Warren Spahn, the Hall of Fame pitcher who won more games than any other left-handed pitcher in baseball history, died Monday November 24th at his home, he was 82.
Warren Spahn was the mainstay of the Braves pitching staff for two decades, first in Boston and then in Milwaukee. He pitched for 21 seasons, winning 363 games and posting 20 or more victories 13 times.
The remarkable part of this feat was that he was 25 before he got his first major league win.
"Warren Spahn was a fighter and a winner," said New York Yankees manager Joe Torre, a former teammate. "He made catching in the big leagues a lot easier for me because he took me under his wing along with Lew Burdette. One of my biggest thrills to this day was catching his 300th victory in 1961."
Spahn's son, Greg 55, of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma said he had lost "my hero, my best friend, my buddy." "He was an incredible athlete and an incredible father," he said. "He just did everything his way. He had an incredible gift from God and he made the most of it. He was a good fielder and a good hitter. Any advantage he could get, he would take."
Greg Spahn said his father was extremely competitive. "We battled on the golf course," he said. "We battled at everything."
His granddaughter, Niki Spahn, 24, of Oklahoma City, called him a "hard-headed, hard-nosed, loving man."
Spahn started his baseball career in his hometown of Buffalo, playing first base while his father played third for the Buffalo Lake City Athletic Club. He wanted to play first in high school but his team already had an all-city player at that position. So Spahn switched to pitching.
He signed with the Braves in 1940 for $80 a month and injured his arm twice in his first season of D-level ball. But he won 19 games the next season and was invited to spring training with the Braves.
He started the 1942 season with the Braves but was sent down by manager Casey Stengel, who was angry because the left-hander refused to brush back Pee Wee Reese in an exhibition game. Spahn went 17-12 with a 1.96 ERA average at Hartford that season while the Braves finished in 7th place. Stengel called farming Spahn out the worst mistake he ever made.
In 1943, Spahn went into the Army, serving in Europe, where he was wounded, decorated for bravery with a Bronze Star and Purple Heart and was awarded a battlefield commission. He fought at the Battle of the Bulge and in the battle for the bridge at Remagen, Germany, where many men in his company were lost.
After the war Warren Spahn returned to baseball in 1946, and had an 8-5 record for the Braves. The next season, he emerged as one of baseball's best pitchers with a 21-10 record. He led the NL with a 2.33 ERA and became part of a pitching partnership with Johnny Sain that took Boston to the NL pennant the next year. Because of the Braves' thin staff, Boston's pitching was described as "Spahn and Sain and pray for rain."
Equipped with a high-kicking delivery that baffled batters, Spahn became a dominant pitcher after that season, a consistent 20-game winner. Starting in 1947, Spahn won 20 or more games in 13 of the next 17 seasons. Only Christy Mathewson had as many 20-win seasons in the NL. Strangely, one of the years he missed that plateau was 1948, when he was 15-12 as the Braves won their first pennant since 1914. Spahn led the NL in victories 8 times, including five in a row from 1957-61, and led the league in strikeouts from 1949-52.
Warren Spahn said, "When I'm pitching, I feel I'm down to the essentials -- two men with one challenge between them." He usually won that challenge.
One of Sphan's greatest competitive displays actually resulted in a Braves loss. On July 3, 1963, a 42-year-old Spahn locked up in a classic duel with a 25-year-old Giants right-hander named Juan Marichal. The two future Hall of Famers each worked into the 16th inning of a scoreless game that ended when Willie Mays hit a solo homer off Spahn.
Spahn led the league in complete games 9 times, including 7 in a row from 1957-63. For his career, he completed 382 of 665 starts and had 2,583 strikeouts.
He led the Braves to pennants with 21 wins in 1957 and 22 in 1958, and then won 21 games in each of the next 3 seasons.
He was 23-7 and led the league with a 2.10 ERA in 1953 at age 32 and then matched that a decade later when he was 42, going 23-7 again in 1963, this time with a 2.60 ERA. That was his last great season. A year later, he went 6-13 and then finished up in 1965, splitting the season between the New York Mets and San Francisco Giants and winning seven games. He then pitched in Mexico and the minors before finally retiring in 1967 at the age of 46.
When he was criticized for pitching that long, Spahn said, "I don't care what the public thinks. I'm pitching because I enjoy pitching." That left him with a career record of 363-245 and a 3.09 ERA. He won the 1957 Cy Young Award and was second three times. He made 14 All-Star teams, threw two no-hitters and holds the NL record for home runs by a pitcher with 35. Warren Spahn's career also included two no-hitters. His final one came in 1961, when he was 40 years old.
Warren Spahn was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1973, his first year of eligibility.
In August When Warren Spahn was immortalized with a larger-than-life bronze statue in front of Turner Field, Major League Baseball's most successful left-handed pitcher was emotionally overcome to the brink of embarrassment. "I am pleased that baseball thought enough of me to scare the people, if you will, with the statue here," Spahn said. "The only scary thing I have is the statue is going to be here when I leave. That disserves me. Either the statue goes with me or I'm going to stay with the statue."
When the Braves begin the 2004 season, they will do so in the shadow of this beautiful statue and with the sad reality that the greatest pitcher in their franchise's rich history has passed away
©2003 Tank Productions.