Summary

Conflict Period:
World War II 1
Branch:
Army 1
Rank:
First Lieutenant 2
Birth:
23 Apr 1921 2
1921 1
Buffalo, New York 2
New York 1
Death:
24 Nov 2003 2
Broken Arrow, Oklahoma 2
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Personal Details

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Person:
Warren E Spahn 1
Level of Education: 4 years of college 1
Marital Status: Single, with dependents 1
Birth:
23 Apr 1921 2
1921 1
Buffalo, New York 2
New York 1
Death:
24 Nov 2003 2
Broken Arrow, Oklahoma 2
Residence:
Place: Erie County, New York 1
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World War II 1

Branch:
Army 1
Rank:
First Lieutenant 2
Enlistment Date:
03 Dec 1942 1
Army Branch:
Branch Immaterial - Warrant Officers, USA 1
Army Component:
Selectees (Enlisted Men) 1
Army Serial Number:
32671307 1
Enlistment Place:
Buffalo New York 1
Enlistment Term:
Enlistment for the duration of the War or other emergency, plus six months, subject to the discretion of the President or otherwise according to law 1
Source of Army Personnel:
Civil Life 1
Edit
Quote:
"You have to be able to throw strikes, but you try not to whenever possible." 2
Occupation:
Athletes, sports instructors, and sports officials 1
Race or Ethnicity:
White 1
Source Information:
Box Number: 0547 1
Film Reel Number: 2.211 1

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Stories

Obit

 

Warren Spahn, who in a career spanning 21 seasons won 363 games, the major league record for a left-handed pitcher, died yesterday at his home in Broken Arrow, Okla. He was 82.

Confounding batters with a fluid, high-kicking motion and an assortment of pitches that nicked the corners of the plate or darted just outside the strike zone, Spahn was a craftsman on the mound.

He did not win a major league game until he was 25 and had served in World War II. But when he retired after the 1965 season at age 44, he owned a host of records.

Pitching 20 seasons for the Braves — 8 in Boston and 12 in Milwaukee — and a final season with the Mets and the San Francisco Giants, Spahn had a record of 363-245, fifth on the career victory list. He won the Cy Young award as baseball's best pitcher in 1957, was an All-Star 14 times and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1973, his first year of eligibility.

"For the years I was watching him, Koufax was tops," Johnny Podres, a Dodgers pitcher and later a pitching coach, told Donald Honig in "October Heroes." "But for the long haul, for year-after-year performance, Warren Spahn was the best I ever saw. He was just a master of his trade. I couldn't take my eyes off him. Watching him was an education."

Whitlow Wyatt, Spahn's pitching coach at Milwaukee, once said: "He makes my job easy. Every pitch he throws has an idea behind it."

Spahn won at least 20 games 13 times, a record for a lefty. He holds the records for most times leading a league in victories (eight, including five consecutive years, from 1957 to 1961) and complete games (nine). He pitched 382 complete games in 665 starts, and his 5,243 innings pitched places him No. 1 among left-handers.

He pitched 63 shutouts, a National League record for a left-hander, and had a career earned run average of 3.09.

At 6 feet and 175 pounds, Spahn was not regarded as a power pitcher, but he led the N.L. in strikeouts every season from 1949 to 1952.

He pitched two no-hitters, against the Philadelphia Phillies in September 1960, at age 39, and against the Giants in April 1961, five days after his 40th birthday.

In 1963, he matched his season high in victories with 23.

He could hit, too. His 35 career home runs are an N.L. record for a pitcher, and he had a .333 batting average in 1958.

Spahn was honored in August by the Braves, who unveiled a bronze statue of him at Turner Field in Atlanta, where they now play. It depicts his pitching motion, right leg pointed toward the sky.

Warren Edward Spahn was born in Buffalo on April 23, 1921. His father, Edward, a former semipro baseball player who sold wallpaper, built a pitcher's mound in the family's backyard and developed his son's pitching style.

"He insisted that I throw with a fluid motion, and the high leg kick was a part of the deception to the hitter," Spahn told The Sunday Oklahoman in 1998. "Hitters said the ball seemed to come out of my uniform."

Spahn signed with the Boston Braves organization in 1940. He made his major league debut in 1942, pitching briefly for Manager Casey Stengel, who had banished him to the minors in the spring for refusing to throw at the Dodgers' Pee Wee Reese, as Spahn told it.

Spahn was drafted into the Army's combat engineers in 1943. He took part in the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944 and the seizure of the bridge at Remagen, enabling Allied troops to begin crossing the Rhine. One minute before that bridge collapsed, on the afternoon of March 17, 1945, killing many American soldiers, Spahn had been alongside it. He emerged from World War II with a battlefield commission, a Bronze Star, and a Purple Heart for a shrapnel wound.

He returned to the Braves in 1946, posting an 8-5 record, then emerged as one of baseball's best pitchers with a 21-10 record the next year.

In 1948, Spahn teamed with the right-hander Johnny Sain to pitch the Braves to a pennant in a race inspiring an enduring baseball rhyme.

On Sept. 14 of that season, The Boston Post carried a four-line poem by Gerry Hern, its sports editor, beseeching Spahn and Sain to assume the pitching burden in the final weeks and hoping for some rain to give them enough rest between outings.

The rhyme was shortened among Braves fans to "Spahn and Sain and pray for rain."

Over the next 12 days, Spahn and Sain each started three games and each won twice, with three days off and one rainout in between, as the Braves captured their first pennant in 34 years.

Sain won 24 games that season, Spahn 15.

Spahn was outpitched by the Indians' Bob Lemon in Game 2 of the World Series, then won Game 5 in relief, but Cleveland captured the Series in six games.

The Braves endured lackluster years after that, then moved to Milwaukee in 1953 and enjoyed a stunning revival behind the pitching of Spahn, Lew Burdette and Bob Buhl, the power hitting of Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews and the catching of Del Crandall. Spahn's pitching helped the Braves win the World Series in 1957 and a pennant in 1958. He was 1-1 in the 1957 World Series and 2-1 in the '58 Series, both against the Yankees.

Relying on guile long after he had lost the velocity on his fastball, Spahn continued to thrive past age 40. But in 1964, he slipped to 6-13.

The Braves sold him in November to the Mets, who made him the highest-paid player in their three-year history with a $70,000 salary. Also serving as a coach and pitching once more for Stengel, Spahn was 4-12.

After having lost 11 straight on a last-place team, he was released in mid-July 1965, joined the Giants and went 3-4 for them to close out his pitching career.

Spahn later managed the minor league Tulsa Oilers, served as a pitching coach for the Indians and in Mexico and Japan, and was a minor league instructor for Cleveland and the Angels. He operated a cattle ranch in Hartshorne, Okla.

He is survived by a son, Gregory, and two granddaughters. His wife, LoRene, died in 1978.

Spahn was a master of control — or the deliberate lack thereof.

"Home plate is 17 inches wide," he once remarked. "I give the batter the middle 13 inches. That belongs to him. But the two outside inches on either side belong to me. That's where I throw the ball."

Even better, he often made the batter swing at a pitch he could not hit solidly. "You have to be able to throw strikes," Spahn said. "But you try not to whenever possible."

Spahn complemented his fastball with a curveball, a screwball, a slider and changeups, all thrown with the same overhand motion.

"I'm smarter now than when I had the big fastball," he told Time magazine in 1960. "Sometimes I get behind hitters on purpose. That makes them hungry hitters. They start looking for fat pitches. I make my living off hungry hitters."

Interviewed in 1999 at the All-Star Game in Boston's Fenway Park, Spahn took a dim view of modern-day pitching, particularly in the American League with its designated hitter.

"One of the things I dislike about baseball today is we've made nonathletes out of pitchers," he said. "They pitch once a week. They count the pitches. They don't hit. They don't run the bases. That's not my kind of baseball."

Warren Spahn’s credentials in baseball are well known: most victories by a left-handed pitcher (363); thirteen years of twenty or more wins in twenty-one year as a major leaguer; Cy Young Award (1957); appearances in fourteen All-Star games; two no-hitters; a 4-3 record in three World Series; Hall of Fame (1973)—and much more. Spahn also was an Army engineer. Less well known than his professional athletic feats, but also impressive, is Spahn’s record in World War II. Drafted in 1942 soon after making his major league debut that year with the Boston Braves, Private Warren E. Spahn was assigned to the 276th Engineer Combat Battalion. While in training at Camp Gruber, Oklahoma, he pitched the battalion’s team to the post championship. In Europe, at the Battle of the Bulge, he earned the Bronze Star. He likely became the only major league player to receive a battlefield commission. The 276th played a conspicuous role at the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen, Germany. The retreating Germans failed to destroy this vital Rhine River bridge, allowing the Americans to pour across it in great numbers and drive into the heart of Germany. Enemy artillery severely damaged the bridge, and the 276th was engaged in making repairs under fire. A combination of German shelling, vibrations from American artillery, and heavy tank traffic caused the collapse of the bridge 17 March 1945, killing several officers and men of the 276th. Lieutenant Spahn was not among the casualties of the collapse, but while at Remagen he was wounded in the foot by shrapnel (“only a scratch,” according to Spahn), earning him the Purple Heart. The 276th received a Presidential Unit Citation for its actions at Remagen. With the Allied victory in Europe, the 276th resumed playing baseball, with their stellar left-hander pitching them to the XIX Corps championship. When his service was lengthened by six months because he accepted a commission as an engineer officer, Spahn found time to pitch for an engineer group, at one stretch allowing only one run and nine hits while striking out seventy-three batters. Spahn received a discharge from the Army in April 1946. He rejoined the Boston club in time to post an 8-5 season. Over the next several years his spectacular achievements on the mound assured him of a prominent place among baseball’s superstars. When he retired in 1965 he was major league baseball’s oldest active player. Although military service cost Spahn nearly four years of his playing career, he looked back at his wartime experiences in a positive light: “After what I went through overseas, I never thought of anything I was told to do in baseball as hard work. You get over feeling like that when you spend days on end sleeping in frozen tank tracks in enemy threatened territory. The Army taught me something about challenges and about what’s important and what isn’t. Everything I tackle in baseball and in life I take as a challenge rather than work.”

Warren Spahn Date and Place of Birth: April 23, 1921 Buffalo, New York Died: November 24, 2003 Broken Arrow, Oklahoma Baseball Experience: Major League Position: Pitcher Rank: First Lieutenant Military Unit: 276th Engineer Combat Battalion, 1159th Engineer Combat Group US Army Area Served: European Theater of Operations Warren Spahn, the winningest left-handed pitcher in major league history, received a battlefield commission in 1945. Warren E Spahn was born in Buffalo, New York on April 23, 1921. He played first base for the Buffalo City Athletic Club and pitched for South Park High School in Buffalo where he lead the team to a series of resounding victories in 1939 and 1940. The Boston Braves signed the young left-hander for $80 a month in 1940, and after a slow start he posted a 19-6 record with Evansville in 1941, followed by a 17-12 record at Hartford in 1942. His performance was good enough to earn him a late-season promotion to the Braves, and Spahn made four unspectacular appearances for Boston before the season ended. Spahn entered military service on December 3, 1942. He served with the Army at Camp Chaffee, Arkansas, and pitched for the 1850th Service Unit baseball team. The team’s line-up included catcher Eddie Kearse, future major league pitcher Zeb Eaton, and minor leaguers Ed Sears, Avery Thompson and Elwyn Leatherman. On August 5, 1943, Spahn pitched a 15-0 no-hitter against the KFPW Broadcasters, striking out 17. Only two men reached base – both on errors. He was sent to Europe in December 1944 with the 1159th Engineer Combat Group's 276th Engineer Combat Battalion. "Let me tell you," Spahn said, "that was a tough bunch of guys. We had people that were let out of prison to go into the service. So those were the people I went overseas with, and they were tough and rough and I had to fit that mold." Spahn soon found himself in the Battle of the Bulge. "We were surrounded in the Hertgen Forrest and had to fight our way out of there. Our feet were frozen when we went to sleep and they were frozen when we woke up. We didn't have a bath or change of clothes for weeks." In March 1945, the 276th were responsible for maintaining the traffic flow across the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen, the only remaining bridge to span the Rhine. The bridge was under almost constant attack from the Germans who were desperate to stop the flow of Allied forces into Germany. At the same time they were to build a 140-foot Double Bailey bridge nearby. On March 16, Spahn was wounded in the foot by shrapnel while working on the Ludendorff. The following day he had just left the Ludendorff when the entire structure collapsed into the river with the loss of more than 30 US Army engineers. The 276th received the Distinguished Unit Emblem and for his efforts to keep the bridge operating, while under constant enemy fire, Staff Sergeant Spahn received a Bronze Star, Purple Heart and a battlefield commission as a second-lieutenant. After Germany’s surrender in May 1945, First Lieutenant Spahn pitched for the 115th Engineers Group at their base at the University of Heidelberg. In a four-game stretch, he allowed only one run and nine hits while striking out 73 batters. With the war over, Spahn returned to Boston in 1946 and posted an 8-5 record and solid 2.94 ERA in 24 appearances “Before the war I didn’t have anything that slightly resembled self-confidence,” Spahn told the Associated Press in August 1946. “Then I was tight as a drum and worrying about every pitch. But nowadays I just throw them up without the slightest mental pressure.” In 1947 he had the first of thirteen 20-win seasons. On September 16, 1960, Spahn pitched the first no-hitter of his career against the Phillies, and the 4-0 win was his 20th of the season. The following year he no-hit the Giants 1-0 on April 28, five days after his 40th birthday. Spahn pitched his last game in the majors for the San Francisco Giants in 1965, aged 44. Looking back on his military experience some years later, Spahn said, “After what I went through overseas, I never thought of anything I was told to do in baseball as hard work. You get over feeling like that when you spend days on end sleeping in frozen tank tracks in enemy threatened territory. The Army taught me something about challenges and about what’s important and what isn’t. Everything I tackle in baseball and in life I take as a challenge rather than work.” Interestingly, Spahn returned to military uniform two decades after the war, albeit under extremely different circumstances. In 1963, he appeared in an episode of the television series, "Combat," dressed as a German soldier! In 1966, Spahn was presented with the Fraternal Order of Eagles' “Major Richard Bong Award” for his WWII service. He was inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973. On November 24, 2003, Warren Spahn passed away peacefully at his home in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. He was 82.

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