SABR

George Winn

This article was written by Bill Nowlin.

George Winn had one win and two losses in his dozen major-league games, and he hit .300 as a batter. Winn had first become known to baseball fans in Boston when secretary Larry Graver of the Boston Red Sox announced on March 3, 1919, that “Pitcher Winn had signed with the Red Sox. Winn comes from the Richmond Club, his recommendations impressing Manager Barrow very favorably.”1

Winn made the Red Sox club in spring training at Tampa and traveled north with the team, playing in a number of games along the way. The Sox even played five games in Richmond, Virginia – which must have seemed like old home week for Winn, though some of those who saw him in the spring of 1919 might have mistaken him for a pitcher named George Jackson who had played in for the Richmond Colts in 1918. They were both left-handers, both were 5-feet-11, and both weighed 170 pounds.

The same article announcing Winn’s signing explained that it wouldn’t be the first time he had a tie to a big-league team in Boston and that, indeed, Winn and Jackson were the same person. “Winn was playing with Richmond under the name of Jackson, and came to the Braves with two other players last fall when Stallings became shorthanded because of the enlistment of a bunch of his regulars. Barrow proposes to take Winn to the training camp and give him a thorough trying out.”2

In 1918 Jackson had the worst record of the four pitchers for Richmond, 1-5. But he’d pitched 140⅓ innings, more than the other three. Earned-run averages were not computed at the time, but Jackson (Winn) had by far the best WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched): 0.99.

Some 2,500 local fans came out to watch the Red Sox play in Richmond in the first of the five April 1919 games. It would be surprising if some of them didn’t recognize Winn as Jackson, though it’s not as though all the games in the Virginia capital were played against the Class C Virginia League team for which he’d pitched. In fact, none of them were, though the games were played at the old International League park there.

The first of the five games pitted the Red Sox “Regulars” against the “Busters” – Babe Ruth played for the Busters, and Winn pitched for his time in the game, giving up all three runs in the 3-1 loss to the Regulars. Winn hit a triple in the game; Ruth singled. The next four games were:

April 14: Red Sox 9, Bankers 1 (“the National State and City Bank nine”)

April 15: Red Sox 18, Randolph Macon College 0

April 16: Red Sox 7, “Richmond semi-professionals” 0 (a one-hitter for Carl Mays)

April 17: Red Sox 13, Virginia Medical College 4

Winn was loaned to the semipros in the April 16 game, and “for the day wore the old-home badge with his fellow-citizens and some others.”3 And the one hit in the game was Winn’s – a double down the third-base line.

Winn did make the Red Sox team, though, and his first game in the big leagues – the first time he’d played under his real name in a regulation game – arrived on April 29, 1919.

George Benjamin Winn had been born in Perry, Houston County, Georgia, on October 26, 1897. His father was George W. Winn and his mother had the unusual name of Maurie Gaddy Winn. His father was of Welsh ancestry and his mother of French Huguenot background. Her maiden name was Avant and in 1900 she and George W. lived in a boarding house run at Perry (more specifically, Militia District, Upper Town 928 G.M., according to the census) by her mother N.M. Avant. George W. was a merchant, a South Carolina native. There were two boarders living there as well, a 60-year-old surveyor and a 28-year-old blacksmith.

George W. Winn had become county sheriff for Houston County (Perry is the county seat) by the time his son made the major leagues. The family seems to have still run a boarding house; there were two boarders at the time of the 1920 census, a woman who was a schoolteacher and a man who worked as a clerk in a grocery story. George Winn the ballplayer still was listed as living at home as did his younger brother Henry.

George Winn the ballplayer went through the Perry public schools and attended Georgia Military College and then Mercer College, where he was known as Breezy Winn. By the time he reached the pros, he was mostly called Lefty or George.

Returning to Winn’s time with the Red Sox, his debut came in Washington’s Griffith Stadium on April 29. It was the fourth game of the year for the Red Sox. They were 3-0 before the game, but lost, 4-2. The loss was Herb Pennock’s. Winn pitched the bottom of the eighth, faced three Senators, and retired all three. He didn’t pitch again until June 7.

It’s not as though the Red Sox were riding high and didn’t need pitching. They were 16-16 through the June 6 game, but manager Ed Barrow simply hadn’t called on Winn again. Most of the games had been fairly close, and perhaps he didn’t want to risk it even if the Red Sox were down three runs in later innings. When he got that second chance, it was at Fenway Park against the visiting Detroit Tigers. Ray Caldwell started, and this one perhaps began to feel like a blowout; Boston was losing 5-1 after four innings. Winn threw the top of the fifth and dug a deeper hole; he gave up four hits and three earned runs. Winn had his only at-bat for Boston in this game, and struck out. He never once had a fielding play in the innings he worked for the Red Sox.

Winn appeared in only one more game for the Red Sox, again weeks later, on July 1 in Philadelphia. Again Caldwell started. He gave up three runs, two in the first inning and one in the second without recording an out. George Dumont relieved and worked 4⅓ innings, giving up three more runs in the bottom of the sixth. Winn closed out the inning and threw the seventh and eighth, charged with a run of his own in the eighth on a walk, a single, and a sacrifice fly. Dumont was assigned the loss in the 7-2 defeat.

On July 7 Winn’s contract was sold to the Hartford Senators. He wasn’t that well known in Connecticut yet; the July 8 Hartford Courant called him – even in its headline – Arthur Winn. The paper had it straight two days later. Its banner headline on page 10 told the story of his game: GEORGE WINN PITCHES GOOD ENOUGH TO WIN ORDINARY GAME BUT SENATORS’ ERROR COST HIM VICTORY. The “erstwhile Red Sox twirler” lost to Bridgeport, 7-3. He’d thrown five shutout innings, but then a couple of scratch hits and six Hartford errors truly did do him in. On the 16th, the Red Sox did a deal with the Des Moines Boosters (Class A, Western League) and sent Winn to them for pitcher Paul Musser. There were some cash considerations in the deal as well.4

Winn was 7-6 for Des Moines, and hit for a .295 average. His best game without a doubt came on August 21 against Tulsa; the first batter singled off him and he never gave up a hit from that point forward, winning 3-0.

On February 4, 1920, Winn became the property of the Pacific Coast League’s Oakland Oaks and joined them for spring training in 1920 – and then next three seasons. Del Howard managed the Oaks throughout Winn’s tenure with the team.

Winn was overshadowed, to say the least, by Buzz Arlett’s 29-win season for the Oaks, who finished sixth, He didn’t see much work, finishing with a 2-6 record in 14 games. He got a fair amount of work in 1921, 226 innings’ worth, and produced a 14-7 season, but then fell back to 0-2 in just 13 games in 1922. His record was perhaps a little deceptive in 1921, as his 4.74 ERA that year might hint. During one stretch in May, Winn faced the Seattle Rainiers three times and in the course of eight innings over the three games gave up 15 earned runs. Oakland lost all three games, but none of the losses was debited to Winn.5

One of the reasons Winn didn’t get more work for the Oaks in 1922, however, was that he was sols to Nashville for $1,500 on June 5. He lost a 1-0 heartbreaker to Mobile in his Southern Association debut on June 13. He was known to be a good hitter, and a good outfielder, too. The New Orleans Times-Picayune noted a game when he shut out New Orleans 5-0 in the first game of a doubleheader and in the second game “played center field, robbed several Pelicans of extra-base hits, and hit like a fiend himself.”6

After a couple of months with the Nashville Volunteers, despite his 7-12 record, Winn was purchased by the Cleveland Indians on August 19, the team being in need of a left-hander. He got a start on August 31, and was back pitching in the American League. He gave up six earned runs to the visiting St. Louis Browns and was down, 6-2. James Edwards pitched the ninth for Cleveland and held the Browns scoreless – and then benefited from a five-run rally in the bottom of the ninth which gave him the win (and at least spared Winn the loss.) In his second start, Winn gave up six runs again (three unearned) and bore the loss. He was 1-2 for the Indians in 1922. The other loss was a hard-luck one. He came into the game and closed out the third inning with the White Sox ahead, 8-4. The Indians tied it up during his 6⅓ innings, but he gave up one run and lost it, 9-8, in the bottom of the tenth. The game he won was against the Red Sox, in Cleveland, a complete-game 3-2 win on September 19. He did collect three hits in nine at-bats.

Winn appeared in only one more major-league game, on April 28, throwing one inning, without a hit, for the Indians. On May 4 his contract was sold to the New Orleans Pelicans, presaging a return to the Southern Association.

Winn threw 156 innings for the Pels, with a record of 11-9, and no win was more satisfying than the one on June 16, when he beat Nashville. Even the Cleveland Plain Dealer took note: Winn faced just 30 batters and had to throw only 68 pitches to win a two-hitter. The mark equaled a record set by Christy Mathewson. The major-league record is held as of this writing by Red Barrett of the Boston Braves, who beat the Reds 2-0 on 58 pitches on August 10, 1944. Winn’s brilliant start with the Pelicans turned “off-color,” as his final record indicates.

The Indians still held a string on Winn and recalled him in February 1924, but pretty quickly placed him with Milwaukee. Just before the season began, he married Righton Miller on April 12, 1924. He pitched in 41 games (8-9 for the 83-83 Brewers) in 147 innings.

Little Rock purchased Winn’s contract on January 1, 1925, and sold it to Shreveport on May 13. Less than two weeks later, on the 26th, it was announced that Shreveport had acquired Lefty Thompson from Sacramento and that Lefty Winn “has been recalled home to await disposition of him by Little Rock, to whom he belongs.”7 The latter stages of Winn’s career path are unclear. On July 13 he pitched for the Texarkana Twins in a 2-2 ten-inning tie with Paris, Texas, a newspaper story noting that Winn was “late of Wichita Falls.”8 A Richmond Times Dispatch article a year later said that he had pitched in relief for Spartanburg in the fall of 1925 during the Richmond-Spartanburg intraleague series, and that Richmond had just acquired his services in late August 1926.9 A separate article in the same day’s paper said that he’d been purchased from Spartanburg, which club had loaned his contract to Macon, even though both teams were in the same league, the South Atlantic League.

Existing records show Winn as 0-5 for Wichita Falls/Shreveport (combining the two Texas League teams’ statistics) in 1925 and 7-7 in 24 games for Macon in 1926. He’s shown as on the Spartanburg roster at some point in 1925 but with no recorded statistics.

Winn was 1-2 for Richmond when he was released on August 27, though his release was not specifically because of his pitching. It was due to the protest of another club, which said that Winn was a “class man” and that under the league rule a given club could have only six “class” men, defined as players who have gone to bat more than 150 times in any league higher than class B.”10 The whole affair – not Winn’s fault at all – almost cost Richmond the Virginia League pennant by virtue of expunging six games the team had played during the time it was one man over the limit. This appears to be the way Winn left the game. He’s found playing semipro ball in Richmond in 1930, though another Lefty Winn – Raymond Winn – began pitching around this time, complicating research.

After baseball, Winn became an automobile salesman working for Dunlap Chevrolet and as a parts procurement manager for Steve M. Solomon Jr. Motor Company in Macon. George Winn lost his wife, Righton, in October 1954. He himself suffered from chronic lung disease for his last couple of years and died of respiratory failure in the Roberta Nursing Home of Roberta, Georgia, on November 1, 1969.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Winn’s player file and player questionnaire from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Bill Lee’s The Baseball Necrology, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com. Thanks to Lyle Spatz.

 

Notes

1 Boston Globe, March 4, 1919.

2 Ibid. The Richmond Times Dispatch of August 10, 1926, confirms what it called the Jackson nom de plume (without explanation as to why it had been adopted). Winn admitted it in his Hall of Fame player questionnaire: “Joined the Boston Braves under the name of George Jackson.”

3 Richmond Times Dispatch, April 17, 1919.

4 Kansas City Star, July 16, 1919.

5 Seattle Daily Times, May 20, 1921.

6 New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 7, 1923.

7 New Orleans Times-Picayune, May 27, 1925.

8 Dallas Morning News, July 14, 1925.

9 Richmond Times Dispatch, August 10, 1926. It was Winn’s base hit that won a 7-6 game for Spartanburg in the bottom of the tenth inning. See the Times Dispatch, September 15, 1925.

10 Richmond Times Dispatch, August 28, 1926.

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