Top 100 Cleveland Indians: #12 Early Wynn

Early Wynn - Bowman 1953 Baseball Card

Today he's most known for saying that he'd throw at his mother if she were crowding the plate, but there was much more to Early Wynn than just a quote.

Early Wynn (Gus)

Starting Pitcher, 1949-1957, 1963

Height: 6'0" Weight: 190 lbs

Throws: Right Bats: Both

How Acquired (1): Trade, December 14, 1948: Traded with Mickey Vernon by the Washington Senators for Joe Haynes, Ed Klieman and Eddie Robinson

Left Via (1): Trade, December 4, 1957: Traded with Al Smith to the Chicago White Sox for Fred Hatfield and Minnie Minoso

How Acquired (2): Free Agency, July 21, 1963

Left Via (2): Released, October 14, 1963

The Thrower

Born in southeastern Alabama in 1920 (just months before fellow Alabaman Joe Sewell made his celebrated debut), Early Wynn was the son of former semipro baseball player, also named Early. Early Jr. played both football and baseball in high school, but was forced to concentrate on baseball after breaking his leg. He attended a Washington Senators tryout as a 17-year-old, impressed scouts enough to get a contract, and quit school to become a ballplayer.

Wynn played all of 1938 and most of 1939 in the minors, but got a brief opportunity with the big league club in September. He made his debut on September 13th, starting the second game of a doubleheader against the Chicago White Sox. He allowed three runs on six hits (with five walks) in eight innings, losing his major-league debut. His second start would be against the Cleveland Indians, and although the Senators would eventually win the game, he received only a no-decision. He would finish the 1939 season with 5.75 ERA and without a win.

Early played with the Charlotte Hornets of the Piedmont League in parts of three seasons (1938-1940). The statistical records are rather spotty, but although he pitched a lot of innings, he wasn't dominating minor-league hitters. He was known as a pitcher with a great fastball, but wasn't successful because that's all he threw. Perhaps if Wynn had come up in the 80s or 90s he would have been funneled into the bullpen as a late-inning reliever, but even with his limited arsenal he was able at times to be very successful in the starting rotation. In 1943, as a 23-year-old, he threw 256.2 innings (33 starts) and posted a 2.91 ERA (110 ERA+). However, by that time, MLB was missing a large chunk of the best players in the game because a lot of them were in the armed forces.

Wynn entered the US Army after the 1944 season. He would serve in the Tank Corp in the Philippines through the end of World War II, returning to the Senators in the middle of the 1946 season. He returned to a Senators club that was surprisingly competitive given their recent history (since Wynn's rookie season, they had finished in the second division five times in seven seasons). Mickey Vernon was having a breakout season, and the pitching staff was lead by 30-somethings Mickey Haefner and Bobo Newsom. The Senators would finish 76-78, good for fourth in the American League, that record being a mark that wouldn't be surpassed until the club moved to Minnesota after the 1960 season.

Veeck's Creativity

Wynn continued to toil away for the sinking Senators in 1947, a mediocre pitcher on a rather awful team. In 1948 came his worst season, in which he posted a 74 ERA+ for a club that finished 56-97, 40 games behind the Cleveland Indians. Well, as turned out, Wynn was one of Bill Veeck's targets going into the 1948 (Veeck saw Wynn's potential, thinking that pitching coach Mel Harder could teach him a curveball). But Washington owner Clark Griffith would not part with Wynn, no matter what Veeck offered.

So after the 1948 season, Veeck got creative. Griffith's son-in-law, Joe Haynes, was then pitching for the Chicago White Sox. Haynes had pitched well the last couple of seasons, but had recently come down with a "sore arm," which could have meant anything an elbow strain to bone spurs to a shoulder problem. So when Veeck called up Frank Lane to acquire Haynes, Lane jumped at the chance to off-load him.

Griffith and Lane were mortal enemies. The thought of his daughter's husband playing for Veeck terrified the Washington owner, and that's exactly what Veeck counted on. I'll let Veeck continued the story:

"To put it in the most delicate way, I had Joe Haynes stashed in an abandoned mine shack and I was holding him for ransom. Griffith, I knew, wouldn't be able to stand the thought of having any son-in-law of his playing for that goofball in Cleveland."

Veeck as in Wreck, page 138

That got Griffith to the negotiating table, and after some give and take, the two sides agreed to a deal in which Wynn and Mickey Vernon would be dealt to Cleveland for Haynes, Ed Kleiman, and Eddie Robinson.* Veeck finally had his man, and immediately had Harder teach him how to throw an effective curve and slider (and later, a knuckleball). It took part of the 1949 season for him to get comfortable with the off-speed pitches, but once it clicked Wynn would become one of the best pitchers in the game.

One of Four

Now with a full arsenal of pitches at his command, the 29-year-old dominated the American League in 1950, leading the league in ERA. And Wynn wasn't the only Cleveland pitcher to have a successful season. 1950 was the year that the Big Four (Bob Lemon, Bob Feller, Wynn, and Mike Garcia) was really at the top of their game. The Indians led the league in ERA, but they finished six games behind the Yankees in an extremely competitive American League. Those four pitchers would form the backbone of the winningest stretch in franchise history: from 1950-1955, the Indians would win at least 92 games each season. Of course, all those victories didn't translate into a World Series championship, as the Indians finished behind the New York Yankees in all but one of those seasons, and in their one World Series appearance they were swept by the New York Giants in four games.

Wynn's competitiveness on the mound was legendary. A great teammate off the field, Wynn had a completely different personality while on the mound. If a batter hit a line drive off him early in a game, Wynn in subsequent at-bats would throw inside on him, trying to get him from crowding the plate. Even when throwing batting practice he'd brush a hitter off the plate if they started to hit the ball hard. In 1956, when asked about the suggestion that he'd throw at his own mother, he answered "I would if she were crowding the plate."

In 1957 Wynn had a down season, throwing 263 innings but posting a 4.31 ERA (87 ERA+). The Big Four was quickly being broken up, with Feller retiring after the 1957 and Lemon seemingly on his last legs. And it looked like Wynn's best days were behind him as well. New GM Frank Lane, who never saw a trade he didn't like, dealt Wynn with Al Smith to the Chicago White Sox (where Al Lopez had landed) for Fred Hatfield and Minnie Minoso.

A Great Twilight

Wynn was far from being done. In 1959 he was one of the key reasons the White Sox held off the Indians to win the pennant. In the process Wynn won the Cy Young Award (which was at that time given to the best MLB pitcher...later it would be given to the best pitcher in each league) and would pitch in three of the six World Series games. The White Sox would lose to the Dodgers in six games.

Early was still effective in 1960, and he vowed he wouldn't retire until notching his 300th victory. After 1960, Wynn had 284 victories, and given how well he'd pitched in recent years, that seemed a goal that was reachable in perhaps a season of two. But his decade-long battle with gout (it had started in 1950) was taking its toll, and after the 1962 season, the White Sox released him, just one victory short of his goal.

He was invited back to Chicago's spring training in 1963, but failed to make the club. He returned home, hoping for a call from another club. He had some offers, but they were one-game deals designed to capitalize on his search for win number 300. Finally, in June, his old club offered him a deal for the remainder of the season. Now a knuckleball pitcher, Wynn failed to get the win in his first three starts, but finally, on July 13, he left with the lead after five innings and Jerry Walker held the Kansas City Athletics scoreless the rest of way. Wynn became the first (and so far, only) pitched to win his 300th game as a member of the Indians.

Wynn would finished the season pitching mainly out of the bullpen, and would retire at the end of the season. In 1964 he replaced his mentor Mel Harder as the team's pitching coach, and would help mold what was hoped to be the next generation of dominant Indians pitchers (including Sam McDowell, Luis Tiant, and Sonny Siebert). But it didn't work out, and Wynn moved to Minnesota (another of his old teams, though now in a different city) in 1967. He would later move to the broadcast booth, first with the Toronto Blue Jays (1977-1980) and later the Chicago White Sox (1982-1983). He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1972, his second fourth year on the ballot, and he made his dissatisfaction about that known his induction speech that summer in an interview after being voted in.

In 1983 Wynn retired from baseball to his home in Florida. He died in 1999.

*A bit of trvia: Robinson, who is still alive at age 93, played for seven out of the eight original AL franchises (Cleveland, Washington, Chicago, Philadelphia/Kansas City, New York, Detroit, and Baltimore/St. Louis), and didn't play for a single NL club.

Sources

Fleitz, David. "Early Wynn" SABR Baseball Biography Project

Veeck, Bill. Veeck as in Wreck

Baseball-Reference.com

Indians Career Stats

Year Age Tm ERA GS GF CG SHO IP H ER HR BB SO HBP ERA+ H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
1949 29 CLE 4.15 23 2 6 0 164.2 186 76 8 57 62 1 96 10.2 0.4 3.1 3.4 1.09
1950 30 CLE 3.20 28 4 14 2 213.2 166 76 20 101 143 4 135 7.0 0.8 4.3 6.0 1.42
1951 31 CLE 3.02 34 3 21 3 274.1 227 92 18 107 133 3 126 7.4 0.6 3.5 4.4 1.24
1952 32 CLE 2.90 33 9 19 4 285.2 239 92 23 132 153 1 116 7.5 0.7 4.2 4.8 1.16
1953 33 CLE 3.93 34 2 16 1 251.2 234 110 19 107 138 4 95 8.4 0.7 3.8 4.9 1.29
1954 34 CLE 2.73 36 4 20 3 270.2 225 82 21 83 155 0 135 7.5 0.7 2.8 5.2 1.87
1955 35 CLE 2.82 31 1 16 6 230.0 207 72 19 80 122 3 142 8.1 0.7 3.1 4.8 1.53
1956 36 CLE 2.72 35 2 18 4 277.2 233 84 19 91 158 5 154 7.6 0.6 2.9 5.1 1.74
1957 37 CLE 4.31 37 2 13 1 263.0 270 126 32 104 184 5 87 9.2 1.1 3.6 6.3 1.77
1963 43 CLE 2.28 5 7 1 0 55.1 50 14 2 15 29 0 161 8.1 0.3 2.4 4.7 1.93
CLE (10 yrs) 3.24 296 36 144 24 2286.2 2037 824 181 877 1277 26 119 8.0 0.7 3.5 5.0 1.46
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/20/2014.

Selected Awards/Leaders

  • Hall of Fame: 1972
  • AL All-Star: 1955, 1956, 1957
  • AL MVP: 5th, 1952; 6th, 1954; 13th, 1956; 16th, 1951; 20th, 1955
  • AL WAR: 2nd, 1956-8.3; 5th, 1951-5.7; 5th, 1955-6.1; 7th, 1954-5.4
  • AL WAR Pitchers: 1st, 1956-7.8; 2nd, 1951-5.4; 2nd, 1954-5.2; 2nd, 1955-6.1; 8th, 1950-3.6; 10th, 1952-3.5
  • AL ERA: 1st, 1950-3.20; 3rd, 1951-3.02; 3rd, 1955-2.82; 3rd, 1956-2.72; 4th, 1954-2.73; 10th, 1952-2.90
  • AL Wins: 1st, 1954-23; 2nd, 1952-23; 2nd, 1956-20; 4th, 1950-18; 4th, 1951-20; 4th, 1955-17; 7th, 1957-14; 9th, 1953-17
  • AL W/L Percentage: 2nd, 1956-.690; 3rd, 1950-.692; 6th, 1952-.657; 10th, 1951-.606; 10th, 1954-.676; 10th, 1955-.607
  • AL WHIP: 1st, 1950-1.250; 2nd, 1956-1.167;3rd, 1951-1.217; 3rd, 1954-1.138; 6th, 1955-1.248
  • AL Hits/9 IP: 1st, 1950-6.992; 3rd, 1951-7.447; 3rd, 1954-7.482; 6th, 1952-7.530; 7th, 1956-7.552; 10th, 1953-8.368; 10th, 1955-8.100
  • AL Bases on Balls/9IP: 4th, 1956-2.950; 5th, 1949-3.115; 7th, 1954-2.760; 9th, 1955-3.130
  • AL Strikeouts/9 IP: 1st, 1950-6.023; 3rd, 1957-6.297; 6th, 1951-4.363; 6th, 1953-4.935; 8th, 1955-4.774; 9th, 1954-5.154; 10th, 1952-4.820
  • AL Games Played: 5th, 1952-42
  • AL Innings: 1st, 1951-274.1; 1st, 1954-270.2; 2nd, 1956-277.2; 2nd, 1957-263.0; 6th, 1953-251.2; 7th, 1955-230.0
  • AL Strikeouts: 1st, 1957-184; 2nd, 1951-133; 2nd, 1952-153; 2nd, 1954-155; 3rd, 1953-138; 4th, 1950-143; 7th, 1955-122; 7th, 1956-158
  • AL Games Started: 1st, 1951-34; 1st, 1954-36; 1st, 1957-37; 2nd, 1956-35; 3rd, 1952-33; 4th, 1953-34; 6th, 1955-31
  • AL Complete Games: 2nd, 1951-21; 3rd, 1954-20; 3rd, 1955-16; 4th, 1952-19; 4th, 1956-18; 6th, 1953-16; 7th, 1957-13
  • AL Shutouts: 2nd, 1955-6; 2nd, 1956-4; 5th, 1951-3; 5th, 1952-4; 7th, 1950-2; 10th, 1954-3
  • AL Home Runs: 1st, 1952-23; 3rd, 1957-32; 5th, 1954-21; 6th, 1953-19; 8th, 1951-18; 9th, 1950-20; 10th, 1955-19
  • AL Bases on Balls: 1st, 1952-132; 2nd, 1957-104; 4th, 1951-107; 6th, 1953-107
  • AL Hits: 1st, 1957-270; 3rd, 1953-239; 5th, 1953-234; 5th, 1954-225; 6th, 1955-207; 7th, 1956-233; 8th, 1951-227
  • AL Strikeouts/Bases on Balls: 2nd, 1950-1.416; 3rd, 1954-1.868; 7th, 1949-1.088; 7th, 1955-1.525; 8th, 1956-1.736; 9th, 1951-1.243
  • AL Home Runs/9 IP: 5th, 1949-0.437; 8th, 1956-0.616; 10th, 1951-0.591
  • AL Losses: 2nd, 1957-17; 7th, 1951-13; 9th, 1953-12
  • AL Earned Runs: 1st, 1957-126; 2nd, 1953-110; 7th, 1952-92; 8th, 1951-92
  • AL Wild Pitches: 4th, 1952-5
  • AL Adjusted Era+: 3rd, 1950-135; 3rd, 1956-154; 4th, 1955-142; 5th, 1954-135; 6th, 1951-126
  • AL Win Probability Added: 2nd, 1954-4.9; 2nd, 1956-5.1; 4th, 1951-3.6; 5th, 1950-2.7; 5th, 1955-3.3
  • AL Putouts as P: 4th, 1959-16; 5th, 1954-17
  • AL Assists as P: 4th, 1956-48; 5th, 1952-46
  • AL Errors as P: 2nd, 1952-4
  • AL Range Factor/Game as P: 5th, 1949-1.81; 5th, 1956-1.66
  • AL Fielding Percentage as P: 1st, 1949-1.000; 1st, 1953-1.000; 1st, 1957-1.000; 3rd, 1951-.982

Cleveland Indians Career Leader

  • 7th WAR Pitchers (35.8)
  • t-30th ERA (3.24)
  • 5th Wins (164)
  • 14th W/L Percentage (.617)
  • t-28th WHIP (1.274)
  • 18th Hits/9 IP (8.017)
  • 35th Strikeouts/9 IP (5.026)
  • 12th Games Played (343)
  • 7th Innings Pitched (2286.2)
  • t-3rd Strikeouts (1277)
  • 7th Games Started (296)
  • 8th Complete Games (144)
  • 7th Shutouts (24)
  • 3rd Home Runs (181)
  • 5th Bases on Balls (877)
  • 9th Hits (2037)
  • 46th Strikeouts/Bases on Balls (1.456)
  • 50th Home Runs/9 IP (0.712)
  • 9th Losses (102)
  • 7th Earned Runs (824)
  • t-48th Wild Pitches (21)
  • t-30th Hit By Pitch (26)
  • t-13th ERA+ (119)
  • t-3rd WPA (19.4)

Cleveland Indians Season Leader

  • 20th WAR Pitchers (7.8, 1956)
  • t-42nd WAR Pitchers (6.1, 1955)
  • t-14th Wins (23, 1952, 1954)
  • t-39th Wins (20, 1951, 1956)
  • 34th Hits/9 IP (6.992, 1950)
  • t-36th Innings Pitched (285.2, 1952)
  • t-47th Innings Pitched (277.2, 1956)
  • t-33rd Strikeouts (184, 1957)
  • t-16th Games Started (37, 1957)
  • t-28th Games Started (36, 1954)
  • t-40th Games Started (35, 1956)
  • t-11th Shutouts (6, 1955)
  • t-38th Shutouts (4, 1952, 1956)
  • t-6th Home Runs (32, 1957)
  • t-10th Bases on Balls (132, 1952)
  • t-39th Bases on Balls (107, 1951, 1953)
  • t-48th Bases on Balls (104, 1957)
  • 42nd Hits (270, 1957)
  • t-10th Losses (17, 1957)
  • t-9th Earned Runs (126, 1957)
  • t-40th Earned Runs (110, 1953)
  • t-29th ERA+ (154, 1956)
  • 11th WPA (5.1, 1956)
  • t-12th WPA (4.9, 1954)
  • 31st WPA (3.6, 1951)
  • t-39th WPA (3.3, 1955)

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