July 19, 1999
Whitlow Wyatt, 91, Pitcher Who Starred With the Dodgers
Whitlow Wyatt, a key figure in the Brooklyn Dodgers' celebrated 1941 National League pennant victory and a leading pitcher of the early 1940's, died Friday at a hospital in Carrollton, Ga. Wyatt, who lived in Buchanan, Ga., was 91.
After struggling for a decade with three American League teams, Wyatt, a hard-throwing and often intimidating right-hander, flourished in Brooklyn in his mid-30's.
He won 22 games for the 1941 team that captured the Dodgers' first pennant since 1920, touching off a huge victory parade on Flatbush Avenue. He led the league in shutouts that season with seven, started in the All-Star Game and finished third in the balloting for the league's most valuable player, behind his fellow Dodgers Dolph Camilli and Pete Reiser.
In a five-game World Series remembered ruefully by Brooklyn fans for Mickey Owen's disastrous passed ball, Wyatt posted the Dodgers' only victory over the Yankees, outpitching Spud Chandler to win Game 2 by 3-2.
Wyatt won 70 games for the Dodgers from 1940 to 1943 and would be remembered for pitching duels with the St. Louis Cardinals' Mort Cooper.
"If I could sculpt a statue of what a pitcher should look like, for form and grace and style, it would look like Whitlow Wyatt," Reiser once said.
John Whitlow Wyatt, a native of Kensington, Ga., and the son of a railroad engineer, made his big league debut in 1929 with the Detroit Tigers after attending Georgia Tech, which envisioned him as a football star. He developed arm and elbow problems that required surgery, and he won only 26 games in parts of nine seasons with the Tigers, Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians.
Wyatt considered retiring to his 700-acre farm in Buchanan, then won 23 games for Milwaukee of the American Association in 1938. The Dodgers' general manager, Larry MacPhail, collecting veteran players as he rebuilt the franchise, obtained Wyatt for $40,000 and three players.
Wyatt won his first four starts for the Dodgers in 1939, then tore knee cartilage in a collision at first base while running out a bunt against the Cincinnati Reds. He ended the season only 8-3, then had surgery.
But in 1940, having developed a slider to go with his fastball, Wyatt posted a record of 15-14 and tied for the league lead in shutouts with five.
In 1941, misadventure arrived again. One sultry afternoon in June, Wyatt was in a scoreless encounter with the Reds' Paul Derringer at Crosley Field. In the eighth inning, he reached for a drink to wash down salt tablets. But suddenly his stomach was afire, because the cup held not water, but mouthwash. Wyatt managed to hit a home run in the 11th inning for a 1-0 lead, but became sick to his stomach rounding the bases and had to leave the game. Hugh Casey, relieving on short notice, promptly lost the lead.
But that was the year the Dodgers won a pennant behind a pitching threesome from Dixie -- Wyatt, his fellow Georgian Casey, an ace reliever, and the South Carolinian Kirby Higbe, also a 22-game winner. Wyatt pitched the pennant clincher, a shutout of the Braves, after coming within two outs of a perfect game against Boston in August.
Wyatt kept batters wary in an effort to gain an edge. He would recall how Manager Leo Durocher gave him "two or three hundred dollars on top of my locker after knocking somebody down."
On one occasion, Cardinal shortstop Marty Marion was trying to get the best of Wyatt. "Marion was in the box, smoothing out the dirt, taking his time," Reiser remembered. "Wyatt's standing out there, watching him with those big green eyes. When Marion's finally set, Whit yells, 'You ready?' Wyatt winds up, fires it in, and down Marion goes. I guess he was expecting it, because he got up laughing. Next pitch -- wham! -- right in his ribs. " 'Don't laugh when I'm on the mound,' Wyatt says."
Wyatt retired after the 1945 season -- his last year was spent with the Philadelphia Phillies -- and had a career record of 106-95. He later served as the pitching coach for the Phillies and the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves and managed in the minor leagues.
He is survived by a son, John Jr., of Cedartown, Ga.; a daughter, Ellen Holstein, of Taylorsville, Ga.; two brothers, Jack, of Chickamauga, Ga., and Harold, of Cedartown; two sisters, Eleanor McCallie of Chattanooga, Tenn., and Leila Mullin of Cedartown; five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Wyatt did not mellow when he became a pitching coach. Dismayed when Robin Roberts, the future Hall of Famer of the Phillies, refused to brush back hitters, Wyatt took the occasion to espouse his baseball philosophy.
"I think you ought to play it mean like Durocher did," Wyatt said. "They ought to hate you on the field. If it was my own brother, I'd knock him down."