In celebration of Arizona's centennial, the Star will feature our picks for the 100 best athletes, moments and teams.
Throughout the summer, we will showcase our list - with the first 90 in no particular order. Later this month, Greg Hansen will choose his top 10, with a column on each.
With a 19-6 record and 2.37 ERA for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1983, John Denny left little question he was a deserving Cy Young Award winner that season.
The only question was this: How many more awards might the Prescott native won if he pitched in full health?
Having signed with St. Louis out of Prescott High School in 1970, he went on to pitch for the Cardinals, Indians, Phillies and Reds, sprinkling in outstanding seasons with those limited by injury over his 13-year major-league career.
Denny ascended quickly in pro baseball after the Cardinals made him a 29th-round pick in the 1970 draft. But even during his first full season with the Cardinals in 1975, injuries started to affect him: He suffered torn ankle ligaments when he was 9-2 in midseason, then tried to pitch through it but finished 10-7. Four years later, he had corrective surgery.
He pitched despite a hamstring injury with St. Louis in 1977, a dead arm in 1980 and a shoulder injury in 1982, both with Cleveland, and a radial nerve injury with Philadelphia in 1984.
"When I look back, it seems like there was always something that kept me from shining like I really could have," Denny told the Star in 2004.
In 1983, he also had a broken attitude. During a 10-game stretch before the All-Star break, Denny posted a 2.80 ERA but had just a 2-3 record. He boiled over in frustration. After one start, having pitched well again without a win to show for it, Denny said he bolted out of the clubhouse - and was sternly chided the next day by pitching coach Claude Osteen and third-base coach Dave Bristol for putting himself above the team.
Over the All-Star break, Denny reflected on their words.
"I can't thank them enough for what they did for me as a pitcher and a man," Denny told Phillies.com in April. "They really got me back on track."
After he was through pitching, racking up a 123-108 career record with a 3.59 ERA, Denny fittingly made a career working with players who went through the kind of injuries he did. He moved to Tucson in 1990 and worked as a rehab coach with the Diamondbacks at Kino Stadium in the early 2000s.
Meanwhile, his son, John, graduated from Cholla High School in 1998 and spent three seasons (one as a redshirt) with the UA football team and one season with the UA baseball team before playing baseball in the Seattle Mariners system. The younger John now runs a baseball instructional facility in Central Florida, where the elder John lives today.
By the numbers
Earned runs Denny allowed over his final six starts of 1983, when the Phillies clinched the NL East and later won the NL pennant.
On StarNet: See the archive of Sports Centennial articles at: azstarnet.com/sportscentennial