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The late Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn played from 1942 to 1965. Spahn had breakfast with Jim one morning, and "Spahnie" had strong statements about many topics, including player salaries and designer statistics, such as "quality starts."

Spahn let fan get a personal view of his fastball

It wasn't easy to come up with a nickname for a man named "Warren," Major League Baseball's winningest left-handed pitcher confided as he stirred sugar into his Saturday morning coffee with a spoon held in short, thick fingers. Spahn has a prominent, nose that finishes in a sharp bend, so one fan at the Polo Grounds called him "Eagle Beak."

"And he had one of those voices you could hear over everyone," Spahn recalled. "One day I get knocked out of the box in New York. The dressing room was in center field and he was in the bleachers. 'Hey! Eagle Beak! We got you today,' he yelled at me. I wanted so badly to see what he looked like, but I didn't want to look up to let him know I had heard."

The next day, Spahn was loosening his arm in the outfield and heard a fan yell, "Hey. Spahnie. Throw me a ball."

It was that same distinctive voice. Spahn was not a big man, 6-feet in his cleats, but he could throw hard. He wheeled and threw the ball at the fan. The ball hit the man in the chest, and he dropped down behind the facade of the outfield stands.

"You remember that Kilroy drawing that was famous in World War II, the hands and the nose peaking over a wall? This guy comes up, peaks over that barrier and coughs."

Then the fan squawked "Thanks for the ball, Spahinie."

"He never bothered me again." Spahn smiled. "Restitution."

Simpler solutions for simple times, when Spahn looked down his prominent nose at National League hitters. They were certainly harder times.

No-hitters have a downside

Spahn slowly ate his eggs benedict in the smoking section of a hotel restaurant and recalled missing three seasons to the military in World War II. He didn't get his first major-league win until the war was over and he was 25, yet Spahn won 363 games, fifth highest total in baseball history, and threw the second of his two no-hitters after his 40th birthday.

"No-hitters aren't that much fun," he recalled. "Every pitch you make can blow it, and you go out there in the ninth inning and look around and all the infielders are scared because they're afraid they're going to screw it up."

No-hitters aside, Spahn threw himself into a game, always starting between 32 and 39 games a season despite taking up time between starts by wrestling in the outfield with Andy Pafko or Lew Burdette, or engaging in other innocent physical mischief that would haunt general managers today. Pitchers weren't treated like precious crystal back then, and boys could be boys.

"I loved the game, and I loved being around it," Spahn recalled. "When I got back from the service, God, what a great way to make a living. No one was going to shoot me. If I got dirty, I could take a shower and put on clean clothes. The world had a rosy glow."

Today, Spahn has opinions about partisan politics, where our taxes go and the game of baseball. He drops the name of the Speaker of the House into conversations as easily as the name of Nolan Ryan. He doesn't begrudge high salaries, but he bristles a bit because some players "get a million dollars for walking onto a ball field. Not for playing, just for being there."

"Non-pitchers" run the game

He could do a spit-take over the term "quality start." As a man who led the National League in complete games for a record seven-straight seasons, he doesn't think pitching six innings and allowing three or fewer runs means a pitcher is doing his job.

As is common with players of his era, he believes pitchers need to throw more, not less.

"Some non-pitcher came up with the idea pitchers should go out there every fifth day instead of every fourth. A runner runs miles to run a dash, but some ex-catchers are telling pitchers not to throw too much.

"The people at Mayo Clinic will tell you the arm was never made to throw a baseball in the first place, but I never had an arm injury. The key is proper mechanics."

Texas Ranger pitching coach Tom House thinks a pitcher's longevity can be forecast, and is on the record that Spahn had a long baseball career because the military interlude prevented Spahn from pitching until he was 25.

"I don't want to knock him, but who is Tom House? What does he know about me? When I was a kid, I pitched three or four times a week, with one or two days' rest, and all that jazz. I'll go to the reverse and say pitchers don't throw enough. Give a kid a ball, a bat and a glove and let him play."

Spahn finished his cigarette and coffee, pushed back his chair and stood up into perfect posture that suggests his military training never left him.

"Don't make too big a deal out of Tom House," he asked. "I just think some of these people are trying to put baseball into a test tube and make a name for themselves."

Somewhere along life's trip Warren Spahn developed diplomacy, but it's still apparent he did not mind those days when a baseball to the chest was the best reply.

Essays index

"No-hitters aren't that much fun, Every pitch you make can blow it, and you go out there in the ninth inning and look around and all the infielders are scared because they're afraid they're going to screw it up."

-- Warren Spahn

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