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Baseball's Winningest Southpaw Spahn Dies at 82
BROKEN ARROW, Okla. (Nov. 24) -- Warren Spahn, the winningest left-hander in baseball history and a leader of the dominant Milwaukee Braves teams of the late 1950s, died at his home Monday. He was 82.
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 National League pennants in 1948, 1957 and 1958. The Braves played two seven-game World Series against the New York Yankees in the latter two years, winning the first one and losing the second.
A workhorse who pitched until he was 46, Spahn won 20 games 13 times, matching Christy Mathewson for the most in NL history. Spahn was a 14-time All-Star who pitched 21 seasons in a career interrupted by World War II.
He began pitching in the majors in 1942, when the Braves were in Boston, and stayed with the team through its move to Milwaukee in 1953. He left the Braves after the 1964 season, ending his career the following year with San Francisco and the New York Mets.
Yankees manager Joe Torre was a young catcher with the Braves when Spahn was at the top of his game.
"Warren Spahn was a fighter and a winner," Torre said. "He made catching in the big leagues a lot easier for me because he took me under his wing along with Lew Burdette. One of my biggest thrills to this day was catching his 300th victory in 1961."
Spahn was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1973, his first year of eligibility, receiving 315 votes of 380 votes, nearly 83 percent. 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. The remarkable part was that Spahn was 25 before he got his first major league win.
He pitched no-hitters against Philadelphia on Sept. 15, 1960, and against San Francisco the following April 28.
His 5,243 2/3 innings remain the NL record. Spahn also hit 35 homers, a league record for pitchers.
"As a young Milwaukee Braves fan during the 1950s, I have many wonderful and vivid memories of the great Warren Spahn on the mound at County Stadium," commissioner Bud Selig said. "He is one of the greatest pitchers in the history of the game. More importantly, he was my friend. I will miss him."
Equipped with a delivery that confused batters, Spahn failed to win 20 games only once between 1953 and 1961.
"When I'm pitching, I feel I'm down to the essentials -- two men with one challenge between them," he said.
He usually won that challenge.
Spahn led the NL in complete games nine times, including seven in a row from 1957-63. For his career, he completed 382 of 665 starts and had 2,583 strikeouts.
In 1951, Spahn gave up Willie Mays' first major league hit, a home run in the Polo Grounds.
"He was something like 0-for-21 the first time I saw him," Spahn once said. "His first major league hit was a home run off me -- and I'll never forgive myself. We might have gotten rid of Willie forever if I'd only struck him out."
Warren Edward Spahn was born on April 23, 1921, in Buffalo, N.Y. He started his baseball career in his hometown, playing first base while his father played third for the Buffalo Lake City Athletic Club. He wanted to play first in high school, but his team already had an all-city player at that position. So Spahn switched to pitching.
He signed with the Braves in 1940 for $80 a month and injured his arm twice in his first season of D-level ball. But he won 19 games the next season and was invited to spring training with the Braves.
He started the 1942 season with the Braves but was sent down by manager Casey Stengel, who was angry because the left-hander refused to brush back Pee Wee Reese in an exhibition game. Spahn went 17-12 with a 1.96 ERA average at Hartford that season while the Braves finished in seventh place. Stengel called farming Spahn out the worst mistake he ever made.
In 1943, Spahn went into the Army. He served in Europe, where he was wounded, decorated for bravery with a Bronze Star and Purple Heart, and was awarded a battlefield commission. He fought at the Battle of the Bulge and in the battle for the bridge at Remagen, Germany, where many men in his company were killed.
Spahn missed three years during World War II. He did not think that hurt his career, though.
"I think I was better equipped to handle major league hitters at 25 than I was at 22," he said.
Spahn returned to baseball in 1946, and had an 8-5 record for the Braves. The next season, he emerged as one of baseball's best pitchers with a 21-10 record and led the NL with a 2.33 ERA.
Starting in 1947, Spahn won 20 or more games in 13 of the next 17 seasons. Strangely, one of the years he missed that plateau was 1948, when he was 15-12 as the Braves won their first pennant since 1914.
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."
Sain, who had a stroke last year, learned of Spahn's death at his home near Chicago.
"He has such wonderful, fond memories of those days together with Warren. Those were really special times," said Sain's wife, Maryann.
Spahn led the Braves to the World Series with 21 wins in 1957 and 22 in 1958, then won 21 games in each of the next three seasons.
Spahn was 23-7 and led the league with a 2.10 ERA in 1953 at age 32, then matched that a decade later when he was 42, going 23-7 again in 1963, this time with a 2.60 ERA.
That was his last great season. A year later, he went 6-13 and then finished up in 1965, winning seven games combined for the Mets and Giants.
After leaving the majors, Spahn 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 and was second three times.
In August, the Braves unveiled a statue honoring Spahn in the plaza outside Turner Field in Atlanta. The nine-foot-high bronze monument, built in Oklahoma, captures the left-hander's famous high leg kick. Spahn, in a wheelchair, traveled from Broken Arrow to attend the dedication.
He is survived by a son, Greg, and two granddaughters.
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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