|Early Wynn, pictured with teammate Ted Kluszewski, during the 1959 World Series.|
Written by: Alex Coffey
There was no way Early Wynn would ever forget the day he won his 300th game.
“I had every intention of winning 300 long before I won 22 games in ‘59,” Wynn said. “Let’s put it this way. I’d rather play baseball than do anything else. I’m not kidding myself about the so-called immortality of being a 300-game winner. I realize you couldn’t find one person in 1,000 who could name the 13 pitchers who’ve won 300 or more games. Those guys are buried in history.”
But for Wynn, his 300th-and-final big league victory assured his place among the greatest pitchers in the game’s history.
Although Wynn -- or “Gus”, as many called him – had become the 14th pitcher to reach 300 wins that day, his landmark moment was far from a storybook outing. After giving up four runs to the Kansas City A’s, Wynn made an early exit, watching the rest of the game from the Indians' broadcast booth after his roommate, Jerry Walker, came on in the sixth inning to protect a 7-4 lead.
“If I had pitched a good game and gone nine innings, that would be something, but that’s not the way it was,” he told the Associated Press. “Jerry Walker relieved me . . . pitched like a man possessed."
A native of Hartford, Ala. who grew up working in the cotton fields before signing with the Washington Senators, Wynn quickly established a reputation as one of the toughest pitchers who ever lived. His first manager, Bucky Harris, said he would fine him $25 if he didn't knock down every hitter he got to two strikes on. Wynn, making $350 a month, didn't want to get docked a penny.
“That space between the white lines – that's my office, that's where I conduct my business,” he said of home plate. “'You take a look at the batter's box, and part of it belongs to the hitter. Nobody comes into my office without an invitation when I'm going to work.”
Indeed, Wynn approached pitching a working man's toughness and perseverance. Though he won game No. 299 late in 1962, he was hit hard in his final three starts, then pitched in hard luck for the Indians in 1963, when he actually had the lowest ERA (2.28) of any season he pitched since 1941. When he finally got to 300, in his fifth game of the year, he beat a Kansas City A's team that featured a pinch-runner named Tony LaRussa. Wynn was 43 years old – the oldest player in the big leagues.
Wynn's longevity is that much more notable, considering what he had to endure. He suffered from gout since 1950, pitching in pain for the last half of his career. Many figured he was done after the White Sox released him following a 7-15 season in 1962, before he returned to Cleveland, a city where he had played nine years and where he claimed to have “learned how to pitch” – a fitting place to end his saga.
At the time of his retirement, Wynn had pitched longer than anyone in baseball history. He finished his career with an ERA of 3.54, striking out 2,334 batters in 4,564 innings, amassing a record of 300-244.
“I was ready to give up the chase but Lefty Grove, who won 300 himself, urged me to keep trying,” Wynn told the Chicago Sun Times. “That figure 300 seems to be something special and now that I have it, it really is.”
Alex Coffey is the communications specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame