|Warren Spahn... Major League Pitcher... 1942-1965
This Biography from 'Complete Baseball' by Microsoft:
Lefthanded pitcher Warren Spahn was so good for so long that it's amazing he ever questioned his qualifications for the Hall of Fame - but he did. The winningest lefthander in Major League Baseball history, Spahn won 20 games 13 different times, a mark equaled only by Christy Mathewson. He recorded 63 shutouts, the National League record for a lefthander, and produced a lifetime ERA of 3.09.
A consummate competitor, Spahn once observed, "When I'm pitching I feel I'm down to the essentials. Two men, with one challenge between them, and what better challenge than between pitcher and hitter."
Born and raised in Buffalo, New York, (4/23/1921) Spahn started his baseball career playing first base for the junior squad of Buffalo's Lake City Athlete Club while his father held down third base for the senior team. Later, both father and son performed in the same infield. Spahn wanted to play first base for his South Park High School team, but since the incumbent was already All-City, Spahn thought it best to switch to the mound.
In 1940 he signed with the Boston Braves and was assigned to Bradford of the Class D PONY League. No bonus was involved. If there had been a bonus, the Braves might have thought they had wasted their money. Twice that first year Spahn injured his arm, and he worked only 66 innings. But the next year Spahn graduated to Evansville of the Class B 3-1 League, where he led the league with 19 wins, a .760 won-loss percentage, and a 1.83 ERA.
Spahn started the 1942 season with the big league club, and saw Braves pitcher Jim Tobin hit two home runs on Opening Day. Spahn concluded that he wanted to be that type of pitcher. Boston Manager Casey Stengel had other ideas for Spahn, however. When the rookie refused to throw a brush-back pitch at Brooklyn shortstop Pee Wee Reese, Stengel demoted him to Hartford of the Eastern League. There Spahn went 17-12 with a 1.96 ERA. "It was the worst mistake I ever made," Stengel later admitted.
Spahn didn't return to Boston in 1943. He was drafted into the Army and assigned to the 176th Combat Engineers Battalion. Spahn fought in the Battle of the Bulge and participated in the taking of the key Rhine crossing bridge at Remagen, Germany. Several of his company were lost when the bridge finally collapsed. He received a Bronze Star, as well as a Purple Heart for being hit with shrapnel.
Spahn's bravely won him a battlefield commission, but the honor also cost him six more months in the Army and an additional three months out of his baseball career. He spent the extended time in Germany with the Army of Occupation, replacing a fellow officer who had been killed.
Many have speculated about how many more games Spahn might have won in the majors had he not spent 3 1/2 seasons in the Army, but Spahn approached the topic philosophically. "People say that my absence from the big leagues may have cost me a chance to win 400 games." he reflected. "But I don't know about that. I matured a lot in three years, and I think I was better equipped to handle major league hitters at 25 than I was at 22. Also, I pitched until I was 44. Maybe I wouldn't have been able to do that otherwise."
Spahn returned to the Braves in July 1946 and was faced with Two tasks: winning a spot in the Boston rotation and marrying his fiancee, Lorene Southard. Braves manager Billy Southworth wanted Spahn to put off the ceremony until the season's end, and even offered to be the best man, but Spahn couldn't wait.
He and his bride were married on Saturday, August 10, 1946. Spahn was given the day off. The game was rained out anyway and was made up the following day as part of a Sunday double- header. Spahn was called in to relieve in one game and lost on a Sid Gordon homer.
Spahn quickly emerged as one of the top pitchers in the league. In 1947 he won 21 games and led the NL in ERA. In 1948 he Was a key member of the Braves' "Spahn and Sain and Pray For Rain" pitching staff. Some have pointed out that the duo's won-loss percentage was actually lower than the team's as a whole, .591 as compared with .595. This, however, fails to take into account the tremendous success the two pitchers enjoyed down the stretch.
On Labor Day Spahn and Sain opposed the Dodgers in a twin bill. Spahn, who had gotten off to a very slow start that year, won the first game on a five-hitter, 2-1, pitching 14 innings. In the second game Sain shutout Brooklyn 4-0. No games were scheduled for the following two days, and then it did indeed rain. Spahn and Sain won the next two games, followed by a day off, and Boston's two other starters split a doubleheader. Sain and Spahn then defeated the Chicago Cubs on September 14 and 15. The team had another day off. Then the two staff aces took the mound again and won a pair of games against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Exhausted from this stretch drive, Spahn started and lost Game 2 of the World Series against the Cleveland Indians. He won Game 5 in relief, but surrendered a run in two innings of relief as Cleveland won Game 6 and the Series.
In 1951 Spahn surrendered the first hit to a slumping young prospect named Willie Mays. "He was something like 0-for-21 the first time I saw him. His first major league hit was a home run off me - and I'll never forgive myself. We might have gotten rid of Willie forever if I'd only struck him out."
Although he wasn't known as a strikeout artist, Spahn led the NL in that category from 1949 through 1952. On June 14, 1952, he struck out 18 batters in a 15-inning contest against the Cubs.
After the Braves moved to Milwaukee in 1953 he helped the club win two more pennants and a world championship. He won the Cy Young Award in 1957, and beat the New York Yankees twice in the 1958 World Series.
Spahn was a true craftsman on the mound, much more a pitcher than a thrower. "A pitcher needs two pitches - one they're looking for and one to cross 'em up," he once observed. Batters could take a "comfortable oh-for-four" against Spahn. Hitters would get around enough to hit the ball, but not well enough to do any real damage. They would be only slightly off. "Hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting timing," Spahn theorized.
Spahn did not record any no-hitters until late in his career, when he cemented his reputation as an ageless wonder by pitching two of them. At age 39, at Milwaukee's County Stadium, he no-hit the Philadelphia Phillies for his 20th win of the 1960 season, the eleventh time he had reached that number. He struck out 15 batters, his career high for nine innings.
The following year Spahn did it again. Five days after his 40th birthday he no-hit the San Francisco Giants, defeating them, 1-0. Later that season Spahn notched his 300th career victory, defeating the Cubs 2-1, on a six-hitter.
Spahn was one of baseball's better hitting pitchers, with 35 lifetime home runs, the NL record for a hurler and fourth-best on the all-time list. In 1958 he became one of the few pitchers to bat .300 and record 20 wins in the same season.
Toward the end of his career Spahn was sent to the last place New York Mets, where he briefly served as a pitcher-coach under manager Casey Stengel. Spahn once quipped, "I'm probably the only guy who worked with Stengel before and after he was a genius."
Spahn and fellow Mets player-coach Yogi Berra teamed up for a historic battery. "I don't think we're the oldest battery, but we're certainly the ugliest," remarked Berra. At about that time Stan Musial said, "I' don't think Spahn will ever get into the Hall of Fame. He'll never stop pitching." But he did retire from playing, in 1965, after going 3-4 for the Giants.
After leaving the majors Spahn coached for the Mexico City Tigers and also pitched a few games in Mexico. He served as a pitching coach for the Cleveland Indians and later in Japan with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp from 1973-1978, before retiring. He later returned to the game for two seasons as a minor league pitching instructor in the California Angels organization.
He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1973, his first year of eligibility. Baseballhistorian.com