Jim Wynn, the Los Angeles Dodger outfielder, may fairly be described as a proponent of the principle first espoused in the Babylonian Talmud—and later disputed by Songwriter Hawley Franck (Many an Honest Heart May Beat Beneath a Ragged Coat)—that "clothes make the man."
Or as Wynn commented one day last week, while seated stark naked before his alabaster Dodger double-knits, "There is a magic in this uniform." In truth, the Dodger costume seems to have imparted occult powers to Wynn, who is off to the flashiest start of a 12-year career, previously spent in Houston, that had been distinguished mainly by unpredictability.
As the week ended Wynn was leading the National League in home runs (12) and runs batted in (37) and was tied for the lead in runs scored (32) and bases on balls (34). His batting average was approaching .330 and he was playing center field and running the bases with such daring and aplomb that cultish Southern Californians were prepared to build one around him.
Actually, Wynn's considerable achievements were only slightly above the norm on a team that seems to be playing in a league all of its own. Fresh from a nine-game winning streak, the Dodgers were nearly 200 percentage points better than any team in either league. They were leading their division by seven games and pacing both leagues in almost every major batting and pitching category as well.
Their fans, a curious mixture of collegians, suburbanites, car hops, tourists and film celebrities, were showing up in droves at their lush, palm-decorated stadium in Chavez Ravine. The Dodgers passed a half million in attendance on Friday when 53,927, including Jack Benny, turned out for yet another Henry Aaron tribute. It was the team's 19th home date, which averages out to 27,000 customers per game.
The fans were by no means being shortchanged. In the first game of a doubleheader with Houston last Wednesday, attended by 33,018, the Dodgers blew a 3-0 lead in the top half of the fifth inning when the Astros scored six runs. In their half of the same inning, the Dodgers scored seven. They won the second game more routinely 10-2.
During that long evening the spectators were also entertained by Bill Buckner's thoroughly remarkable catch of a potential home-run ball hit to the left-field corner by Astro Outfielder Ollie Brown. Buckner snatched the missile in full flight, then, unable to arrest his progress, crashed into the low railing along the foul line. With true grit he struggled to his feet, and tossed the ball back to the infield to hold a runner on base before collapsing a second time. He recuperated in time to crack out two more hits in the game, extending his hitting streak to 17 games.
Buckner is among the league leaders in batting with an average above .340. First Baseman Steve Garvey is tied for second in the league in doubles with 12 and is second to Wynn in home runs with eight, and Shortstop Bill Russell is tied for the league lead in triples with four. Three Dodger regulars—Buckner, Garvey and Wynn—are hitting above .300 and three others—Willie Crawford, Russell and Third Baseman Ron Cey—are in the .290 range. During the nine-game winning streak, which ended with an extra-inning loss to Atlanta, the team scored 73 runs and hit .334.
Not even the most optimistic Dodger expects these heroics to continue throughout a 162-game season, but all of them exude a confidence that must be galling to those giving chase. "It's awfully early," says pitcher Andy Messer-smith (4-0), "but the other people are going to have to do a lot of catching up."
"There is nothing dramatic or spectacular about the way we've gone out front," says Pitcher Don Sutton (6-3) inaccurately. "This is the culmination of something that's been coming for a long time. We've got a nice blend now. We have young players with experience and we have age where it counts—on the pitching staff. I've been with this team for nine years and this is the best one I've seen. In 1966 we won the pennant on pitching, Maury Wills and mirrors. This team is capable of doing a lot more offensively. My lifetime has been shortened by all the one-run games here, but now I know that if there is a one-run game, it's probably going to be 8-7."