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A star on a pitching mound and a hero on the battlefields, Warren Spahn excelled in two far different uniforms. Arguably the greatest southpaw pitcher in big league history, whose 363 triumphs makes him the all-time winningest left-handed hurler in the game, he used his mound mastery to gain admittance into the national pastime’s most exclusive club – the National Baseball Hall of Fame – in 1973.
But fellow Hall of Famer Stan Musial had his doubts as to whether Spahn, a major league pitcher until his mid-40s, would ever be honored in Cooperstown, New York, once half-jokingly stating, “I don’t think Spahn will ever get into the Hall of Fame. He’ll never stop pitching.”
Spahn made his big league debut with the Boston Braves in 1942, the same year he would join the Army. Over the next four years he would participate in the Battle of the Bulge and the taking of the bridge at Remagen. A true war hero, he was awarded a Purple Heart for shrapnel wound and a battlefield commission.
Spahn, who returned to the Braves soon after his discharge in 1946, would go 21-10 in 1947, the first of 13 seasons in which Spahn, famous for his fluid, high-kicking pitching motion, won at least 20 games, a major league record for a left-handed pitcher.
In addition to his fastball, Spahn also developed a number of off-speed pitches, all thrown with the same windup. “A pitcher needs two pitches – one they’re looking for and one to cross them up,” Spahn was fond of saying.
With the Braves franchise move to Milwaukee prior to the 1953 season, Spahn continued his excellence and the team soon responded by winning pennants in 1957 and 1958. Playing the Yankees in both World Series, Spahn helped Milwaukee capture the 1957 championship, the same year he won his lone Cy Young Award.
As Spahn, who often said, “Hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting timing,” grew older, his pitching seemed to improve. He won at least 20 games every year from 1956 to 1961, led the league in complete games every year from 1957 to 1963, and in 1963, at age 42, won 23, lost only seven, and compiled a 2.60 earned run average.
In maybe his most memorable pitching performance, Spahn faced off with the Giants’ Juan Marichal on July 3, 1963, each hurler pitching shutout ball until Willie Mays hit a home run in the bottom of the 16th inning to give San Francisco the 1-0 victory.
In 21 big league seasons (1942, 1946-65), Spahn, a 13-time All-Star, compiled a 363-245 record, started 665 games, completed 382, struck out 2,583 batters, and finished with a 3.09 ERA.