Year Inducted: 1973 (BBWAA, ballot #1, 316/380)
Baseball is, by tradition and almost seemingly by definition, a game passed down from father to son. That’s how most kids learn to play the game, including several Hall of Famers. The story of Mickey Mantle’s father and grandfather teaching him how to switch hit is legendary. Sometimes, all a father has to do is build a mound in the backyard and teach a tall lanky lefthander how to pitch and use a windup to add deception. That is where the great Warren Spahn started his career.
From pitching in the backyard with his dad, learning to throw a fastball and curveball, and learning his iconic high leg kick to fool batters, Warren Span became one of the greatest pitchers of all-time. In parts of 21 seasons in the Majors, mostly with the Braves, Spahn tossed over 5000 innings, won a lefty record 363 games (against 245 losses) with an ERA of 3.09 all while missing three full seasons to service in WWII. Spahn wasn’t a strikeout pitcher (and there really weren’t many until Feller, Koufax and Gibson), but four times led the league in strikeouts and finished his career with more than 2500 of them while walking over 1400 batters. Spahn was not only a big drawing card for the Braves, along with teammate Johnny Sain (Spahn and Sain and Pray For Rain), but he was probably the top pitcher in the National League until Sandy Koufax bloomed.
Spahn’s walks help to inflate some of his advanced metrics. His career FIP was only 3.44 and his FIP- was only 94. However, like many others, it was a time when pitchers that had high strikeout totals without large amounts of walks were few and far between. During Spahn’s era, many advanced metrics wouldn’t be what measured a pitcher, but he would be valued more on traditional stats. That’s why context is needed for many of them. Spahn, at the time of his retirement, ranked 7th all-time in fWAR, and 6th all-time in RA9-WAR. As of the end of 2016, he still ranks 25th all-time in fWAR and 9th in RA9-WAR. No matter how it’s looked at, Spahn was one of the greatest pitchers of all-time.
Spahn is one of few pitchers to gain induction on their first ballot, but still only got 83% of the vote. It would be interesting to hear from those that didn’t vote for Spahn what they were thinking about because Spahn clearly was a dominant pitcher and deserving of induction. His last few years, however, could have hurt his ballotting. Following a dominant campaign in 1963, Spahn suffered through a couple of down years that dropped his winning percentage below .600 and ballooned his ERA above 3.00, which probably dropped him in the eyes of some voters. But, in the end it doesn’t matter. Spahn is right where he belongs and is fully recognized as one of the best pitchers of all-time.
Stay tuned for the next updates.
On deck 11/3/16:
#95- While it is election season, this is not the place for politics. Even if this guy works in Washington as a Senator.
#94- The first reliever inducted into the Hall of Fame.