Wed, Nov 26, 2003 - Page 19 News List

Baseball's leading lefty, Warren Spahn dies at 82


Milwaukee Braves' pitcher Warren Spahn during a World Series Game, Oct. 5, 1958, at New York's Yankee Stadium. The Hall of Fame pitcher won more games than any other left-hander in baseball history.


Warren Spahn, the Hall of Fame pitcher who won more games than any other left-hander in history, died Monday. He was 82.

Spahn died at his home, family friend Gary Caruso said.

Spahn was the mainstay of the Braves' pitching staff for two decades, first in Boston and then in Milwaukee. He pitched for 21 seasons, winning 363 games and posting 20 or more victories 13 times.

The remarkable part was that he was 25 before he got his first major league win.

"Warren Spahn was a fighter and a winner," said New York Yankees manager Joe Torre, a former teammate. "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 started his baseball career in his hometown of Buffalo, 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 US$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 lost.

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. He led the NL with a 2.33 ERA and became part of a pitching partnership with Johnny Sain that took Boston to the NL pennant the next year. Because of the Braves' thin staff, Boston's pitching was described as ``Spahn and Sain and pray for rain.''

Starting in 1947, Spahn won 20 or more games in 13 of the next 17 seasons. Only Christy Mathewson had as many 20-win seasons in the NL. 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.

Equipped with a high-kicking delivery, Spahn became a dominant pitcher after that season, a consistent 20-game winner. Only once between 1953 and 1961 did he fail to win 20 games.

Spahn led the NL in victories eight times, including five in a row from 1957-1961, and led the league in strikeouts from 1949-1952.

He won the 1957 Cy Young Award and was second three times. He made 14 All-Star teams, threw two no-hitters and holds the NL record for home runs by a pitcher with 35.

Spahn was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1973.

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