Saturday, July 16, 2005

 

July 16th, 1999

Whit Wyatt Dies

Whit Wyatt, in addition to having a name like a Southern sheriff, was a long-time Major Leaguer, pitching for Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, Philly and (longer and better than for anyone else) Brooklyn in the course of a sixteen year career. Wyatt was a fairly average starter for most of his career, which was something of a disappointment as he had been a high school superstar in his native Georgia, reputed to have struck out twenty-three Oglethorpe University batters in a game. In 1929 he had sixteen straight wins for Evansville, the Tigers’ top minor league affiliate. He was called up later that year with predictions of greatness and promptly flamed out. Actually, that's unfair, Wyatt was plagued by injuries and could be effective when healthy (he managed to better the league average by nearly thirty-five percent in 1930) but he was largely injured and ineffective.

After several middling years the Tigers traded Wyatt to the White Sox. He would have several more ineffective and injury-filled years, pitching as few as three innings in a season, and was let go to the Indians. Wyatt pitched another underwhelming season there and had now spent all or part of nine seasons in the Majors with only one really better-than-average year. He spent 1938, therefore, in the American Association where he evidently figured something out as he was voted League MVP and signed by Brooklyn.

In Brooklyn, Wyatt's career finally began to fulfill its potential. He was an All-Star four times there, including during his best season, 1941, when he went won twenty-two games (to lead the league) with a 2.34 ERA in nearly three hundred innings, which earned him third place in the MVP vote and almost certainly would have won him the Cy Young award had it existed at the time. He slumped slightly in 1942 but pitched well that year and in 1943, presumably in part because of weakened war-time competition. As the regulars players began to filter back however, Wyatt was shelled in both 1944 and 1945.

Wyatt never pitched in the Majors after those seasons, but would stay in the game as a pitching coach for the Braves and Phillies, during which time he reportedly attempted to encourage his pupils to follow the headhunting ways he had practiced during his own career.




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