The Glory Days: The Old Left-Hander
Warren Spahn was a wonderful pitcher.
The winningest left-hander in history, his 363 victories place him sixth on the all-time list. His career earned run average was 3.09 over 5,243 innings.
I am amazed that Spahn is omitted from some of the recent listings of the greatest pitchers of all time as ranked by current baseball writers/historians. Leaving him out is puzzling, to say the least, based solely on his numbers. But when some of the pitchers included have substantially fewer wins and higher ERAs, it’s downright absurd. What are these people thinking?
Spahnie personified the golden era of baseball. They just don’t make them like him anymore. He had all of the ingredients for success: consistency, endurance, resiliency, ability and competitive fire. And he had that poetic windup to boot – arms spread like an eagle’s wings on the uptake, right leg aimed to the heavens just prior to his delivery.
He went to the mound every fourth day – that’s right, for much of Spahn’s career, he pitched in a four-man rotation – and usually finished what he started. In 21 major league seasons, he completed 382 of 665 starts.
That’s 54.4 percent!!
Pitching complete games more than half of the time is unheard of today. Consider that Philadelphia led the major leagues in 2011 with 18 CGs, and only four other teams had as many as 10. Spahn AVERAGED 18, throwing 20 or more a dozen times.
The splendid southpaw was a 20-game winner 13 times, including six straight seasons (1956-61) beginning when he was 35 years old and ending when he was 40.
Then, at the age of 42, he matched his finest season. In 1963, Spahn went 23-7 with a 2.60 earned run average, seven shutouts and 22 complete games in 259.2 innings.
On July 2 of that ’63 season, Spahn hooked up with 25-year-old Giants right-hander Juan Marichal in a classic pitching duel between future Hall of Famers. It was a magnificent marathon, both men going the distance as San Francisco won it, 1-0, on a Willie Mays home run in the bottom of the 16th inning.
Spahn was also 23-7 ten years earlier, posting a 2.10 ERA with 24 complete games and five shutouts and adding three saves over 265.2 innings in 1953.
Can you imagine Warren Spahn being satisfied with a quality start? In fact, can you imagine him even acknowledging there is such a thing? Of course, there wasn’t in his day. (I might add that there shouldn’t be today, either.)
Spahn worked at least 257 innings 16 years and pitched 290 or more six times. Pitchers back then were insulted when replaced by a reliever. The only quality start was a W.
A fine hitter, who was frequently called on to pinch-hit, he had 35 career home runs. He helped himself by being an outstanding fielder and with a slick pickoff move as well.
It is worth mentioning that Spahn was 25 before his major league career really started. He missed 1943-45, all of three seasons, while fighting in World War II.
His only sin, like Jim Kaat’s, is that he pitched too long. That’s what some say, anyway. Spahn himself never looked at it that way. Despite finishing his big league career with a couple of bad seasons, he explained that he was not concerned with what people thought; he was simply continuing to play a game he loved.
The Old Left-Hander was a piece of art.