AJC has an interesting interview with Warren Spahn, the winningest left hander in Major League history despite missing his first three seasons fighting in World War II and thus not getting his career underway until age 25.
Things have certainly changed over the years,
“I don’t think Warren Spahn will ever get into the Hall of Fame,” Stan Musial once said. “He’ll never stop pitching.”
“I’m proud of the fact that I pitched as long as I did, and I was a consistent 20-game winner,” Spahn said. “I always felt I had to win to keep my job. I felt I had a bad year if I didn’t win 20.
“The ballclub never offered me a raise,” said Spahn, who pitched during the age of one-year contracts and never made more than $87,500 in salary. “I had to fight for every damn dollar I made. I always felt I had to have a good year or I was going to lose my job because I was that old. And when Greg came along [in 1950], I had another mouth to feed. I couldn’t fail.”
Spahn led the NL in victories eight times. His 63 career shutouts are the most by a left-hander. He threw an NL-record 5,246 innings, pitching every fourth day in a four-man rotation. His first no-hitter came at the age of 39, a 4-0 victory over Philadelphia on Sept. 16, 1960. The following April, five starts later, Spahn no-hit San Francisco, 1-0.
But his most remarkable start may have come in 1963, when Spahn, 43, dueled the Giants’ Juan Marichal for 15 scoreless innings. In the 16th, on his 201st pitch that night, Spahn hung a screwball to Willie Mays, whose homer won it 1-0.
“It became rhythmic that one out followed another,” Spahn recalled. “I thought I had to get ahead of Mays and I hung that screwball. Afterward, I was beat. Oh, man. Gangrene set in after I got in the clubhouse. Marichal was 25, and said the only reason he stayed in was he didn’t want an old guy to beat him.
“Today, everybody’s afraid they’re gonna hurt a guy’s arm,” Spahn said. “A guy gets a hangnail and they’re out for a week. I had aches and pains, but I never had an arm I couldn’t throw with. Now, guys are on the disabled list forever. I don’t think we had a disabled list.”
Unlike some, I don’t pine for the old days of player exploitation, when the Reserve Clause meant a guy had to take whatever a team wanted to pay and an injury meant no more paychecks. But the toughness of those guys was incredible. And the fact that guys on their way to Hall of Fame careers took years off to fight our nation’s wars is just mindboggling today.