SI Vault
 
SAM, YOU MAKE THE BALL TOO SMALL
Jack Mann
May 23, 1966
So say the batters who have to face Sam McDowell's hummer. Oddly, the Cleveland southpaw would prefer to get them out with a changeup, but few things about Sudden Sam are predictable
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
May 23, 1966

Sam, You Make The Ball Too Small

So say the batters who have to face Sam McDowell's hummer. Oddly, the Cleveland southpaw would prefer to get them out with a changeup, but few things about Sudden Sam are predictable

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

If southpaw Sam McDowell (see cover) of the Cleveland Indians ever gets the baseball "smarts" he may become a big-league pitcher. He could even begin to like baseball and stick around for seven more years, until he is 30.

Sam is not a big-league pitcher, you see, because last year, in his first full season, he won only 17 games. "You're not a big-league pitcher unless you win 20," he insists. "I don't give a damn if Ford didn't win 20 for nine years; he wasn't a big-league pitcher for nine years."

Last year, at 22, McDowell struck out 325 batters in 273 innings, 23 strikeouts short of Bob Feller's American League record. Had he pitched 371 innings, as did Feller in that memorable year of 1946, he could—in statistical theory, at least—have fanned 442. Feller, 27 years old and a 10-year man in that season, also had the lowest earned-run average of his glorious career, 2.18; McDowell matched that in 1965. If the figures seem to make McDowell look suspiciously like a big-leaguer, Sam considers the evidence circumstantial.

"Pitching is a matter of attitude," he says. "I had a long talk with Koufax this spring, and he agrees with me. I have to beat a team in my mind before I can beat it in a game." So confidence is the thing, right? "Hell, no. I can't win if I'm confident. I have to be scared to death to pitch. I'm no good if I'm not scared."

"Sam," visitors to the Cleveland clubhouse are quietly warned by everybody, from his roomie, Outfielder Jim Landis, to his manager, Birdie Tebbetts, "is likely to tell you almost anything."

Sam can be facetious. "You think they pay you for strikeouts? I'm making $10,000. Would you believe 15?" He is making $25,000, which he considers grossly inadequate.

Sam can be serious. Jim Grant of the Minnesota Twins, with 21 victories last year, qualifies by McDowell's rigid standards of big-leagueness. He was also "a very good friend" of Sam's during the 1963 season at Cleveland, and can remain so if he can get this down: "With his ERA [3.30], Grant's got a hell of a nerve to say he's half as good as Koufax. I'd like to have five runs a game, the way he did."

This and other intemperate observations have marked McDowell as a pop-off. The jargon of baseball, however, is all things to all men: I say what is on my mind, you talk too much, and he pops off. "As long as I stick to the truth," McDowell says, "I don't see why I can't say whatever I want."

Neither does his general manager, Gabe Paul. "There are things you can do when you have talent," Paul says, "that are colorful. If you do them without talent, they're bush. Sam has talent."

Paul did not mention it, but when you can throw the way McDowell does you may also wear long sideburns. A number of people thought they detected creeping conformity this spring when McDowell trimmed his hair to normal length "Sure," Sam concedes, "but I just felt like seeing what I looked like. I believe there's one best way for a person to look. I'm a big guy, and I think I look silly with short sideburns." So he is back to abnormal. If Sam holds out next year ("and, boy, will I hold out if I have the kind of season I want!") all they will have to give him is a horse and a gun, and the movie cameras can roll.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6