Here in the watched-pot department of baseball milestones, we become voyeurs, observing people as they observe other people.There on the tube was Bud Selig, looking like a peevish, insomniac owl, perched under the eaves of a stadium, waiting for Barry Bonds to pass Henry Aaron and get us all back to our lives.
If Bud were a Woody Allen creation, he would be Commissioner Zelig, everywhere at once, eyewitness to history, waiting on Bonds to hit No. 756, watching as Alex Rodriguez hit his 500th home run, but he is only mortal, and he chose to follow Bonds.
A truly omnipresent commissioner would also find a way to watch Tom Glavine (pictured) try to win his 300th game tonight in Chicago, and might even have split himself, parameciumlike, to commiserate with Christine Glavine as the Mets’ bullpen squandered the lead Tuesday night in Milwaukee.
As composed as her husband, she did not express herself in any way that could have upset anybody, but her worried eyes could have been interpreted as saying: “Oh, jeez, poor Tommy and the rest of the guys. Well, now it’s more packing, more room service, more midday activities for the kids.”
Her stricken face reminded me of another look of desperation back in 1962, although Early Wynn was not as pretty as Christine Glavine, I can assure you of that.
Wynn was the Roger Clemens of his time, a burly old cuss. In 2003, Clemens taped Wynn’s dour mug in his locker, as a talisman of his long march to his 300th victory.
It took Clemens four attempts to gain that victory, but it took Wynn eight starts — more than nine months, doctor — to win his 300th. Nobody would wish this on the Glavine family.
As far as I know, Commissioner Ford C. Frick was not hunkering down in Yankee Stadium on the last Friday night of the 1962 season, as the Yankees tuned up for the World Series. Commissioners were not professional witnesses in those days.
Forty-two years old by then, Wynn had been a great pitcher in his time, coming up with Washington in 1939, helping to win pennants for Cleveland in 1954 and Chicago in 1959, and hitting 17 career home runs, one a pinch-hit grand slam.
Known as Gus, he was one of those ornery pitchers who are no longer allowed to exist. How ornery? Mickey Mantle — who slugged 13 homers against Wynn, more than he did against any other pitcher — once drilled a single right past Wynn’s blocky frame, and big Gus promptly fired a fastball pickoff attempt at Mantle’s bad knees, making him dance at first base, which was how the old boy had won 299 games.
On this autumn night in 1962, Wynn had nothing left. He suffered from gout. His weight was far above the listed 200 pounds. And baseball didn’t have trainers and diets and pitch counts the way it does today.
The Sox gave him a 3-1 lead into the seventh inning, but Joe Pepitone pinch-hit a two-run homer, and Manager Al Lopez had no recourse but to send Wynn out for the eighth. The Yankees clobbered him for four runs, ending his season at 299.
As a boy reporter, I interviewed Wynn, slumped in the clubhouse, probably a beer bottle in his hand, profound disgust all over him. It wasn’t the losing. Heck, old Gus had lost before.
It was the prospect of whipping his body into some kind of shape to trudge out there for another season.
Wynn skipped the tortures of spring training, and his old team, Cleveland, signed him in June 1963. He failed in four starts but finally found a team he might beat, the Kansas City Athletics.
“He didn’t throw as hard as Glavine,” said Ed Charles, who played for the A’s that day and is now a prince of New York for his role as poet laureate and third baseman with the 1969 Mets.
“His fastball, if it reached 80, that was stretching it,” Charles recalled of a game 44 years ago. “He was laboring, throwing nothing but bloopers and junk.”
Wynn staggered five innings, leaving with a 5-4 lead before Jerry Walker preserved the 7-4 victory. He said he had not slept the night before because of the gout, and he was glad to leave the game because “I might have fallen on my face; I was exhausted.”
He never won another game, and died in 1999.
Forty years after Wynn’s 300th, Clemens had his own travails, flying around America accompanied by his family and friends and a flotilla of camp-follower journalists. He won his 300th on his fourth try, and is still going.
Now it’s Glavine’s turn. He is an admirable player, and his wife seems the same.
My advice to the family: Pack light, expect nothing from the airlines and remember the camera is on you at all times. No. 300 will come — with any luck, sooner than it did for old Gus.