Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A Whit Wyatt Vintage Pin -- The Dodger Headhunter

I came across something at Hake's current auction that was entirely foreign to me.  Featured above is a 1" diameter, circa 1940's, Brooklyn Dodgers pin of right-handed hurler Whit Wyatt.  (Auction Link) As you can see, it includes bold colors not typically seen in pins from this period.  Additionally, as I was writing this post it came to my attention that I had not yet shared a group of vintage Dodger pins from this era in my collection.  So, I'll work on doing that soon.  In the meantime, I thought it'd be fun to take a brief look at this long-forgotten Dodger arm.

Whitlow Wyatt career did not start off with a bang.  Instead, he toiled in both the minors and majors for nine years, and by the age of 30 came to a fork in the road.  He had one last chance to prove to other teams and to himself that he belonged on the field.  So, he worked.  And he tinkered.  And before you knew it his curveball transformed him into a complete pitcher.  Per Jack Zerby at the SABR Biography Project:
Still questioning his arm, Wyatt turned down an incentives contract that would have provided him with a percentage of any sale price to a major-league team and signed a straight-up deal. He remembered “working harder than ever” on his curve ball that spring under the tutelage of manager Al Sothoron. “Suddenly it came to me,” he recalled. “From that time on I could throw the hook at three and two with as much confidence as I could my fastball. No longer were the hitters able to dig in up there and guess on me."
Having watched from afar, the Dodgers took a flyer on him and attain his rights in 1938.  By the next year he became an All-Star for the first time.  In 1941 he lead the pennant winning Dodgers with 22 wins, seven shutouts, 23 complete games, 176 strike outs, and lead the league with a 1.058 WHIP and 2.77 FIP.  Wyatt would also placed third in MVP voting that season.

As for style, Whitlow Wyatt gave no quarter.  He stood 6' 1", weighed 185 lbs. and built a reputation in Brooklyn for hitting batters with reckless abandon.  In fact, Joe DiMaggio, who only faced Wyatt in one World Series game, called him "the meanest guy (he) ever saw."  Wyatt would later respond that "if DiMaggio was playing in the National League, he’d have to swing while he’s flat on his ass." 

He had been molded by experience and hardened by the school of hard-knocks.  Leo Durocher, who Wyatt lionized on the field, was one of his greatest influences.  He would say to his students, when he became a pitching coach during his post-playing career, that " “I think you ought to play it mean like Durocher did. They ought to hate you on the field.”

For an excellent biography on Whitlow Wyatt check out Jack Zerby's bio at the SABR Biography Project here.

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