Spahn in 1952
|Born: April 23, 1921|
Buffalo, New York
|Died: November 24, 2003 (aged 82)|
Broken Arrow, Oklahoma
|April 19, 1942, for the Boston Braves|
|Last MLB appearance|
|October 1, 1965, for the San Francisco Giants|
|Earned run average||3.09|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Member of the National|
|Baseball Hall of Fame|
|Vote||82.89% (first ballot)|
Warren Edward Spahn (April 23, 1921 - November 24, 2003) was an American professional baseball player. He played in Major League Baseball as a left-handed pitcher in 1942 and then from 1946 until 1965, most notably for the Boston Braves, who became the Milwaukee Braves after the team moved west before the 1953 season. His baseball career was interrupted by his military service in the United States Army during the Second World War.
With 363 victories over the span of his 21-year baseball playing career, Spahn holds the major league record for most career wins by a left-handed pitcher, and the most by a pitcher who played his entire career in the post-1920 live-ball era. He was a 17-time All-Star player who won 20 games or more in 13 seasons, including a 23-7 record when he was age 42. Spahn won the 1957 Cy Young Award and was a three-time runner-up during the period when only one award was given for both leagues. At the time of his retirement in 1965, Spahn held the Major League Baseball record for career strikeouts by a left-handed pitcher.
He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1973 with 82.89% of the vote. The Warren Spahn Award, given annually to the major leagues' best left-handed pitcher, is named in his honor. Regarded as a "thinking man's" pitcher who liked to outwit batters, Spahn once described his approach on the mound: "Hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting timing."
Spahn's major league career began in 1942 with the Braves and he spent all but one year with that franchise, first in Boston and then in Milwaukee. He finished his career in 1965 with the New York Mets and the San Francisco Giants. With 363 wins, Spahn is the sixth most winning pitcher in history, trailing only Cy Young (511), Walter Johnson (417), Grover Cleveland Alexander (373), Christy Mathewson (373), and Pud Galvin (364) on MLB's all-time list. He led the league in wins eight times (1949-50, 1953, 1957-61, each season with 20+ wins) and won at least 20 games an additional five times (1947, 1951, 1954, 1956, 1963).
Spahn also threw two no-hitters (in 1960 and 1961, at ages 39 and 40), won 3 ERA titles (1947, 1953, and 1961), and four strikeout crowns (1949-52). He appeared in 14 All-Star Games, the most of any pitcher in the 20th century. He won the NL Player of the Month Award in August 1960 (6-0, 2.30 ERA, 32 SO) and August 1961 (6-0, 1.00 ERA, 26 SO)
Spahn acquired the nickname "Hooks", not so much because of his pitching, but due to the prominent shape of his nose. He had once been hit in the face by a thrown ball that he was not expecting, and his broken nose settled into a hook-like shape. In Spahn's final season, during his stint with the Mets, Yogi Berra came out of retirement briefly and caught 4 games, one of them with Spahn pitching. Yogi later told reporters, "I don't think we're the oldest battery, but we're certainly the ugliest."
Spahn was known for a very high leg kick in his delivery, as was his later Giants teammate Juan Marichal. Photo sequences show that this high kick served a specific purpose. As a left-hander, Spahn was able not only to watch any runner on first base, but also to avoid telegraphing whether he was delivering to the plate or to first base, thereby forcing the runner to stay close to the bag. As his fastball waned, Spahn adapted, and relied more on location, changing speeds and a good screwball. He led or shared the lead in the NL in wins in 1957-61 (age 36-40).
Spahn was also a good hitter, hitting at least one home run in 17 straight seasons, and finishing with an NL career record for pitchers, with 35 home runs. Wes Ferrell, who spent most of his time in the American League, holds the overall record for pitchers, with 37. Spahn posted a .194 batting average (363-for-1872) with 141 runs, 57 doubles, 6 triples, 94 bases on balls and 189 RBI. He also drove in 10 or more runs nine times, with a career-high 18 in 1951. In 1958 he batted a strong .333 (36-for-108). In eight World Series games, he batted .200 (4-for-20) with 4 RBI and 1 walk.
First signed by the Boston Braves, he reported to the Class-D Bradford Bees of the PONY League - later known as the NY-Penn League - after graduating high school. Spahn made his professional debut on July 6 at MacArthur Park (Dwyer Stadium) in Batavia, New York. Spahn took the loss against the Batavia Clippers pitching out of the bullpen where he walked two batters and struck out none. He finished the season with a 5-4 record and 2.73 ERA.  In 1941 Spahn broke out and won 19 games against 6 losses with a 1.83 ERA while pitching for the Class-B Evansville Bees of the Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League.
Spahn reached the major leagues in 1942 at the age of 20. He clashed with Braves manager Casey Stengel, who sent him to the minors after Spahn refused to throw at Brooklyn Dodger batter Pee Wee Reese in an exhibition game. Spahn had pitched in only 4 games, allowing 15 runs (10 earned) in innings.
Stengel later said that it was the worst managing mistake he had ever made: I said "no guts" to a kid who went on to become a war hero and one of the greatest lefthanded pitchers you ever saw. You can't say I don't miss 'em when I miss 'em. The 1942 Braves finished next to last, and Stengel was fired the following year. Spahn was reunited with his first manager 23 years later, for the even more woeful last-place New York Mets, and--referring to Stengel's success with the 1949-60 New York Yankees--later quipped, "I'm probably the only guy who played for Casey before and after he was a genius."
Along with many other major leaguers, Spahn chose to enlist in the United States Army, after finishing the 1942 season in the minors. He served with distinction, and was awarded a Purple Heart. He saw action in the Battle of the Bulge and at the Ludendorff Bridge as a combat engineer, and was awarded a battlefield commission.
Spahn returned to the major leagues in 1946 at the age of 25, having missed three full seasons. Had he played, it is possible that Spahn would have finished his career behind only Walter Johnson and Cy Young in all-time wins. Spahn was unsure of the war's impact on his career:
People say that my absence from the big leagues may have cost me a chance to win 400 games. 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.
On June 11, 1950, Spahn and pitcher Bob Rush of the Cubs each stole a base against each other; no opposing pitchers again stole a base in the same game until May 3, 2004, when Jason Marquis and Greg Maddux repeated the feat.
In 1951, Spahn allowed the first career hit to Willie Mays, a home run. Mays had begun his career 0-for-12, and Spahn responded to reporters after the game, citing the distance between home plate and the pitcher's mound of 60 feet 6 inches (18.44 m), "Gentlemen, for the first 60 feet, that was a hell of a pitch." Spahn joked a long time later, "I'll never forgive myself. We might have gotten rid of Willie forever if I'd only struck him out." (In 1962, another Hall of Famer hit his first career home run off Spahn: Sandy Koufax, who only hit one other.)
Spahn's teammate Johnny Sain was the ace of the pennant-winning 1948 Braves staff, with a win-loss record of 24-15. Spahn went 15-12 while, contrary to legend, teammates Bill Voiselle (13-13), and Vern Bickford (11-5) also pitched well.
First we'll use Spahn
then we'll use Sain
Then an off day
followed by rain
Back will come Spahn
followed by Sain
by two days of rain.
The poem was inspired by the performance of Spahn and Sain during the Braves' 1948 pennant drive. The team swept a Labor Day doubleheader, with Spahn throwing a complete 14-inning win in the opener, and Sain pitching a shutout in the second game. Following two off days, it did rain. Spahn won the next day, and Sain won the day after that. Three days later, Spahn won again. Sain won the next day. After one more off day, the two pitchers were brought back, and won another doubleheader. The two pitchers had gone 8-0 in 12 days' time.
Other sayings have been derived from "Spahn and Sain and pray for rain." For example, some referred to the 1993 San Francisco Giants' imbalanced rotation as "Burkett and Swift and pray for snow drift."
In 1957, Spahn was the ace of the champion Milwaukee Braves. Spahn pitched on two other Braves pennant winners, in 1948 and 1958. Spahn led the NL in strikeouts for four consecutive seasons, from 1949 to 1952 (tied with Don Newcombe in 1951), which includes a single game high of 18 strike outs (then the NL record) in a 15-inning appearance on June 14, 1952.
During the 1957 World Series, Sal Maglie of the Yankees, ineligible to pitch in the series because he was acquired too late in the season, watched the games with Robert Creamer of Sports Illustrated and made assessments of the players. When Spahn was pitching, Maglie observed that batters had to try to hit balls to the opposite field against Spahn, as he was more likely to get them out if they tried to pull the ball.
Spahn maintained that "A pitcher needs two pitches -- one they're looking for, and one to cross 'em up." He was thus able to maintain his position as one of the game's top pitchers until his 19th season in the sport. This was exemplified by his start on July 2, 1963. Facing the San Francisco Giants, the 42-year-old Spahn became locked into a storied pitchers' duel with 25-year-old Juan Marichal. The score was still 0-0 after more than four hours when Willie Mays hit a game-winning solo home run off Spahn with one out in the bottom of the 16th inning. Marichal's manager, Alvin Dark, visited the mound in the 9th, 10th, 11th, 13th, and 14th innings, and was talked out of removing Marichal each time. During the 14th-inning visit, Marichal told Dark, "Do you see that man pitching for the other side? Do you know that man is 42 years old? I'm only 25. If that man is on the mound, nobody is going to take me out of here." Marichal ended up throwing 227 pitches in the complete game 1-0 win, while Spahn threw 201 in the loss, allowing nine hits and one walk. Hall of Famer Carl Hubbell, who was in attendance that night, said of Spahn, "He ought to will his body to medical science."
Spahn threw his first no-hitter against the Philadelphia Phillies on September 16, 1960, when he was 39. He pitched his second no-hitter the following year on April 28, 1961, against the Giants. By the last two seasons of his career, Spahn was the oldest active player in baseball. He lost this distinction for a single day: September 25, 1965, when 58-year-old Satchel Paige pitched three innings.
Spahn's seemingly ageless ability caused Stan Musial to quip, "[Spahn] will never get into the Hall of Fame. He won't stop pitching."
Following the 1964 season, after 25 years with the franchise, Spahn was sold by the Braves to the New York Mets. Braves manager Bobby Bragan predicted, "Spahnie won't win six games with the Mets." Spahn took on the dual role of pitcher and pitching coach. Spahn won four and lost 12 at which point the Mets put Spahn on waivers. He was put on waivers on July 15, 1965, and released on July 22, 1965. He signed with the San Francisco Giants, with whom he appeared in his final major league game on October 1, 1965, at the age of 44. With the Mets and Giants combined, he won seven games for the season--his last in the major leagues. His number would be retired by the Braves later that year.
In a 22-season major league career, Spahn posted a 363-245 win-loss record with 2,583 strikeouts and a 3.09 ERA in innings pitched, including 63 shutouts and 382 complete games. His 363 career win total ranks sixth overall in major league history; it is also the most by a pitcher who played his entire career in the post-1920 live-ball era. Spahn still holds the major league record for most career wins by a left-handed pitcher. His 63 career shutouts is the highest total in the live-ball era and sixth highest overall.
His 2,583 career strikeouts were the most by a left-handed pitcher in Major League Baseball history until he was surpassed by Mickey Lolich in 1975. For several decades, Spahn's Hall of Fame plaque contained a typographical error, crediting him with 2,853 strikeouts.
Spahn managed the Tulsa Oilers for five seasons, winning 372 games from 1967 to 1971. His 1968 club won the Pacific Coast League championship. He also coached for the Mexico City Tigers, and pitched a handful of games there. He was a pitching coach with the Cleveland Indians, in the minor leagues for the California Angels, and for six years, with Japan's Hiroshima Toyo Carp.
Spahn died of natural causes, at his home in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. He is interred in the Elmwood Cemetery in Hartshorne. After his death a street was named after him in Buffalo, New York that connects Abbott Road with Seneca Street, through Cazenovia Park, in the heart of South Buffalo. The street is near South Park High School, Spahn's alma mater.
A few months before his death, Spahn attended the unveiling of a statue outside Atlanta's Turner Field. When the Braves vacated Turner Field to move into their current home of Truist Park, the statue was moved, and now stands outside that ballpark. The statue depicts Spahn in the middle of one of his leg kicks. The statue was created by Shan Gray, who has sculpted numerous other statues of athletes which stand in Oklahoma, including two others of Spahn. One resides at the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame located at the Oklahoma City Bricktown Ballpark and the other is located in Hartshorne, Oklahoma at the Hartshorne Event Center.
Spahn was selected for the all-time All-Star baseball team by Sports Illustrated magazine in 1991, as the left-handed pitcher. The other selections were: outfielders Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, and Willie Mays; shortstop Cal Ripken, third baseman Mike Schmidt, second baseman Jackie Robinson, first baseman Lou Gehrig, catcher Mickey Cochrane, right-handed pitcher Christy Mathewson, relief pitcher Dennis Eckersley, and manager Casey Stengel.
Spahn was elected to the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame in 1973 and became a charter member of both the Buffalo Baseball Hall of Fame in 1985, and the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame in 1991.
On April 4, 2009, the facilities of Broken Arrow Youth Baseball, in Spahn's longtime home of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, were dedicated in his honor.
In their Naked Gun films, producers Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker sometimes included joke credits. The trio, who were Milwaukee-area natives, included Spahn in the closing credits once, with the disclaimer, "He's not in the film, but he's still our all-time favorite left-hand pitcher."