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Milwaukee fondly recalls Spahn era

Neyer: Spahn's career ... in perspective

Warren Spahn's career stats

 Spahn Remembered's Jayson Stark looks back at Warren Spahn's career.
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Tuesday, November 25, 2003
Hall of Famer, 82, won 363 games
Associated Press

BROKEN ARROW, Okla. -- Warren Spahn stood up to Casey Stengel when he was 21 and fought against Germany a year later. Then, he returned to the major leagues and won 363 games after his 25th birthday.

All-time wins leaders
Pitcher Wins
Cy Young 511
Walter Johnson 417
Grover Alexander 373
Christy Mathewson 373
Pud Galvin 364
Warren Spahn 363
Kid Nichols 361
Tim Keefe 342
Steve Carlton 329
John Clarkson 328

The man was tough, pitching professionally for 24 seasons in an era when pitchers routinely completed games on three days' rest.

Spahn, the winningest left-hander in baseball history and a leader of the dominant Milwaukee Braves teams of the late 1950s, died at his Broken Arrow home Monday, family members said. He was 82.

"He was a hard-headed, hard-nosed, loving man," said Niki Spahn, his granddaughter. "He was the strongest man I ever met."

The Hall of Famer baffled batters with his high leg kick and teamed with Johnny Sain in the famous "Spahn and Sain and pray for rain" tandem.

Spahn helped pitch the Braves to a 1957 World Series championship and National League pennants in 1948 and 1958. A 14-time All-Star, Spahn won 20 games 13 times, tying Christy Matthewson for the most in NL history.

Spahn was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973, his first year of eligibility, receiving nearly 83 percent of the votes. Spahn led the NL in victories eight times, including five seasons in a row from 1957-61, and led the league in strikeouts from 1949-52.

"Warren Spahn was a fighter and a winner," said New York Yankees manager Joe Torre, who played with Spahn for the Braves. "He made catching in the big leagues a lot easier for me because he took me under his wing along with Lew Burdette."

Spahn's big league career began in 1942, but had a three-year hiatus marked by a demotion from Stengel and service in World War II. Over 21 seasons, Spahn played with the Boston and Milwaukee Braves, the San Francisco Giants and New York Mets.

He pitched no-hitters against Philadelphia on Sept. 15, 1960, and against San Francisco the following April 28. He pitched an NL-record 5,243 2/3 innings and hit 35 homers, a league record for pitchers.

He completed 382 of 665 starts and had 2,583 strikeouts.

"He is one of the greatest pitchers in the history of the game," commissioner Bud Selig said. "More importantly, he was my friend. I will miss him."

Warren Edward Spahn was born on April 23, 1921, in Buffalo, N.Y., one of six kids. His father, a wallpaper salesman, got him interested in baseball.

Spahn was a first baseman, but his high school team already had an all-city player at that position. He switched to pitching.

He signed with the Braves in 1940 for $80 a month, and was invited to spring training after he won 19 games in the minors in 1941.

Stengel sent Spahn down in 1942 after the left-hander refused to brush back Pee Wee Reese in an exhibition game. Stengel called farming Spahn out the worst mistake he ever made. Spahn went 17-12 with a 1.96 ERA at Hartford that season while the Braves finished in seventh place.

Spahn joined the Army in 1943, earning a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and a battlefield commission in World War II.

He returned to the majors in 1946.

"I think I was better equipped to handle major league hitters at 25 than I was at 22," Spahn once said.

Spahn emerged as one of baseball's best pitchers in 1947 with a 21-10 record and a league-leading 2.33 ERA. He won 20 or more games 13 of the next 17 seasons.

In 1948, the Boston Post ran a poem by sports editor Gerald Hern that led to the famous phrase about the Braves' two dominant pitchers. "First we'll use Spahn, then we'll use Sain, Then an off day, followed by rain. Back will come Spahn, followed by Sain, And followed, we hope, by two days of rain."

In his two best seasons, Spahn was 23-7 and led the league with a 2.10 ERA in 1953 at age 32, then matched that record a decade later at 42. But he had a 2.60 ERA in 1963.

A year later, he went 6-13 and then finished up in 1965, winning seven games combined for the Mets and Giants. He then pitched in Mexico and the minors before finally retiring in 1967 at 46.

When he was criticized for pitching that long, he said, "I don't care what the public thinks. I'm pitching because I enjoy pitching."

He finished with a career record of 363-245 and a 3.09 ERA. He won the 1957 Cy Young Award.

In August, the Braves unveiled a statue honoring Spahn in the plaza outside Turner Field in Atlanta. Spahn, in a wheelchair, traveled to Atlanta for the dedication of the 9-foot-high bronze monument, which features his high leg kick.

He's survived by a son, Greg, and two granddaughters, Niki and Kara.

A memorial service was tentatively set for Saturday in the Boston Avenue Methodist Church in Tulsa. Arrangements were being handled by the Floral Haven funeral home in Broken Arrow.

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