A True Competitor: The Warren Spahn Story

Bleacher Report Senior Writer IOctober 22, 2008

Warren Spahn is one of the best left-handed pitchers ever. He is the winningest southpaw, winning 20 or more games on 13 different occasions, something only the great Christy Matthewson matched. He had 63 shutouts and a very respectable 3.08 earned run average.

Spahn was known by teammates for his competitiveness. He once said "What is life, after all, but a big challenge? And what better challenge then a pitcher and a hitter?"

Spahn was born on April 23, 1921 in Buffalo, New York. At the age of 19, he signed with the Boston Braves and was assigned to Bradford of the dangerous Pony League. He signed for no bonus.

Spahn got injured that year twice and pitched just 66 innings. But the next year, he had 19 wins compared to just five losses and an amazing 1.83 ERA.

Spahn was called up to the Braves briefly in 1942. Spahn was in for one game and refused to brush back Dodgers shortstop Pee Wee Reese. Casey Stengel responded by sending Spahn to Harford of the Eastern League. For Harford, he was 17-12 with a 1.96 ERA.

Stengel knew he made a mistake, calling it "The biggest blunder I ever made." I second that. Spahn didn't even play with the Braves in 1943. He was drafted by the army and took part in the taking of the key Rhine crossing bridge at Germany.

Spahn returned in 1946 and not only earned a spot with the Braves in the rotation, but also married his fiance, Lorene Southard.

In 1947, Spahn became one of the top pitchers in baseball. He won 21 games and led the NL with a 2.33 earned run average. In 1948, he and Johnny Sain were the most fearsome 1-2 punch of any rotation in baseball.  Spahn had a rough year by his standards, going 15-12, but had a 3.71 ERA and it was obvious he was a true rising star in the game.

Although not really a power pitcher, Spahn led the league in punch-outs the next four seasons.

Spahn threw his first no-hitter in 1960, when he was 39 and tossed another one the next year, at the age of 40.

1953 was his best year statistically, as he posted twenty three wins, a mere seven losses, and a 2.10 earned run average. He would've easily won the Cy Young Award, but that award wasn't acknowledged until 1956, when Don Newcombe won with the Brooklyn Dodgers. His lone Cy Young win was in 1957, when he was 21-11 and had a 2.69 ERA.

After throwing a no hitter at 40, Stan Musial said: "I don't think Spahn will ever get into the Hall of Fame. He'll never stop pitching."

In 1961, Spahn recorded his 300th win, beating the Cubs 2-1, yielding just six hits. Spahn went on to win sixty three more games, with 363 for his career and had 245 losses, totaling a 3.09 ERA.

Spahn retired in 1964 after having a rough 3-4 season. He didn't get away from baseball, though. He went to the Mexican League and coached pitchers. He even pitched some games.

Many criticized him for pitching at the age of forty three. Spahn replied, "I don't care what the public thinks. I'm pitching because I enjoy it."

Being an incredibly modest guy, he said, "It'll be a great honor if I'm voted in [to the Hall of Fame], but it's something a player should never expect will happen."

He was voted in on his first try in 1973. Spahn died in 2003 in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. A statue of Spahn displaying his famous leg kick is located in Monument Grove at Turner Field in Atlanta.  

Career stats: 363-245, 3.09 ERA