RIP to Wynn Hawkins, a right-handed pitcher who played in the American League for three seasons in the early 1960s. He died on February 11 at the age of 84 — nine days away from his 85th birthday — at his home in Canfield, Ohio. Hawkins played for the Cleveland Indians from 1960-62.
Wynn Firth Hawkins was born in East Palestine, Ohio, on February 20, 1936. His father, Paul “Boots” Hawkins, was a semi-pro ballplayer in the state and helped guide his son’s athletic progress. Wynn certainly looked like a future pro athlete in high school — as a basketball player. He made the All-Ohio basketball second team at New Waterford High School in 1953. Not that he was a slouch at baseball. While pitching for the New Waterford American Legion team in 1953, he threw back-to-back no-hitters against Boardman Kiwanis and New Galilee. In each game, he allowed just one baserunner, leaving him just shy of consecutive perfect games.
Hawkins was a first-team All-Ohio basketball player in 1954, but baseball was his sport of choice. When he graduated in 1954, he joined a McKelvey Store amateur team and was undefeated as he led the team to the National Amateur baseball championship. He won 12 games in a row and threw three shutouts in the tournament.
Hawkins signed with the Cleveland Indians for a $4,000 bonus while attending Baldwin-Wallace College near Cleveland. Since he couldn’t play baseball for the school, he joined the basketball team and became B-W’s all-time leading scorer at the time, with 1,175 points in three seasons. He also held school records for single-game home scoring record and field goals. He graduated from Baldwin-Wallace in 1958 and was elected to the school’s Alumni Athletics Association Hall of Fame in 2003.
Hawkins was the outstanding prospect of the Cleveland training camp in 1955, but the team elected to send the 19-year-old to Class-C Fargo-Moorhead of the Northern League. He started 20 games and relieved in 22 more, and he ended with a 10-12 record and 4.43 ERA. He won 16 games as a starter in 1956 for Fayetteville, but that was his last year as a full-time starter in the minors. From that point forward, he was used as a swingman. Though his role didn’t net him gaudy win totals, his ERA gradually dropped year after year. His 1959 season with AA Mobile was one of his best, as he had a fine 2.55 ERA to go with a 14-9 record. He struck out 17 Birmingham batters in one of his occasional starts.
Hawkins joined the Indians roster in 1960, initially as a part of the rotation. His first start in Kansas City didn’t go well, as he was knocked out of the game in the third inning. He allowed 4 runs and took the loss, but he rebounded nicely in his next start against Detroit. He threw 11 innings and allowed just 5 hits and an unearned run, while walking 8 and striking out 6. Impressively, he outpitched Jim Bunning while picking up his first major-league win. Hawkins had a 4-4 record as a starter through the middle of June, and then he worked briefly in the bullpen before being sent back to the minor leagues. He had a 4.23 ERA in 9 starts and 6 relief outings, with both 39 strikeouts and walks. He also allowed 10 home runs in 66 innings — including the 500th homer of Ted Williams’ career, on June 17, 1960.
Though he wasn’t pitching that badly at the time of his demotion, Hawkins didn’t resent it. “I’m a better pitcher for it,” he said in 1961. “I was making too many bad pitches. They’d come in streaks and then somebody would have a big inning against me. I think I know more about the batters this season.”
Despite a 7-9 record in 1961, Hawkins lowered his ERA to 4.06 and was used extensively as Cleveland’s fourth starter, behind Mudcat Grant, Gary Bell and Jim Perry. Hawkins and Barry Latman turned in solid jobs as spot starters, though the team still finished in fifth place with a losing 78-83 record. Hawkins missed the start of the 1962 season because of military service. When he went on leave from the Army, he rejoined Cleveland but was shaky in 3 relief appearances. He earned a win with 2 scoreless innings of relief work against Boston on June 8, but then he gave up 3 runs (2 unearned) in 1-1/3 innings against the Sox the very next day. That outing left him with a 7.36 ERA in the majors, and Hawkins was sent to AAA Jacksonville. He never returned to the major leagues.
Hawkins was sold to the Mets at the end of the 1962 season. The Mets returned him to Cleveland before the end of the 1963 training camp, despite the fact that he had thrown very well. He pitched with the Indians’ AAA teams before retiring after the 1964 season, at the age of 28. He reportedly injured his arm while throwing a snowball in 1961, and he was never able to recover his old form after that.
In parts of 3 seasons, Hawkins had a 12-13 record in 48 games with Cleveland, 30 of which were starts. He threw 4 complete games and a shutout, recorded 1 save and had an ERA of 4.17. He had 90 strikeouts and 99 walks while allowing 27 home runs in 202-2/3 innings.
Hawkins was a pretty fair amateur golfer and participated in a few tournaments in his retirement. He returned to work for the Indians, selling season ticket packages. He formed half a very effective lefty-righty duo in the season ticket department, as the team’s other salesman was Herb Score. Hawkins also worked as a scout and traveling secretary for Cleveland through 1970 and penned guest columns for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. He later went to work for General Motors before retiring. He is survived by three nephews and a niece.