Sam liked football best, "but can you imagine a 6-foot-5, 160-pound quarterback who got creamed on every play!" Meanwhile he pitched, struck people out and had some no-hitters, and after his junior year the scouts dropped in on his father, who had been a semipro player. "The guy from Detroit guaranteed him I could make the big league," Sam says. "That summer my father had me playing in four leagues, which I did not especially like. I used to leave the house in my baseball uniform and go hang around someplace."
Sam already is planning his retreat from baseball. Besides the billiard parlor, there is the guitar distributorship ("You're only allowed to import 1,000 of them from Japan"). These are only sidelines now, but "if I could make a comfortable living for my family, if the businesses could make $19,000.... It would be $23,000 if I could be there myself." And Sam would go home and work on his gun collection.
Mel Parnell, for one, is not convinced McDowell is headed for an early retirement. A very good pitcher who missed the very big money, he does not even believe that McDowell strikes batters out without consciously trying. (Sam isn't sure he believes it: "I don't think about it, because the idea is to win. But did you hear the crowd chant the other day when I had five in a row? 'Get him, he's another, get him, he's another.' You hear that. And a few times, when I already had 15 or 16 strikeouts, I tried. I have to admit I tried.")
"Sure he tried," says Parnell, who had the middle ripped out of his career by arm trouble. "He's got to try until he gets to the big money. By then he won't be able to throw that hard, but by then he'll be a pitcher. And by then he'll have the money."
Few others think Sam McDowell will not pitch—and win—for at least a decade. Certainly not Tebbetts or Gabe Paul. Their measure of his dedication is the way he learned to hit. "He was a terrible hitter," says Tebbetts, "but he kept trying. For a while he dragged bunts 80% of the time—anything to get on. Now he's a pretty fair hitter."
Sam can explain that: he was afraid. "Feel this dent," he says, pointing to the right side of his head. The drag bunts were simply an evasive tactic by which a timid man could hit the ball and run away from it at the same time.
"But then I realized," Sam says, "that I was the pitcher. I think any pitcher who throws at a man is a coward. He's giving in to him, admitting he can't get him out without intimidating him. I've refused to throw at hitters, but I've never hesitated to protect my own players when they were thrown at, and the pitcher gets it first. So if the guy knocked me down...." So Sam became a hitter, or at least not an out.
Above all, Sam is still a thinker, and an independent thinker. He knew why Crandall was catching him this year, and for two games he let Crandall call the pitches. "One more time," he said, "and then I'm going back to calling my own game."
After the third start, the first victory over the Yankees, McDowell was asked whether Crandall would now become a silent partner. "No," Sam said. "He called a pretty good game. He called 95% of the pitches, because 95% of what he called for was what I wanted to throw."
That's a 95 on his report card for Delmar Wesley Crandall, whose major league experience up to this year was limited to slightly more than 1,500 games. Three months with Sam McDowell and he's smarter already.