Thursday, December 31, 2015

White Sox tried to sell Indians "jinxed" souvenirs

Early Wynn notched his 299th major-league win with the Chicago White Sox on Sept. 8, 1962, with a 6-3 complete game victory over the Washington Senators at Comiskey Park.

It was the seventh win for the 42-year-old American League veteran that season, balanced against 12 losses. At the time, the White Sox were in fourth place in the then-10-team American League.

To maximize the gate attraction of a White Sox pitcher winning his 300th game before the home crowd, the team interrupted Wynn's usual five-day rotation by holding him out of a six-game Minneapolis-Washington road trip Sept. 12-16. In doing so they may have spoiled Wynn's chance to win his 300th game that season, or possibly hit that magic number at all.

When the White Sox returned to Comiskey on Sept. 18, the team promoted the possibility of the milestone with an "Early Wynn '300 Club' Night". The Tuesday night crowd of 14,498 that turned out was nearly a 45% increase from recent home games.

Besides having the chance to see baseball history made, the fans were given a four-page commemorative program. They also had the opportunity to purchase a 2" blue-and-white steel tab featuring a portrait photo with a facsimile autograph and "300 CLUB".

The souvenir was union-made by the Green Duck novelty firm in Chicago. It featured a tab that could be bent over to attach the button to a pocket or lapel. I'd guess it was offered at the concession stands and by vendors for 25 or 50 cents.

Gus went just five innings against the visiting Red Sox, giving up 12 hits and a walk and being charged with a 10-5 loss, his 13th of the year.

Five days later, on Sunday afternoon, Sept. 23, the visiting Yankees avoided a three-game sweep, by winning 5-1. Gus gave it his all, pitching a 10-inning complete game. He allowed just one run in the first nine innings when Phil Linz singled to open the game, stole second and then was doubled home by Tom Tresh.

On the mound for New York was Bill Stafford, who shut out Chicago until the bottom of the ninth when Joe Cunningham doubled, then came home on Floyd Robinson's ground-rule double.

Button sales probably jumped among the 30,032 fans as they saw the chance for Wynn to earn his 300th win.

Alas, in the top of the 10th, Wynn gave up four runs as Bobby Richardson singled, Mantle walked and both came home on a single by Hector Lopez and an error by right fielder Mike Hershberger. Elston Howard homered, bringing Lopez around.

The White Sox went three-up, three-down in the bottom of the 10th, and Wynn lost his 14th game of 1962.

Chicago ended its season with a road trip to New York. Wynn got the start in the first game, Sept, 28, going the whole way for the White Sox but losing 7-3. One game short of the 300-win mark, Wynn was released by the White Sox after the season.

In 1963 it looked like Wynn might never achieve the milestone. He went unsigned for all of April and May and most of June. On June 21, the fourth-place Cleveland Indians signed Wynn and gave him the ball that night to face the visiting White Sox.

He was a fan favorite in Cleveland, having starred on  the mound there from 1949-1957, winning 163 games in nine seasons, including four seasons of 20 or more victories.There were 19,177 on hand, hoping to see Wynn gain his 300th against the team that had cut him loose.

It was not in the cards, though. Wynn pitched the entire game but came up on the short end of a 2-0 score.

After three no-decision appearances, Wynn finally notched his 300th win, on the road at Kansas City on July 13.

He started the game and got a run to work with in the top of the second. In the 5th Wynn opened the inning with a single and was one of four runs scored. In the bottom of the 5th, he gave up four runs himself. Jerry Walker came on in relief at the top of the 6th. He kept the A's from scoring again while Cleveland added two more runs. Wynn was credited with the 7-4 win and became the 14th major-league pitcher to join the "300 club."

Wynn never won again in the bigs. He appeared for Cleveland 15 more times, all but once in relief as the Indians remained solidly in the second division of the AL. He was 300-244 when the season ended.

The Indians released him as a player on Oct. 14 and signed him as the pitching coach. After two years in that role, he took a similar job with the Twins. In the 1980s he provided color radio commentary for the Blue Jays and White Sox.

The Cy Young Award winner (1959) and seven-time All-Star was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1972, his fourth year on the ballot. He died in 1999.

In mid-1963, The Sporting News reported that Chicago White Sox general manager Ed Short approached the Indians in an attempt to sell them "several hundred" Early Wynn 300 Club buttons.

Cleveland gm Gabe Paul rejected the offer, reportedly telling Short the buttons were "double hexed" because White Sox fans wore them in two Wynn loses at the end of the '62 season.

Almost certainly, Paul refused the offer because Wynn was wearing a White Sox cap in the portrait on the souvenir.

Today's collector will have no trouble finding one of the Wynn/300 buttons. There are usually several for sale on eBay at any given time. Depending on condition they sell for $10-25 dollars.

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