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
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
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.
Wynn has found
work in Florida as sales coordinator for Wellcraft, a boat manufacturing
company, and flying south I expected to find him depressed, or at least
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
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.
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