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Stephen Strasburg, Meet Karl Spooner

Harold FriendChief Writer IJune 10, 2010

Stephen Strasburg, meet Karl Spooner, who might have become one of the all-time greats.

Karl Spooner made his Major League debut on Sept. 22, 1954, shutting out the soon-to-be World Champion New York Giants.

The Brooklyn Dodgers young left-hander struck out 15 Giants to set the strikeout record for a major league pitching debut, which J.R. Richard equaled a few years later.

In his next and final start of the 1954 season, Spooner shut out the Pirates, striking out 12, to set the record of 27 strikeouts by a pitcher in his first two games.

Brooklyn fans shouted, "Spooner should have come up sooner."



The Greatest Young Pitcher Roy Campanella Had Ever Seen

Roy Campanella, the great Brooklyn catcher, didn't mince words.

"He's the greatest young pitcher I've ever seen."

Plagued by control problems, Spooner finally overcame them, thanks to a knee injury.

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While pitching at Fort Worth in June 1954, he hurt his knee while playing pepper. At that point in the season, he had already walked 112 batters.

The knee injury kept Spooner out for two weeks and when he returned, he was forced to pitch without a windup and with a shortened stride, which improved his control greatly.

Karl won 21 games and set a strikeout record, fanning 262 batters before joining the Dodgers at the end of the season.

In November 1954, Brooklyn's 23-year-old left-handed rookie pitching sensation had surgery on his right knee.

Sometimes, a knee injury can lead to a change in pitching motion, which can lead to arm problems.



They Can Never Take Those Away

During spring training in 1955, Spooner told reporters that his knee wasn't too strong. He claimed that his increased weight of 192 lbs wouldn't affect his performance.

When reporters reminded Spooner that he had pitched two shutouts in his only two starts and that eventually a team would score against him, Spooner's reply was always, "But I've always got those two big ones on my record. They can never take those away from me."



Spooner Pitched Well

During the 1955 season, Spooner worked both as a reliever and starter.

On August 29, he pitched a gem, beating the Cardinals, 6-1, as he allowed only six hits while striking out nine and walking one.

In his next start, Spooner shut out the Pirates, but he struck out only three batters. Brooklyn easily won the pennant and faced their friends, the New York Yankees, in the World Series.



Last Major League Start

Brooklyn, which had never won the World Series, won three of the first five games.

Twenty-game winner Don Newcombe was scheduled to start the sixth game, but he was hurt and tired.

Spooner started instead and was knocked out in a five-run Yankees first inning.

The Yankees won the game, but Brooklyn won the next day for its only World Championship. It was Spooner's last major league start.



Spooner's Sore Arm

Karl Spooner never became what he could have been. He had a sore arm during spring training in 1956 and never pitched another game in the major leagues.

It makes one wonder what would have happened if the medical advances that have occurred during the last 50 years had been available for Spooner.



References:

  • McGowen, Roscoe. "Spooner Hurls First Time Since Surgery on His Knee." New York Times . 6 March 1955, p. S1
  • Daley, Arthur. "Better Late Than Never." New York Times. 18 March 1955, p.36.
  • McGowen,Roscoe. "Dodgers, Behind Spooner, Vanquish Cardinals." New York Times. 29 August 1955, p.13.
  • McGowen, Roscoe. "Dodgers' Spooner Blanks Pirates;; BROOKS WIN BY 2-0 ON SNIDER'S HOMER He Gets No. 41 With Reese Aboard in Sixth -- Spooner Achieves First Shutout." New York Times . 3 September 1955, p.11.
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