Warren Spahn was poetry on the mound
FOX Sports presents "The Boys in the Hall," a series featuring interviews with legendary members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Check your local listings on April 29 for showings of "The Boys In The Hall" featuring Warren Spahn.
Warren Spahn was waiting at the baggage carousel in the Albany, N.Y., airport, on his way to Cooperstown for the Hall of Fame weekend in 1997, when a tousled-haired kid, freckles dotting his cheek, approached with pen and autograph book.
"Mr. Sain, Mr. Sain. Would you please sign my book?" the kid said in a near whisper.
Spahn smiled broadly and without explanation took the book and scribbled, "Warren Spahn."
It is not surprising what happened that day because Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain went together like Proctor & Gamble, Abercrombie & Fitch, Mutt & Jeff, Abbott & Costello or Koufax & Drysdale.
It was an era when any baseball player worth his wool uniform had a nickname – Stan the Man, The Say Hey Kid, The Yankee Clipper, Rapid Robert. And Ted Williams was so good he owned multiple nicknames -- Teddy Ballgame, The Splendid Splinter, The Thumper.
But Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain were linked by a poem that over the years has shrunk to one line: "Spahn and Sain and two days of rain."
Sain was 24-15 on the 1948 pennant-winning Boston Braves and Spahn was 15-12 for a team that relied more on hitting than pitching.
So Boston Post sports editor Gerald V. Horn wrote this poem:
"First we'll use Spahn,
then we'll use Sain.
Then an off day,
and followed we hope,
by two days of rain."
Horn penned his poem late in the '48 season after a Labor Day doubleheader when Spahn threw a complete-game, 14-inning victory and Sain pitched a shutout in the second game.
Then it did rain for two days. Spahn won the next day and Sain the day after. Three days later Spahn won and Sain won the next day. After an off day, the dyamic duo was brought back again and won another doubleheader.
They went 8-0 over a 12-day span and won the pennant. And Horn's poem eventually was shriveled to "Spahn and Sain and two days of rain."
So on that day in the Albany airport, the kid's father pointed to Spahn and told his son, "That's Warren Spahn," and he recited the one-line ditty to his son and told him to go get the autograph. The kid remember Sain instead of Spahn.
Over the years, though Spahn became the legendary pitcher while Sain became a legendary pitching coach.
I was eight years old in 1948 when my father took me to Cleveland Stadium for Game 5 of the World Series, the Braves against my beloved Cleveland Indians, just two Tribe fans among 86,288.
I had no clue who Warren Spahn was and was not impressed with his work in relief that day — no runs, one hit over 5 2/3 innings. I was bummed that Boston won, 11-5. And I had no sense of history in watching center fielder Larry Doby, the first African-American in the American League. And nothing struck me as historic when 42-year-old Satchel Paige pitched in relief after being signed that season out of the Negro Leagues to post a 6-1 record for the Indians.
Only as I aged, and Spahn aged as a great, great pitcher, did I realize who he was.
Over a 21-year career, 20 with the Boston/Milwaukee Braves, he won 363 games, most ever by a left-hander. He won 20 or more games 13 times and went 23-7 when he was 42 years old. He pitched two no-hitters and won the earned run title three times.
Spahn won the Cy Young Award in 1957 and was runner-up three times when only one award was given, before they split the award to give one to one pitcher in the National League and one in the American League.
He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1973 and made yearly appearances at the induction ceremonies where he liked to tell people how he approached hitters.
"Hitting is timing and pitching is upsetting time," he said. National League hitters were upset by Spahn nearly every time they faced him.
His last season, 1965, was split between the New York Mets and the San Francisco Giants. Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra came out of retirement briefly and caught one game pitched by Spahn, whose nickname was ‘Hooks,' not because of his curveball, but because of his beak-like nose.
After the game in which he caught Spahn, who was 44 to Berra's 40, Berra said, "I don't think we were the oldest pitcher-catcher battery of all time, but we were definitely the ugliest."
The ugliest thing about Spahn to hitters was the assortment of pitches delivered at different speeds and different locations, never the same speed or the same location to any hitter during an at-bat.