A small boy of about 10 was trying to bounce a bat off the rubber floor of the Cleveland Indians' dugout and catch it as it bounced back. He missed repeatedly. To his right, out on the playing field, the Indians were taking batting practice while the Oakland A's played pepper in front of their dugout.
"Hey, Moon," called Alvin Dark from behind the batting cage. "Weren't you supposed to pitch today?"
Oakland Pitcher Johnny (Blue Moon) Odom looked up from his pepper game and said to the Indians' manager, "Supposed to, Alvin. But I wasn't feelin" too good today." He grimaced and massaged his right shoulder.
"Jeez, that's too bad, Moon," said Dark with an evil little grin. "Sudden will be very disappointed. You know. I was saving Sudden just for you today."
"I appreciate that," said Odom, "but I guess I'd rather pitch tomorrow."
"But we ain't playing tomorrow."
"I'd still rather pitch tomorrow," said Odom, and players on both clubs broke into laughter.
"Sudden" is the nickname of the Cleveland Indians' 27-year-old left-handed pitcher, Sam McDowell. He was given the name by opposing batters who, when asked to describe how his fastball approached the plate, invariably replied, "All of a sudden, man, all of a sudden!" Ever since, McDowell has been signing autographs, shirts, photographs, gloves, baseballs and just about anything but checks "Sudden Sam."
Early this year McDowell fired his sudden pitch past 15 Chicago White Sox batters in eight innings. He lost the game 2-1. When Blue Moon Odom heard of McDowell's feat, he shook his head in disbelief and said, "Man, if I had Sudden's stuff I'd win 25 games every year."
In his six-plus years of major-league pitching, however, Sudden Sam McDowell has yet to win 25 games. Nor has he even won 20 games. Endowed with what many American League hitters call "the best stuff in baseball," McDowell has managed records like 17-11, 13-15 and 15-14. His most wins came in 1969, when he finished 18-14. His career record is 105-86 although, admittedly, he has never played with very good teams at Cleveland. But then again, neither did Robin Roberts when he was winning 20 games all those years for the Phillies—and Roberts never had "the best stuff in baseball."