John Whitlow Wyatt, a native of Kensington, in Walker County, was one of the best pitchers in the National League from 1939 to 1943, compiling a record of seventy-eight wins and thirty-nine losses. Whitlow Wyatt was named to the National League All-Star Team four times and is a member of the Brooklyn (New York) Dodgers Hall of Fame and the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame.
For the first nine years of his career Wyatt struggled, winning twenty-six games and losing forty-three. Three American League teams released him. After the 1937 season Wyatt retired from baseball and returned to his farm near Buchanan, Georgia.
Henry Bendinger, the owner of the Milwaukee (Wisconsin) Brewers of the American Association, persuaded Wyatt to give baseball one last try. While pitching for the Brewers, he mastered the slow curve, an accomplishment that proved to be the turning point in his career. In 1938 he won the pitchers’ triple crown, leading the association in wins, strikeouts, and earned run average. League writers named Wyatt Most Valuable Player. After the season the Brooklyn Dodgers bought his contract for $30,000, and he enjoyed five outstanding years in the major leagues.
Wyatt’s best season was 1941, when he tied for the league lead in victories, with twenty-two, and led the Dodgers to their first pennant since 1920. He won the second game of the World Series, ending the New York Yankees’ streak of ten consecutive victories in series play. He lost the fifth and final game of the series, but he struck out Joe DiMaggio twice, the only time that DiMaggio fanned twice in the same game all season.
Wyatt retired from baseball after the 1945 season. He returned in 1950 as pitching coach and then as manager of the Atlanta Crackers. Wyatt managed the Crackers in 1954 and led the team to the Class AA Grand Slam, winning the midseason All-Star game, pennant, postseason league play-off, and Dixie Series over the Texas League champions. Wyatt was the second manager in Southern Association history to win the Grand Slam.
From 1955 to 1969 Wyatt was pitching coach for the Philadelphia Phillies as well as the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves. He taught his young hurlers the importance of changing speeds, earning recognition as one of baseball’s best pitching coaches.
On the field Wyatt was a fierce competitor. Off the field he was a humble man, devoted to his family, farm, and faith. Wyatt died at the Tanner Medical Center in Carrollton of complications from pneumonia on July 16, 1999.