Warren Spahn, 82; Lefty Won 363 Games in Major Leagues

Times Staff Writer

Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn, who won 363 games, more than any other left-hander in major league baseball history, died Monday at his home in Broken Arrow, Okla. He was 82.

The cause of death was not announced. Spahn had been hospitalized twice in the last year, for internal bleeding and a broken leg.

The high-kicking, smooth-throwing Spahn spent 21 seasons in the majors, 20 of them with the Boston-Milwaukee Braves, for whom he pitched all but seven of his victories.

He won his first game at the rather advanced athletic age of 25. But before that Spahn won a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart -- he was wounded by shrapnel -- a battlefield commission and a presidential citation for his Army service in Europe during World War II. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge and in the bloody battle for the bridge over the Rhine River at Remagen, Germany.

When the war ended, Spahn rejoined the Braves, then in Boston, for the 1946 season. He posted an 8-5 record that year, then won at least 14 games a season until 1964, when at 43, he had the first of only two losing seasons, finishing at 6-13.

In between, he won 20 or more games 13 times -- including six seasons in succession -- led or tied for most victories in the National League eight times and led the league in strikeouts three times, in earned-run average three times and in complete games five times. He won four World Series games and the 1957 Cy Young award as baseball's outstanding pitcher.

Unlike many pitchers, Spahn could hit, too. His lifetime average was only .194 but he hit .333 -- 36 hits in 108 at-bats with two home runs -- in 1958, and he was good enough in the clutch to be used as a pinch-hitter from time to time.

He still holds the National League record for home runs by a pitcher -- 35.

When, late in his career, it appeared that Spahn might never throw a no-hitter, he remedied that situation on a cold, rainy September night in Milwaukee in 1960, shutting out the Philadelphia Phillies, 4-0. In a dominating performance, Spahn struck out 15, walking only two.

At that, Spahn nearly lost the no-hitter with only one out to go. Bobby Malkmus lined a pitch back at Spahn, who got a glove on it but couldn't hold it. The ball fell behind the mound but shortstop Johnny Logan ran in and hurried a low, wide throw to first baseman Joe Adcock. Backhanding the throw, Adcock scooped it up just in time to get Malkmus.

So, at 39, Spahn had his no-hitter.

Then, on April 28, 1960, five days after his 40th birthday, he punctuated it with another, beating the San Francisco Giants, whose lineup included an impressive array of hitters -- Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, Felipe Alou and Harvey Kuenn.

Spahn admitted not having "as good stuff" as he'd had against the Phillies. Again, he walked only two but struck out only five. Still, after Hank Aaron singled in a run for Milwaukee in the first inning, Spahn made the lead stand up.

Happy as he was with those no-hitters, it was victory No. 300 that Spahn was proudest of. He beat the Chicago Cubs, 2-1, on a six-hitter Aug. 11, 1961, to reach the milestone.

"It was really a big thrill -- the thrill of my life," he recalled later. "Winning the pennant and the World Series a few years back was the big thing from a team basis. But this had to be the biggest personally....

"The game was the kind I always wanted it to be. No fluke. No big-scoring game where I would be sitting in the clubhouse at the end. It was low scoring and hard fought."

Businesslike as he was on the mound, Spahn had an easygoing personality and a baseball player's penchant for practical jokes.

He and sidekick Lew Burdette, the right-hander who beat the Yankees three times in the Braves' 1957 World Series triumph, were at the bottom of many a clubhouse prank, and they delighted in tormenting the club's publicity man, Donald Davidson.

Davidson was a dwarf, but he had a big voice and he used it often and in no uncertain terms. Part of his job was arranging interviews and appearances for his star players, of whom Spahn and Burdette were among the biggest. Whenever he approached them, though, it was at his own peril, for they were forever picking him up under the arms and depositing him in a trash barrel, leaving a sputtering -- and trapped -- Davidson behind.

In 1948, when the Boston Braves were making an uncharacteristic run at the National League pennant, Johnny Sain was the club's star pitcher, with Spahn close behind. Unfortunately for the Braves, injuries depleted the pitching staff late in the season, and the rallying cry in Boston became "Spahn and Sain and a day of rain." (Another of many versions went "Spahn and Sain and pray for rain.")

When the club moved to Milwaukee, and Burdette had replaced Sain on the staff, the chant changed to, in particular Milwaukee fashion, "Spahn, Burdette and a day of wet, yet."

Actually, with Aaron, Adcock, Eddie Mathews, Red Schoendienst, Del Crandall and pitcher Bob Buhl joining Spahn and Burdette, the Braves were a formidable team when they won the National League pennant and the World Series in 1957.

The team won the pennant again in 1958 but couldn't beat the Yankees again in the World Series, losing four games to three.

Spahn was a 21-game winner each of the next three seasons. He dipped to 18-14 in 1962, then, at 42, came back strongly the next year, posting a 23-7 record with a 2.60 ERA.

Then, in 1964, the magic disappeared. He finished at 6-13 with a 5.29 ERA, and the next season he was gone, traded to the woeful New York Mets, then later in the season to the Giants, for whom he pitched in relief.

He kept on pitching, though, even after his major league career was over, working in the minors. He was 47 when he pitched his last game in 1968.

Five years later, he was in the Hall of Fame. "If you're still playing baseball in your 40s, you feel like the whole world is pressuring you to quit," Spahn recalled in a 1989 interview with former Times writer Bob Oates.

"The newspeople and everyone else kept asking, 'Isn't it time for you to go?'

"My attitude was, 'Drop dead. This is my life.' "

Spahn, whose wife LoRene died in 1978, is survived by his son, Greg. Funeral arrangements are pending.

Associated Press contributed to this report.



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.


Text of a poem written by Boston Post sports editor Gerald V. Hern that appeared in the newspaper Sept. 14, 1948, as Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain led the Braves to the NL pennant.

For The Record Los Angeles Times Wednesday November 26, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction Spahn obituary -- The obituary of Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn in Tuesday's California section had the wrong date for his second no-hitter. It was on April 28, 1961, not April 28, 1960.
Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World