first and only Cy Young. He had finally outdueled teammate Seaver and rival Steve Carlton, two guys who were constantly winning the award throughout the decade. Unfortunately for Koosman’s resume, Randy Jones of the San Diego Padres put together one of the great seasons of the decade.
Jones was a season removed from finishing second in the Cy Young race in 1975. He had won 20 games and did it with a league-leading 2.24 ERA. This came a season after leading the league with 22 losses.
Building on that success, Jones led the league with 22 wins in 1976. He was an absolute workhorse for the Padres, too. He started 40 games, completed 25, and did it in 315.1 innings of work. Each of these led the league. Most surprising of all, Jones struck out only 93 batters all season long for a rate of only 2.7 per nine. Try wrapping your head around this in the modern baseball world.
In these pre-advanced analytics days, wins mattered a whole lot more. With a single victory more than Koosman and a lot more innings under his belt plus those 25 games started and finished, he was able to come away as the winner.
The two did share a 4.7 WAR on the year with Koosman’s 121 ERA+ beating out the 119 ERA+ posted by Jones. Of course, back in 1976, those numbers meant nothing.
Jones would never have another season quite like that ever again. In fact, he would never finish a season with a record of .500 or better, including his last two years with the Mets going 1-8 and 7-10.
The timing didn’t work out well for Koosman. His close call with the Cy Young came in a year where Jones decided to leave it all on the table.