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His pitching approach was unorthodox, because he believed in the high slider. Usually you throw the fastball up and the slider down. Wynn explained how to use the slider high. "Start with a bad one that breaks wide. Bad pitch, but till it breaks it looks O.K. The batter goes for it and misses, and you have your strike. Try with something else, the curve, or for me the knuckler, and you can get a second strike. Now throw a spinner—not a slider, but a ball that spins and looks like it's gonna slide—just where you threw that first pitch. The batter thinks it will break wide again. He doesn't swing, and you've got called strike three. Of course, you've got to put something on the ball." He meant that the pitcher had to throw hard, but few of the young men on his Orlando staff were really fast. The team went nowhere, and Griffith fired Wynn as the manager.
Early handled a bat well enough to pinch-hit for Washington. He was a switch hitter who once batted .319. He was a scholar of the game, and whenever I have watched him teach, he has been both stern and patient. The knockdown pitch has been curtailed by a system of fines, but I don't think that's why nobody likes Wynn.
Baseball executives increasingly favor men who are corporate-bland. More and more major league teams are run by syndicates, and syndicates prefer managers and coaches who do as they are told, salute the company president and study statistics rather than spend spirited evenings talking baseball with the press. Veeck might have brought Early to Chicago this season, but Paul Richards, Veeck's manager, wanted to be his own pitching coach. Charlie Finley? Proud independent field leaders are not to Finley's taste.
He lives in Nokomis, 40 minutes south of Sarasota, and commutes to his office every morning. "The traffic," he said, his old rage still intact. "What the hell do government officials think about, if they do think? What do they think the west coast of Florida is, a slum? It was no secret that more and more people would be moving here. We knew it 20 years ago. Why haven't they put in first-class roads?"
We wandered outside the house that I had first visited in 1954. It had been in the country then. Now other houses crowded close. He started his boat and headed toward an inland waterway, once a blue corridor of beauty. There were little mangrove islands then, and channel markers with pelicans sitting on them. As the boat approached, the pelicans would suddenly fly off. Later we fished, and I caught a Budweiser can.
Now the inland waterway runs between huge condominiums with white concrete sun decks and yellow shuffleboard courts. "I didn't used to know what ecology meant," Wynn said as we cruised. "I sure do now. I guess while I was up there pitching, somebody forgot to put in zoning laws."
We turned around and docked and walked into his party room. Baseballs from 15 of his greatest victories hung from the ceiling. He had placed his Cy Young trophy on one wall. From another wall, three men smiled out of an old picture: Stan Musial, Ted Williams, Early Wynn.
"The Hall of Fame," I began.
"Look, I'm honored to be in there," he said. " Hartford, Alabama, that's where I grew up, and the biggest thing that happened in that town was a peanut festival. But we had baseball, and we'd ride mule wagons many a mile for a town game. They write that when I showed up at a pro tryout I was barefoot. I wasn't, but I was wearing overalls. It's a long way from Hartford, Alabama to Cooperstown, but any man who wins 300 major league games ought to get voted in as soon as he's eligible. I mean, don't people know how much hard work that is?"