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
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
"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.
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
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
"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
"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
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
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