Since the award's conception in 1967, four Phillies hurlers have won the NL Cy Young: Two of them are incredibly obvious and two of them are absurdly not. Any fan who's ever stepped foot inside the Citizens Bank Park gift shop could probably guess Steve Carlton (72, 77, 80, 82) and Roy Halladay (2010), arguably the two best Phillies pitchers of the last 50 years, as the first two. But the next two are not Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Curt Schilling, Jim Bunning, Rick Wise or even Brad Lidge. They are, instead: John Denny in '83, and Steve "Bedrock" Bedrosian in 1987.
Denny's presence on this esteemed list is surprising but explicable. In his first season with the Phillies after coming over from the Indians, Denny was dominant, going 19-6 with a 2.37 ERA, throwing seven complete games and letting up a staggeringly low nine homers in over 240 innings of work on the season. What's more, he helped lead an aging Phillies squad -- the "Wheeze Kids," you may recall -- to 90 wins and the NL pennant. His K/BB numbers weren't phenomenal, and arm issues robbed him of the chance to ever repeat his dream season, but his profile as a Cy Young winner in '83 was nevertheless a relatively complete one.
Bedrosian, on the other hand, is both unexpected and not easily understood. Glancing at his stat line from '87, one is given the impression of a highly productive reliever that stops just short of being elite -- a 2.83 ERA with 74 Ks and 28 BBs in 89 innings, and more homers (11) than Denny gave up in '83 with nearly thrice the workload. His calling card on the season was his number of saves: 40, a career high and best in the NL that year, though hardly a record-setting number -- Dennis Eckersley had 45 for the A's the season before. He was hardly the secret sauce to any particular Cinderella Phillies season, either: The team finished 80-82 that year, easily missing the playoffs.
And yet when the BBWAA convened in 1987 to elect the league's best pitcher that season, it was Bedrosian that they concluded upon. Not that such stats existed at the time, but the reliever's 2.1 WAR that season ranks him the lowest among all winners of the award. So what gives?
Well, first you have to put it in historical context and remember that award voters were really, really impressed with closers in the 1980s. More strictly regimented reliever usage in the late '70s into the '80s (and the emergence of star closers like Rollie Fingers and Goose Gossage) led to closers being used more explicitly in save situations, and racking up gaudy numbers and increased renown that people had never seen before from the role. Consequently, six relievers won the Cy Young in the 13 years between 1977 and 1989, compared to just two in the 28 seasons since. Two of them -- Fingers and Willie Hernandez -- won the MVP, too.
Complete coverage of the Fightin' Phils and their MLB rivals from NBC Sports Philadelphia.
Still, of those six winners, Bedrosian's stats from his winning season are easily the least superficially impressive (aside from the number of saves, anyway) and he did it for a team that finished under .500. And if it was a so-close-so-many-times sort of lifetime achievement award, strange dude to honor: Bedrosian never received another Cy Young vote in any other year before or since. There had to be another explanation.
Indeed, there was: The competition that year suuuuuuuuuuucked. Bedrosian (57 Cy Young vote points) narrowly edged out the award's 2nd and 3rd place finishers, Rick Sutcliffe of the Chicago Cubs (55 points) and Rick Reuschel of the Pirates and Giants (54), but those guys' profiles were hardly overwhelming: Sutcliffe went 18-10 with a 3.69 ERA and over 100 walks, and Reuschel had an ERA over 4 with the Giants after getting traded mid-season and only 13 Ws on the year, back when that number still really mattered to voters.
Other potential candidates were similarly unconvincing with their Win-Loss records: Orel Hershiser went 16-16 and Nolan Ryan (who actually led the league in Ks and ERA) went 8-16 for the disappointing Astros. Dwight Gooden missed about 10 games. Bob Welch -- who actually might've had the best resume of all these guys with his 15-9 record, 3.22 ERA and over 250 IP, and definitely the best WAR (7.1) -- was likely overshadowed by presumed staff ace Hershiser. (An L.A. Times article from the time on Bedrosian's win was entirely framed around Hershiser being snubbed, with Welch barely even mentioned as a footnote.)
Indeed, it seems narrative simply favored Bedrosian at the time. 40 saves was a nice round number, and Steve also had earned the distinction that season of being the first reliever to ever earn saves in 13 consecutive appearances -- not exactly a DiMaggio-like streak, but enough of a hook to hang a Cy Young campaign on. And though the Phillies ended up finishing well outside of the money in the NL that year, they were actually in the race until early September, before a 1-8 stretch essentially doomed the season -- still, close enough for Bedrosian to emerge as an early candidate. Then, of course, there was the super-cool nickname: Bedrock, presumably at least partly inspired by the closer's fabled reliability. Streak + narrative + nickname... plenty of award pushes have been built on less.
30 years later, Bedrosian may stand as the worst Cy Young winner in the award's history, and he's since been eclipsed in Philly reliever lore (for reasons both good and bad) by Mitch Williams, Brad Lidge, Jonathan Papelbon and maybe a couple others. Nonetheless, he's in the record books for all-time, a rare glittering prize during one of the most ignominious stretches of modern Phillies baseball, and for that, he'll always be remembered -- even as just the answer to a trivia question -- which is better than can be said for most of the late-'80s Phaithful. (Dude, nobody knows who Von Hayes is.)