Originally Published: September 15, 2011 11:22 p.m.
PRESCOTT - In the spirit of the centennial, it is important to remember that the last 50 years of Prescott sports have been significant, including having a Cy Young Award winner help put Prescott High baseball on the map.
John Denny, a Prescott native and the 1983 Cy Young Award winner, did just that.
The righty is arguably one of the best baseball players to come out of Northern Arizona.
Denny, who played for Prescott High School, said he vividly remembers his prep sports career, as he played baseball, along with football and basketball.
"For me, playing at Prescott High School, it was really all about my coaches," Denny said. "I had really, really good coaches... They were coaches that really controlled my life to a large extent. They were my mentors so to speak and I followed everything they asked me to do."
Denny helped lead the Badgers to the quarterfinals of the state tournament his junior year.
"We were very competitive in all of our sports," he said. "We competed with the best teams in the state. We were just small town kids, who could play baseball really well."
Denny's superb play in high school caught the eye of Major League scouts.
The 6-foot-3, 190-pound righty was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 29th round of the 1970 amateur draft.
Denny, at only 17-years-old, started his professional career and it didn't come easy at first.
"A lot had to do with maturing in the game," he said. "Playing at the Major League level is a whole level separate than you would play in the minor leagues or anything in amateur baseball... Mental strength throughout the whole season is huge. Being able to compete day in and day out with that type of schedule (is grueling)."
In 1974, Denny started the season with the Class-AAA Tulsa Oilers, where he tallied a 9-8 record with a 3.75 ERA. He made his Major League debut with the Cardinals in September of that year and soon cracked the team's starting rotation.
"When you break into the game you have to go through a certain period of time to understand the game at that level and mature as a baseball player and as an individual to where you can compete consistently at a high level," he said.
Denny eventually developed into the Cardinals' top starter, and in 1976 he had a breakout year. He led the National League with a 2.92 ERA and finished with an 11-9 record.
Denny went on to have three more solid seasons before he was traded to the Cleveland Indians in 1979, where he complied a 24-23 record. The righty excelled at the end of the 1981 season, pitching three consecutive shutouts late in the year. His play earned him a sizable contract, but he was later traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1982.
"By the time I got to Philadelphia, I (had the opportunity to play and be) around some great, great ball players," he said. "There was Mike Schmidt, Lefty (Steve) Carlton, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez and with an asterisk... there was also Pete Rose. He's not in the Hall of Fame but certainly he's qualified with everything he has accomplished.
"When you play with players that have that grandeur type status at that level, it certainly brings out the best in you, and that's what that did."
Denny went on to have the best season of his career in 1983, finishing with a 19-6 record and a 2.37 ERA.
He helped lead the Phillies to the NL Championship and received 20 of 24 first place votes to win the CY Young Award.
Denny spent two more seasons with the Phillies before he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds.
The Prescott native suffered from arm injuries late in his career and retired from baseball in 1986.
After his career ended, Denny continued to stay involved with baseball and served as a rehabilitation pitching coach with the Arizona Diamondbacks for three seasons from 2001-03.
Currently, Denny, who lives in Orlando, Fla., is helping out at a youth baseball camp in Pennsylvania.
He said he hasn't been back to Prescott in some time, but would like to visit soon.
"It's been a couple of years now since I've been in Prescott, but I'm planning to get back there sometime in the near future," Denny said.