Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Maddux approaches Spahn

As of today, Greg Maddux is only 14 wins away from tying Warren Spahn for sixth place on the career victories list. Who was Warren Spahn?

You could call him the Hank Aaron of pitchers. Like Aaron, Spahn had only a few years in which he was considered baseball’s very best at his position. But, also like Aaron, his sheer number of excellent seasons is absolutely staggering.

Because of World War II, Spahn, a lefty, didn’t win his first game until the age of 25, but once he got on a roll, he was unstoppable. From 1947 through 1963 (17 seasons), he led the league in at least one major category (wins, ERA, strikeouts) in all but six seasons, and made 25 All-Star teams. His career totals are phenomenal: 363 victories, the most by any left-hander, and 13 20-win seasons, which ties the NL record held by Christy Mathewson and is the same number as Steve Carlton, Tom Seaver, and Maddux combined.

During the Braves’ pennant-winning 1948 campaign, Spahn joined fellow 20-game winner Johnny Sain in an otherwise poor rotation, causing fans to cry, “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain.” By 1957, when the Braves made it back to the World Series, Sain was retired and Spahn was 36, which meant he only had six more good years left in him. Three years after that, Spahn pitched a no-hitter, and a year later, at the age of 40, he tossed another one. When he retired from major league baseball after 1965, he pitched two more seasons in the minors. He finally sat still long enough for the Hall of Fame to induct him 1973.

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