Greatest lefty leaves the mound
“Spahn and Sain and pray for rain."—Braves fans’ 1948 late-season plea to beloved pitching tandem Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain. Spahn died last week at the age of 82.
Well, Spahnnie has left the insane and has joined the Sain. Expect some rain.
He was off the farm, like Woody, but Warren used his left arm to hurl hardballs instead of holding a guitar. Somehow, I’m a lifelong Braves fan. I’m sure their success and great team of the 1950s was the basis, even with Willie Mays in my “neighborhood.” Spahn won more games and pitched more innings than any lefty in history. That’s enough for a baseball fan to like him, but I still always found it interesting that he was a great role model to me and yet so “old.”
It was the respect for his hard work. Because of World War II, he didn’t win his first game until he was 26. He wasn’t the fastest pitcher; far from it. But he had a ton of strikeouts—despite a body that was hardly superstar-like—because he was crafty and wise and had that great leg kick. So fitting that Spahn and Juan Marichal hooked up with their leg kicks on that July night at Candlestick in 1963.
Yeah, I was tuned to my transistor radio in bed that night, but to be truthful I fell asleep about the 11th inning. I did see Spahn win at least a dozen games or so, including one in 1965 for the Giants. I couldn’t stay away from that day game, because I never wanted Spahn to be finished with his career.
I went to a camera day at Candlestick (maybe 1962 or 1963) and had the opportunity to be a young pest there and had my picture taken (leaning over the railing; you couldn’t go on the field) with Marichal, Spahn, Eddie Mathews, Orlando Cepeda and others. But my buddy Frank Hernandez’s (Baby Bull was his favorite) mom took the pictures, and who knows where they’re at? I had copies at one time. Four Hall-of-Famers. Man! And there were three or four more there; I didn’t even get to the Willies or Aaron, and it was before Perry, I believe. Great day!
Anyway, a little nostalgia for a real American workhorse—we’re talking 375 complete games with a 3.09 ERA! I believe baseball’s best pitchers would hold up in any era. It’s so much more than muscles and bat speed. I ain’t knockin’ those talents, along with keen eyesight! But baseball’s current hitters are probably much better, because of that emphasis on strength. One of my heroes has passed on, and I thank him for the pleasure he gave me watching him work.