Herb Score, now a television announcer in Cleveland, had tools like McDowell's in 1957, when he was Sam's age. He had been a 20-game winner, and there is no telling what he might have done with his left arm if he had not stopped a line drive with his right eye on May 7 of that year. When it comes to soft pitches by hard throwers, he is a very skeptical man.
"A change can be an effective pitch," Score says, "but only to a good hitter, to get his timing off. A bad hitter can't hit a good fast ball. Throw him a change and you do him a favor."
Score still remembers a favor he did a batter in an exhibition game in one of his early years, when Al Lopez managed Cleveland. "Al ran out to the mound," Herb recalls. "He said the next time I threw a change he'd be out there before the ball reached the plate. 'When you can get the fast ball and the curve over the plate every time,' he said, 'I'll let you fool around with a change.'
"We never got around to it," Score said with a shrug. "I pitched 10 years, and I never got that good."
"You don't see me throw the change to many .200 hitters," McDowell says. "But it depends on the hitter. Some guys just can't hit a change." As usual, Sam has a point. Dusty Rhodes, wherever he is tending bar, would agree. "If I went to play in a league at the North Pole," Dusty once said, "some Eskimo would throw me the change and he would get me out."
McDowell declared his independence in April 1964, when the Indians gave him his third straight ticket to the minors. He was 21, the father of a child, and did not see what they could preach in Portland, Ore. that he could not practice in Cleveland. Tebbetts thinks McDowell may have been overcoached in his first three years; Sam thinks that is an understatement. "They told me when to sneeze," he says. "They said all I had to do was get the ball over the plate, anywhere. That's not pitching. You better believe I was teed off when they sent me out again, and I decided I'd pitch my way.
"Johnny Lipon was managing Portland, and he just gave me the ball. 'I don't care what anybody says,' he told me. 'You don't have a control problem.' After a game he'd discuss the pitches with me and tell me where he thought I was wrong, but he never told me what to throw."
Those postgame discussions were brief. In nine games McDowell's ERA was 1.18. He struck out 102 batters and walked only 24 in 76 innings. He won all eight decisions, one a no-hitter. "I don't see why everybody gets so excited about no-hitters," says Sam, who pitched a one-hitter last year and has had two this year, one after the other. "I never saw one that wasn't lucky."
In mid-1964 Sam came back to Cleveland to stay. He went 11-6, with 177 strikeouts in 173 innings and a 2.71 ERA. "He was a pitcher when he came back," Tebbetts says, "and I don't see why everybody was so concerned about him. He was sent out three times, which is normal procedure. If he weren't so big, and if he hadn't got the bonus, who would have noticed?"
Nobody, because without the $62,000 bonus ("a house for my parents, a car for me and that was it") Sam would not have been there. His father, Tom, was a Pitt football player of some renown who had begun dental school but never finished, because World War II and a few other responsibilities interfered. The urge to "make something of yourself" was something his father brought home from the steel mill every day, so it did not occur to Sam to play hooky from school. But by the time he was 15 he was playing hooky from baseball.