Regular contributor Joe Guzzardi recently began penning Double the fun, which looks at a famous doubleheader every Saturday. Today, Joe examines when a pitcher reached a career milestone during a sparsely-attended doubleheader.
Even though the teams were well on their way to disappointing seasons (both would end the year under .500 with the Indians in fifth place and the Athletics in eighth), the sparse crowd should have been larger because Wynn was seeking his 300th win.
Normally, when a pitcher goes after his milestone 300th victory, it’s a hyped up event. With Athletics’ attendance in the tank, as usual, owner Charlie Finley hoped for a better turn out. Fans generally want to be part of baseball history.
One variable, however, was beyond Finley’s control. Wynn was making his eighth attempt to rack up number 300. On September 8, 1962 while pitching for the Chicago White Sox, Wynn registered his 299th but failed in his three next starts. When the season ended, the White Sox released Wynn.
No team signed Wynn until his former Indians inked him for his 23rd major league season on May 31st, 1963. Five more failed efforts immediately followed.
When manager Birdie Tebbetts tapped a determined Wynn for the nightcap, he was 43 and plagued by chronic gout.
Watching anxiously from the dugout, Wynn saw his Indians lose the opener 6-5. The Athletics, led by the usual assortment of New York Yankee cast offs including Jerry Lumpe and Norm Seiburn, scored four runs in the first and two more in the eighth to lock up the win.
Then Wynn’s turn came. By all accounts including Wynn’s, it was ugly. Pitching the minimum five innings required for a victory, Wynn struggled before leaving the game with a slim 5-4 lead. In the bottom of the fourth, the A’s tagged Wynn for three runs on four hits: three singles by Jose Tartabull, Gino Cimoli, Ken Harrelson and a Lumpe double.
Relief pitcher Jerry Walker saved Wynn’s day when he tossed four shut-out innings and gave up only three hits.
Wynn’s line: 5 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 3 BB, 3 SO
After the game, Wynn said he was glad to be pulled because “I might have fallen on my face. I was exhausted.”
Wynn’s career topped out with 300 wins. A week later, pitching in relief, Wynn was charged with his final defeat to close out his playing days with a 300-244 record and a 3.54 ERA.
In 1972, the Hall of Fame elected Wynn on his fourth ballot in large part because of his dominant days during his first Indian tour.
Originally signed by the Washington Senators when he was 17, Wynn went to the Indians in a 1948 trade along with first baseman Mickey Vernon. By 1954, Wynn was part of one of the most effective pitching staffs in history that recorded 111 regular season Indians’ wins: Bob Lemon, Mike Garcia, Bob Feller, Art Houtteman and in the bull pen, Don Mossi and Ray Narleski.
That year, Wynn led the league with 36 starts and 271 innings pitched and tied Lemon with 23 victories. In the World Series’ second game, Wynn pitched effectively and allowed the New York Giants only four hits over seven innings. Unfortunately, one of them was a two-run homer hit by pinch hitter Dusty Rhodes.
Traded to the Chicago White Sox at age of 39, Wynn led the 1959 “Go Go Sox” Sox with a league-leading 22 wins, 37 starts and 255 innings. His performance earned Wynn the Cy Young Award and third place Most Valuable Player finish behind teammates Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio.
By the end of the 1950s, Wynn had more strike outs (1,544) than any other major league pitcher in the decade.
Because of his competitiveness and notorious willingness to throw his blazing fastball high and tight even to, as Wynn liked to say:“his mother,” Sox manager Al Lopez summed Wynn’s importance: “If there was one game I absolutely had to win, Early would be my pitcher.”
Wynn also was a skilled batsman. A dangerous switch hitter, Wynn hit better than .270 five times with 17 home runs and 173 RBIs. Mangers often summoned Wynn to pinch hit. Once, Wynn delivered a grand slam.
Post-career, Wynn coached the Minnesota Twins and broadcast for the Toronto Blue Jays and the White Sox. In 1999 after suffering a stroke, Wynn died in Florida.
Joe Guzzardi belongs to the Society for American Baseball, as well as the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org