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Golden Triumphs, Tarnished Dreams
Roger Kahn
August 30, 1976
Early Wynn won 300 games, Roberto Clemente had 3,000 hits, but their legacies have not matched their glorious records
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August 30, 1976

Golden Triumphs, Tarnished Dreams

Early Wynn won 300 games, Roberto Clemente had 3,000 hits, but their legacies have not matched their glorious records

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"It's too late to worry about sleep now," Veeck said. "You better just keep going."

Wynn reached the ball park at 11, put on a rubber jacket and began to run. He sweated, showered and went out and pitched a shutout. "Then the reporters came," Veeck says, "and Early answered all their questions. He got somebody with the knuckleball. Someone else was fooled by a high slider. He did just fine until the last reporter left the dressing room. Then he fell over on his face."

There was nothing bland about Early, nothing subdued, nothing cautious. He didn't like hitters, and he said he didn't like hitters. He knocked them down. "Why I should worry about hitters?" Wynn said. "Do they worry about me? Do you ever find a hitter crying because he's hit a line drive through the box? My job is getting hitters out. If I don't get them out I lose. I don't like losing a game anymore than a salesman likes losing a big sale. I've got a right to knock down anybody holding a bat."

"Suppose it was your own mother?" a reporter said.

Wynn thought briefly. "Mother was a pretty good curveball hitter," he said.

That was humor, but at Yankee Stadium I saw Wynn brush back his son. Joe Early was a tall, rangy boy who was visiting at his father's place of business for a day, and Early volunteered to throw a little batting practice. Joe Early hit a long line drive to left center. The next pitch was at his cheekbone; it sent Joe Early diving to the ground.

"You shouldn't crowd me," Wynn said with a certain noncommittal tenderness.

Wynn learned rope tricks and played supermarket openings. He began a newspaper column and within a month had attacked general managers for their penury and The Sporting News for publishing too much gossip. Air travel bothered him, so he took flying lessons and purchased a single-engine plane. He bought a cabin cruiser and a motorcycle and a Packard and a Mercedes, leading Shirley Povich of the The Washington Post to comment, "Early does not lack for transportation." Wynn simply seized life with his great hands, implacably determined to squeeze every ounce of living out of his time.

Despite that, his staying power was prodigious. He pitched for the Senators in 1939, moved on in 1949 to become a mainstay of the great Indian staff that included Bob Feller and Bob Lemon, and 10 years after that pitched the White Sox to a pennant and won the Cy Young award. He was a thick-chested, black-haired man with a natural glower, which he would direct at the batters like a death ray. He seemed indestructible. But in the early 1960s he began to suffer attacks of gout. On a snap throw to first, he strained muscles near his elbow, and the gout moved into his pitching arm. His legs were weakening. It was time to quit, but he wanted to win his 300th game.

"During those last years," says Wynn's wife Lorraine, "when he'd come back from running, his legs would be so sore that we had to work out this routine. He'd lie down on his stomach and I'd take a rolling pin and move it up and down over the backs of his legs. That was the only thing that seemed to relax the muscles."

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