201 pitches

That’s how many pitches were thrown by 42-year-old Warren Spahn 53 years ago today. Willie Mays homered on Spahn’s 201st to break a scoreless tie. In the bottom of the 16th.

“He ought to will his body to medical science,” said Hall of Famer Carl Hubbell, who was in attendance at Candlestick Park for the epic duel won by Juan Marichal, who threw 227 pitches. But he was just 25.

Marichal was scheduled to bat third that inning. (Orlando) Cepeda later recalled the moment in a 1998 memoir. Manager Alvin Dark asked Marichal if he had had enough. Cepeda remembered Marichal barking at Dark, “A 42-year-old man is still pitching. I can’t come out!”4 Dark accepted — or was startled into acceptance by Marichal’s ardor — and let him bat. Marichal flied out to complete the inning, and the game pushed forward.

Seven Hall of Famers appeared in the game. The Cooperstown-bound moundsmen fared best; Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Mays, Willie McCovey and Cepeda were a combined 4-for-26 against Marichal and Spahn.

Five days later, Spahn — did I mention he was 42 — shut out the Houston Colt .45s. Naturally, he went the distance


28 thoughts on “201 pitches

  1. I would have liked to have seen the look on his face if anyone had told him that.

    That guy was a man and he knew how to pitch. Things like that are often unaccounted for in sabermetrics, or at least in the all encompassing worldview that is obnoxiously asserted too often by people who practice them.

  2. Changing speeds and moving the ball around can win you a lot of games.

    A sportswriter asked Marichal after the game how he could pitch so long, wasn’t he tired. Yes, said Marichal, “But if that old man was going to keep going back out there, so was I.”

  3. A few years ago, I got Marichal’s autograph on a ball that Spahn (and others) had signed years ago. Marichal saw Spahn’s signature and just paused for a moment and said admiringly, “Wareen Spahn. He was a helluva peetcher.”

    Damn I love Warren Spahn. The gnarly old bastard once sued the publisher of a kids’ biography about him, basically contending that the book’s account of his World War II service made him look too good. (Spahn v. Julian Messner, Inc.) Can’t imagine a player today doing that. Nor can I imagine one throwing 262 pitches in a game.

  4. “The Buffalo-born southpaw recorded only two strikeouts, and, according to advanced metrics, he should’ve given up 6 runs and 18 hits.

    What a joke. If Spahn, who averaged 4.4 K’s/9 innings in his career, pitched today he’d get zero respect from the statistically inclined.”

    DIPS don’t apply to trick pitchers like Spahn. He’d get plenty of respect from any statistically inclined person who knows what he’s talking about.

    Also, that was a different time. For the better part of Spahn’s career the average K/9 was < 4.4, meaning he pitched with an above-average K-rate.

    I know it's fun to throw cute little jabs at people who think math can be useful for evaluating baseball, but stick to what you know. You're much more enjoyable to read when you're writing about things you aren't clueless about.

  5. CB, they still do.

    In my experience, a lot of sabermetrics enthusiasts are also steroid apologists. It actually makes sense considering they treat the game as if it exists in the abstract (mention team chemistry to them and watch them shoot Pepsi out their nose…as far as they’re concerned, Yunel Escobar is his stats and his personality is irrelevant.)

    I’ve had more than one tell me, about Clemens, some variation of “the numbers are the numbers.”

  6. Spahn probably could have pitched a few more years if Bobby Bragan hadn’t ruined his arm.

    Clemens was a 200 win pitcher. The juice bought him another 6 or 7 years on the mound.

  7. “DIPS don’t apply to trick pitchers like Spahn.”

    There you have it. How can a mindset like that truly enjoy watching a baseball game? Bunch of Rain Men. The winningest lefty in history was nothing more than a trick pitcher. Who knew? I thought a pitcher’s job was to get outs, field his position, and, for most HOFers, hit a little.

    Somewhere I still have a little paperback “Warren Spahn: Immortal Southpaw”. It was part of a series. The other one I got was “Roger Maris: Home Run Hero”. One of them was penned by Leonard Shecter, and the other may have been by George Vecsy.

  8. Peter, if there’s a problem with condescension it comes from the statheads, as if we’re Neanderthals for not knowing the meaning of xFIP and BABIP.

    I have only so much room in my head for math. And acronyms. It doesn’t diminish my understanding of the game.

    I think we do agree that Fredi is a dunderhead, however.

  9. A couple of years ago, I stumbled across a website that compiled the recollections of WWII veterans who played in the majors. (Wish I knew the link.) Spahn was quoted as saying something along the lines of, “After you’ve slept in a water-filled tank-tread depression, throwing a baseball in front of 35,000 people is no big deal.” And I think that component of mental toughness, which I’m not sure the sabremetricians can measure, is what set Spahn apart. Spahn, when faced when difficult circumstances, found something deep inside himself. Clemens, in similar circumstances, used drugs.

  10. And, of course, although Spahn was born in Buffalo, he bought a ranch outside Hartshorne in 1946 (near his wife’s hometown) and lived the rest of his life in eastern Oklahoma. So we claim him AND Tommy Hanson.

  11. From Peter’s comment above:

    DIPS don’t apply to trick pitchers like Spahn. He’d get plenty of respect from any statistically inclined person who knows what he’s talking about.

  12. Although Spahn was a lot uglier than Ray Milland. And Spahnie’s career didn’t end with a line drive up the middle.

  13. So what exactly was Spahn’s “trick”, Peter? He threw a fastball, curve, and changeup. I’m not aware of an eephus pitch or anything like that in his repertoire.

  14. I like sabermetric tools. I like anything that helps me understand the limitless details of this game. What I don’t like are people who have turned those tools into an all encompassing worldview that every single person and occurrence must be jammed into and anyone who raises any question about that project is immediately damned as a luddite.

    Tokyokie, I’ve read that quote before and it sums the guy up, perfectly. He also said that he enjoyed the challenge of pitching but that he had perspective from his experiences in Europe and he knew the difference between life and death situations and merely intense ones. And your comparison of him and Clemens is a total bullseye.

  15. also, Peter’s comment about how Spahn pitched in a different time re: average K rate opens up a whole other can of worms about K rate, BABIP, and the validity of “pitching to contact,” but that would take a long time for me to write a coherent argument and i have a 6 month old, so that’ll have to wait…

  16. Roadrunner, a long time ago I read that Spahn did not throw a curveball. Can’t remember where I read it, but the writer was emphatic.

  17. “The winningest lefty in history was nothing more than a trick pitcher.”

    “Trick pitcher” is not a pejorative term.

    “So what exactly was Spahn’s “trick”, Peter?”


  18. Spahn didn’t throw a knuckleball. As you said, “Stick to what you know.”

    “His only concession to trick pitches is an occasional palm ball for a change of pace … ”
    He may have developed one late in his career, or used one every now and then, or threatened to, like Smoltzie, but it was hardly a significant part of his repertoire.


  19. The Neyer/James pitchers book says he developed a knuckleball after he broke into the big leagues.

  20. Maybe in Mexico City he relied on the knuckler. Peter, that you couldn’t be bothered to go to more than one source doesn’t speak well for you. It’s not like we’re talking about Dave Jolly.

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