Featured on my favorite Early Wynn Topps card (#40-1957), and may have been the feistiest player in the 1950's. The card captures him standing on the mound in an Indians uniform preparing to unleash a pitch. That year Topps printed a player's complete major league record on the back; on a gray background with blue type and red highlights. The Hall of Famer died on April 5, 1999 in a Florida nursing home, suffering complications from a stroke.
After 16 seasons, when card #40 was issued, Wynn's record was already impressive. By the time tenacious "Gus" Wynn retired in 1963 (soon after recording his 300th victory) -- many of his stats were of Cooperstown caliber. (he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1972).
Facing Wynn, any batter with the audacity to dig in could expect the next pitch aimed at his sinuses. In Early's mind, the plate was his. Mickey Mantle once said that the only "safe" place when Wynn was pitching was in the dugout. Although Wynn walked 1,775 in his career he wasn't really wild, just a fierce competitor.
Once asked if he would have brushed back his grandmother he said, "Only if she dug in."
By the end of his 24-year career, he seemed grandfatherly. Like Nolan Ryan, he pitched during four decades -- starting out in 1939 at age 19. Early's (ahem) early years were with Washington. The burly righthander had a fastball out of Hades but was erratic. Although Wynn's W-L was 18-12 with a 2.91 E.R.A., he was able to repeat that feat only one other time in 1943 (17-15, and a 3.64 ERA) with the Senators. He was traded to Cleveland after an 8-19 season with a 5.82 earned run average in 1948.
After Indians pitching coach Mel Harder taught him the fine art of pitching, Early made the most of his second chance. By 1950, he went 18-8 with the American League's best ERA. Cleveland had a stellar pitching staff during the 1950s -- including Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Mike Garcia, and Wynn.
As an Indian, Wynn won 18 games once, 17 twice and 20 or more, four times. Arguably his best year was 1952 when he went 23-12 with 153 strike-outs, 132 walks, and a nifty 2.90 ERA. He finally faltered in 1957 (14-17) and was traded to the ChiSox. Washed up? Hardly. His 22-10 record (fifth season with 20 wins) in 1959 Wynn helped Chicago win their first pennant in forty years earning the Cy Young Award for the thirty-nine-year-old.
By 1960, Early needed just 29 more victories for the magical 300. The portly Early had a yen for rich foods. In his latter days, a gouty elbow made pitching pure torture. Still, he persevered and on July 13, 1963, became only the pitcher to achieve the coveted plateau.
As a true baseball immortal, he will be sorely missed.