Early Wynn, 79, the beefy, right-handed power pitcher who won 300 games and spent 23 years in the American League, including eight with the Washington Senators, and who was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972, died April 4 at a nursing home in Venice, Fla., after a stroke. He also had a heart ailment.
In addition to his years with the mostly lowly Senators, from 1939 through 1948 (including time away for military service), he pitched for the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago White Sox before retiring in 1963. Those years included 1954, when he posted a 23-11 record with the pennant-winning Indians, and 1959, when he went 22-10 and won the Cy Young Award with the pennant-winning White Sox.
During his career, Mr. Wynn, 300-244, struck out 2,334 batters, had an earned run average of 3.54 and completed 290 of the 612 games he started. He led the league twice in both walks and strikeouts, won 20 or more games five times and was elected to the American League All Star Team every year from 1955 through 1960.
Mr. Wynn could win not only with his pitching and his exceptional fielding, but also with his bat. In the league's pre-designated-hitter days, the switch-hitting hurler hit over .270 four times, including 1946, when he hit .319 for the Senators. He also made 90 appearances as a pinch-hitter, and he once hit a pinch-hit, grand slam home run.
When they faced Early Wynn, opposing teams did not fear his arm, glove or bat nearly as much as they feared his inner rage as a true mound warrior. While pitchers are usually cautioned to "keep the pitch low," Mr. Wynn made a career out of pitching hard, high and--especially--inside. Not only was he unafraid to "come inside" on a batter, he lived "inside."
His willingness to back hitters off the plate--or even to send them spinning to the dirt--stemmed from his oft-quoted maxims that "a pitcher has to look at the hitter as his mortal enemy" and that the "space between the white lines--that's my office. That's where I conduct my business."
Over the years, it seemed that every sports reporter in America asked "Gus" what he would do if his mother or grandmother were batting against him and either dug in or crowed the plate. Mr. Wynn, a good-humored prankster off the field who weighed in at as much as 230 pounds during his pitching days, would reply variously that he would knock her down or he would only hit her if the game was on the line. At any rate, the old lady was not going to make it to first.
Mr. Wynn looked like nothing so much as an angry bear on the mound. He could throw a curve, a slider, a change-up and even a knuckler, but his bread-and-butter pitch was that big fastball. Thrown with the same motion as his other pitches, it took often took batters by surprise as it came zipping toward them.
The late, great Yankee center fielder, Mickey Mantle, once told a reporter that Mr. Wynn could become so angry that he would throw at batters still in the dugout. The former Boston Red Sox immortal Ted Williams once declined to go fishing with Mr. Wynn in the Everglades, claiming that he feared for his life.
Mr. Wynn once faced a former roommate who got four hits the first time they met as opponents. The fifth time up, the former roommate was knocked down.
Mr. Wynn was born in Hartford, Ala., where he grew up lifting 500-pound bales of cotton after school for a dime an hour. To escape this life, he showed up at a Washington Senators tryout camp when he was a 17-year-old high school junior. The Senators saw his fastball, and Mr. Wynn never looked back.
He spent three years in the Senators' farm system, never finishing high school and living on his fastball. When he arrived in Washington in 1939, he continued to rely on the fastball, gaining a reputation as a pitcher who was not entirely in control of his pitch location and one who loved pitching inside. After compiling a record of 72-87 with the Senators, he was traded to Cleveland in December 1948.
In Cleveland, he came under the instruction of pitching coach Mel Harder, who taught him an array of breaking pitches. Mr. Wynn not only had four 20-win seasons before joining the White Sox in 1958 but also was a member of one of the greatest pitching rotations in the game's history.
In addition to Wynn, Mike Garcia, Bob Lemon, Bob Feller and Herb Score also had 20-win seasons one or more times in the 1950s.
In 1951, the Tribe boasted three 20-game winners, with Mr. Wynn and Garcia winning 20 and Bob Feller notching 22 victories.
The following year, Mr. Wynn won 23 games and Lemon and Garcia each won 22. It was not until 1954, when Mr. Wynn and Lemon both won 23 games, that the Indians, with 111 wins, managed to take a pennant from the New York Yankees, the 1950s American League powerhouse. The Indians lost the World Series in four games to the New York Giants.
Traded to Chicago in 1957, Mr. Wynn led the Go-Go White Sox, which took his pitching, a good bullpen, a great defense and almost no hitting to its only World Series since 1919. Mr. Wynn won the first game of the World Series, which the Los Angeles Dodgers took in six games.
But in 1962, after going 7-15, he was released by the Sox, a game short of 300 victories.
The following year, the 43-year-old pitcher, nearly crippled with gout, returned to the Indians. He made five starts, and went 0-2 before starting a game July 13 against the Kansas City Athletics. He went five innings, was pulled for a pinch hitter while nursing a one-run lead and watched his team hold on to secure his 300th victory.
Mr. Wynn was relieved by Jerry Walker, who threw four innings of shutout ball. Later that night, Mr. Wynn threw a huge party for the team, and Walker was the guest of honor.
After securing No. 300, Mr. Wynn ended his playing days. He later served stints as a pitching coach with the Indians, a pitching coach and a minor league manager with the Minnesota Twins and a broadcaster with the White Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays.
His wife of 50 years, Lorraine, died in 1994. Survivors include two children, a half sister and three grandchildren.
CAPTION: Early Wynn pitched for the Senators in the '40s, then for the Indians and the White Sox. (1964 PHOTO)