Early Wynn

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Early Wynn
Early Wynn 1960.png
Wynn in 1960.
Pitcher
Born: (1920-01-06)January 6, 1920
Hartford, Alabama
Died: April 4, 1999(1999-04-04) (aged 79)
Venice, Florida
Batted: Switch Threw: Right
MLB debut
September 13, 1939 for the Washington Senators
Last MLB appearance
September 13, 1963 for the Cleveland Indians
Career statistics
Win–loss record 300–244
Earned run average 3.54
Strikeouts 2,334
Teams
Career highlights and awards
Induction 1972
Vote 76% (fourth ballot)

Early Wynn Jr. (January 6, 1920 – April 4, 1999), nicknamed "Gus", was a right-handed pitcher in Major League Baseball (MLB). During a 25-year baseball career, he pitched for the Washington Senators, Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox. Armed with a powerful fastball and a hard-nosed attitude, he was identified as one of the most intimidating pitchers in the game.

Wynn was born in Alabama and signed with the Senators at the age of 17, deciding to pursue baseball instead of finishing high school. Wynn spent a couple of seasons in the minor leagues, had a brief MLB stint in 1939, returned to the majors in 1941 and pitched his first full MLB season in 1942. He missed the 1945 season and a portion of the next season while serving in the military during World War II.

Along with Bob Feller, Bob Lemon and Mike Garcia, Wynn was a member of one of baseball's best pitching rotations while with the Indians in the mid-1950s. He won the 1959 Cy Young Award, beginning to rely on the knuckleball as the velocity of his pitches declined. Wynn retired in 1963. He finished with exactly 300 career wins; he had spent several months in pursuit of his 300th win.

Wynn served as a coach and broadcaster in the major leagues after his retirement as a player. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972. He was included on the 1999 The Sporting News list of the 100 greatest players in baseball history. He died that year in an assisted living facility following a stroke.

Early life[edit]

Wynn was born in Hartford, Alabama, the son of Blanche Wynn and Early Wynn Sr., an automobile mechanic and former semipro baseball player. He excelled at both football and baseball in high school. As a sophomore, Wynn was about to become the top running back at his school when he suffered a broken leg on a punt return. The injury forced him out of football and focused his attention on baseball. Wynn later described it as "my best break ever."[1]

As a high school junior, Wynn attended a tryout session for the Washington Senators. At the age of 17, he signed with Washington for $100 per month and decided not to finish high school.[2] Between 1937 and 1939, Wynn pitched minor league baseball in the Florida State League and the Piedmont League.[3]

MLB career[edit]

Early career[edit]

Wynn made his MLB debut in 1939, but he appeared in only three games before returning to the minor leagues for 1940. He made it back to the major leagues in 1941, starting five games, completing four of them and finishing with a 3-1 win-loss record. Wynn pitched 30 games in 1942, finishing with a 10-16 record and a 5.12 earned run average (ERA). The next season, in 37 games, he finished 18-12 with a 2.91 ERA. He led the league in losses in 1944, earning an 8-17 record.[4]

Wynn joined the military in 1944, going to the Philippines to serve in World War II.[3] Though he missed the 1945 major league season, Wynn played with a Pacific Army team known as the Manila Dodgers. He returned to the United States in June 1946 and rejoined the Senators.[5] In 17 games that year, he finished with an 8-5 record. He pitched 33 games the next year and earned a decision in almost every game, earning 17 wins and 15 losses. In 1948, Wynn struggled to an 8-19 record with a 5.82 ERA, giving up a league-high 128 earned runs.[4]

In a December 1948 trade, Wynn and Mickey Vernon were sent to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for Joe Haynes, Ed Klieman and Eddie Robinson.[4] A month earlier, the Boston Red Sox had offered Johnny Pesky to Washington for Wynn, but the trade did not go through.[6] The Indians' pitching coach and former star pitcher Mel Harder taught him how to throw a curveball, slider, changeup and knuckleball. Wynn assimilated Harder's lessons easily, and after his 1949 season adjustment, the next year he recorded 18 wins and led the AL with a 3.20 ERA.

Middle career[edit]

Wynn in about 1953.

Between 1950 and 1956, Wynn won at least 17 games per season. His first 20-win season came in 1951.[4] By that time he had become part of one of the greatest pitching rotations in major league history, joining Bob Feller, Bob Lemon and Mike Garcia. Manager Al Lopez later called those four pitchers "the greatest pitching staff I ever saw during 33 years in the majors."[7] In 1954, Wynn posted a 2.73 ERA, won 23 games and struck out 155 batters. The team went to the 1954 World Series; Wynn pitched one game and the Indians were defeated by the New York Giants in four straight games.[8]

In a 1956 game, he was struck in the face by a line drive hit by Jose Valdivielso. He did not leave the game immediately, later realizing that he had lost seven teeth. The facial wound required 16 stitches.[9] In 1957, Wynn became the second pitcher in major league history to win a game by a score of 1-0 while recording at least ten strikeouts and hitting a home run.[10] Wynn was traded to the White Sox after the 1957 season. He and Al Smith were exchanged for Minnie Minoso and Fred Hatfield.[4]

In 1958 Wynn became the first major league pitcher to lead his league in strikeouts in consecutive years with different teams (184 with Cleveland, 189 with Chicago), and he won the Cy Young Award in 1959 at the age of 39, posting a record of 22–10, with 179 strikeouts and a 3.16 ERA to lead the Sox to the pennant. He was the third oldest MLB pitcher to win 20 games in a season, following Cy Young and Grover Cleveland Alexander.[11]

In 1959, Wynn began throwing a knuckleball after his fastball began to lose velocity. "For years they've been accusing me of throwing it when I didn't even know how to hold it... I can't throw as hard as I did six, seven years ago. And I get tired quicker. I find that you can throw the knuckler with a little more effort and no strain," Wynn said.[12] In this decade Wynn had more strikeouts (1,544) than any other pitcher in the majors, and he was capable with the bat as well. A switch hitter, Wynn batted .214 (365 for 1704), with 17 home runs and 173 RBI.[4] His 90 pinch-hit appearances included a grand slam, making him one of five MLB pitchers to record a grand slam as a pinch-hitter.

Later career[edit]

In 1960, Wynn was selected to his sixth consecutive All-Star Game. He finished the season 13-12. In 1961, he was 8-2 but his season ended in July because of gout that caused persistent pain in his arm and legs. He pitched to a 7-15 record in 1962, having shifted mostly to pitching with the slider and knuckleball. His last win of that season was his 299th career victory. Wynn had previously expressed his desire to get to 300 career wins.[3]

Wynn returned to Cleveland in 1963 for a last run. In that season, he won his 300th game, after failing to collect the milestone win in seven starts over nine months in 1962–63. Both the timeframe and the number of attempts are the longest between any pitcher's 299th and 300th wins in history. Opposing Kansas City batter Ed Charles recalled Wynn's 300th win: "His fastball, if it reached 80, that was stretching it. He was laboring, throwing nothing but bloopers and junk."[13]

Long after his retirement, which came at the end of the 1963 season, Wynn reflected on his 300th win and said that he was not proud of the milestone. "If I had pitched a good game and gone nine innings, that would be something. But that's not the way it was," Wynn said.[14] He left the game with a 5-4 lead after pitching five innings. "Jerry Walker relieved me and saved the game for me. He was my roommate and pitched like a man possessed," Wynn recalled.[14] Wynn said that he had been awake all night before the game, suffering from pain related to the gout that had long affected him.[2]

Wynn was the last active major leaguer who played in the 1930s. He became one of only 29 players in baseball history to date to have appeared in major league games in four decades. His durability helped him lead the American League in innings three times (1951, 1954, 1959) and propelled him to an AL record for most years pitched (23). Wynn won an even 300 games. He registered five 20-win seasons, 2,334 strikeouts, 290 complete games, 49 shutouts, and 4,556 innings pitched in 691 games.[4]

Coaching and broadcasting career[edit]

Wynn became the pitching coach for the Indians in 1964. Several of his players - including Sam McDowell, Sonny Siebert, Luis Tiant and Steve Hargan - were still with the team in 1967 when they set a record for team strikeouts in a season. In August 1965, Wynn flirted with the idea of making a comeback as a knuckleball pitcher.[15] Wynn left Cleveland after the 1966 season and joined the Minnesota Twins as pitching coach.[16] He later served as a minor league manager for the Twins.[9] He advocated for better pensions for retired baseball players.[17]

In 1972, the team considered activating the 52-year-old Wynn to pitch one inning if retired star Ted Williams would hit against him. The move would have made Wynn the first player to pitch in five different decades, but Williams was not interested and the team dropped the idea.[18] Wynn had first proposed the idea of a one-game comeback to the Twins in 1970.[19]

From 1977 to 1980, he provided the color commentary for radio broadcasts of Toronto Blue Jays games, working alongside Tom Cheek. He also provided color commentary for Chicago White Sox radio broadcasts in 1982 and 1983. When he was replaced by Lorn Brown in December 1983, White Sox president Eddie Einhorn described Wynn as "a link to baseball's past."[20]

Personal[edit]

Wynn married Mabel Allman in 1939. She was killed in a car accident in 1942. They had a child together and Wynn's relatives helped to raise her. He married Lorraine Follin in the fall of 1944, around the time that he joined the military.[3]

In the 1960s, the pitcher owned the Early Wynn Steak House and Bowling Lanes in Venice, Florida.[21]

Later life[edit]

Wynn was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972. He was grateful, but he expressed disappointment that he had not received the required votes on his first three ballots. Wynn was elected along with Sandy Koufax and Yogi Berra.[22] In the last years of his life, Wynn suffered a heart attack and a stroke. He moved to an assisted living facility in Venice, Florida, where he died in 1999.[23] His wife of 50 years had died five years earlier.[24]

In 1999, Wynn ranked Number 100 on The Sporting News list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players,[25] According to the Baseball-Reference.com, Wynn is the "most linkable" player in baseball history. This means that if a value of 1 is assigned to any player Wynn played on the same team with, and a value of 2 assigned to any player who played on the same team with a player with a value of 1, and so on, and the mean value is found by considering each player in baseball history, Wynn's value is lower than any other player's.

Legacy[edit]

Wynn was remembered for his toughness and for the frequency with which he threw at batters. He once stated, "I'd knock down my own grandmother if she dug in on me."[26] He also said to reporters: "Why I should worry about hitters? Do they worry about me? Do you ever find a hitter crying because he's hit a line drive through the box? My job is getting hitters out. If I don't get them out I lose. I don't like losing a game any more than a salesman likes losing a big sale. I've got a right to knock down anybody holding a bat."[27] This attitude was encouraged early in his career by manager Bucky Harris, who ordered Wynn to throw brushback pitches when he got two strikes on a batter. Otherwise he faced a $25 fine. "I was making $350 a month. I couldn't afford giving up $25," Wynn said.[2]

When he was then asked whether he would have the same opinion if the batter were his own mother, he paused and responded, "Mother was a pretty good curveball hitter."[28] In fact, when Wynn was with the Indians, he actually threw a pitch at his own 15-year-old son, Joe. Wynn was throwing pre-game batting practice to Joe, and Joe hit two long drives in a row. Ushers in the nearly empty stadium began to clap. Moments later, Joe was lying flat on his back in the batting cage, frightened by his father's knockdown pitch. Wynn said later, "He was leaning in on me, and I had to show him who was boss."[29]

Whenever an opposing batter would line one of his pitches back toward the mound, Wynn would retaliate by throwing a brushback pitch at the batter the next time the batter faced him.[30] In 1962, when Wynn was with the White Sox, he was throwing batting practice and his teammate Joe Cunningham hit a line drive that missed Wynn by inches. Wynn responded by throwing three straight pitches under his teammate's chin.[28] Whenever one of his teammates was knocked down by an opposing pitcher, Wynn would retaliate by knocking down two of the opposing pitcher's teammates.[28] According to Rod Carew, Wynn's competitiveness did not end when his playing career did. "Early would knock you down in batting practice. If you hit a ball good off of him, he'd knock you down and then challenge you. He told you to expect it when you stepped in the cage against him.[31]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Freedman, Lew (2009). Early Wynn, the Go-Go White Sox and the 1959 World Series. McFarland. p. 29. ISBN 0786455128. 
  2. ^ a b c Goldstein, Richard (April 6, 1999). "Early Wynn, Pitcher Who Won 300 Games, Dies at 79". The New York Times. Retrieved April 6, 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c d Wancho, Joseph, Huhn, Rick, Levin, Leonard, Nowlin, Bill, Johnson, Steve (eds.) (2014). Pitching to the Pennant: The 1954 Cleveland Indians. University of Nebraska Press. pp. 185–189. ISBN 0803254717. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g "Early Wynn Statistics and History". Baseball-Reference.com. Retrieved April 6, 2014. 
  5. ^ "Early Wynn hopes to join Senators". Pittsburgh Press. June 13, 1946. Retrieved April 6, 2014. 
  6. ^ Armour, Mark (2010). Joe Cronin: A Life in Baseball. University of Nebraska Press. p. 191. ISBN 0803229968. 
  7. ^ Malcolm, Andrew (December 4, 1985). "Benefit for 'Big Bear' of 50's brings bittersweet reunion". The New York Times. Retrieved April 6, 2014. 
  8. ^ "1954 World Series". Baseball-Reference.com. Retrieved April 6, 2014. 
  9. ^ a b Purdy, Dennis (2006). The Team-By-Team Encyclopedia of Major League Baseball. Workman Publishing Company. p. 360. ISBN 0761153764. 
  10. ^ http://bats.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/05/02/one-man-show/?_r=0
  11. ^ The Tuscaloosa News - Google News Archive Search
  12. ^ "Knuckle ball putting Early Wynn back in top ranking". Prescott Evening Courier. June 18, 1959. Retrieved April 6, 2014. 
  13. ^ Vecsey, George (August 5, 2007). "Sports of the Times; Chasing No. 300, Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow". The New York Times. Retrieved September 20, 2013. 
  14. ^ a b Mooshil, Joe (May 6, 1982). "Early Wynn Not Proud of 300th Win". Times-Union. Retrieved September 20, 2013. 
  15. ^ "Early Wynn May Try Comeback". Reading Eagle. August 9, 1965. Retrieved September 21, 2013. 
  16. ^ "Twins Name Early Wynn Mound Coach". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. October 16, 1966. Retrieved September 21, 2013. 
  17. ^ "Hall of Fame pitcher Early Wynn dies at 79". Los Angeles Times. April 6, 1999. Retrieved April 6, 2014. 
  18. ^ "Early Wynn Won't Pitch". Lawrence Journal-World. September 18, 1972. Retrieved September 21, 2013. 
  19. ^ "Will Early Wynn Take Hill Again?". Lawrence Journal-World. August 15, 1970. Retrieved September 21, 2013. 
  20. ^ "Chisox replace Early Wynn". Ottawa Citizen. December 5, 1983. Retrieved September 21, 2013. 
  21. ^ Breslin, James (April 5, 1963). "The old Indian's last stand". Life. Retrieved April 6, 2014. 
  22. ^ Rathet, Mike (January 20, 1972). "Sandy Koufax, Yogi Berra, Early Wynn Picked for Baseball Hall of Fame". Youngstown Vindicator. Retrieved September 20, 2013. 
  23. ^ "Hall of Famer dies at age 79". The Victoria Advocate. April 6, 1999. Retrieved September 21, 2013. 
  24. ^ "Pitcher Early Wynn Dead at 79". The Nevada Daily Mail. April 7, 1999. Retrieved September 21, 2013. 
  25. ^ "100 Greatest Baseball Players by The Sporting News : A Legendary List by Baseball Almanac.". Baseball-almanac.com. Retrieved 2013-03-27. 
  26. ^ Bruce Nash and Allan Zullo, The Baseball Hall of Shame 2, page 124 (1986).
  27. ^ Roger Kahn, Golden Triumphs, Tarnished Dreams, Sports Illustrated (August 30, 1976). Retrieved on April 17, 2012.
  28. ^ a b c Id.
  29. ^ Nash and Zullo, supra, at page 123. In Roger Kahn's version of the incident, the knockdown pitch occurred after Joe hit one long drive, and Wynn then said to his son, "You shouldn't crowd me." See Roger Kahn, Golden Triumphs, Tarnished Dreams, Sports Illustrated (August 30, 1976). Retrieved on April 17, 2012.
  30. ^ Nash and Zullo, supra, at page 123.
  31. ^ The Twins at the Met, 2009, Beaver's Pond Press, Edina, Minnesota, page 86

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