Spahn’s incredible career delayed his date in Cooperstown

Part of the INSIDE PITCH series
Written by: Craig Muder

The winningest left-hander in big league history waited seven years to enter the Hall of Fame, two more than any other first-year candidate.

The reason? Warren Spahn just kept pitching.

On Jan 24, 1973, Spahn received word that he had been elected to the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. He won 363 games during a 21-year big league career that ended in 1965, and seemingly got better as he aged – leading in National League in complete games in each of the final seven seasons he was a regular member of a rotation.

But because he pitched in the Mexican League in 1966 and appeared in three games with the Pacific Coast League’s Tulsa Oilers (while he was also the team’s manager) in 1967, the BBWAA ruled that Spahn had not yet retired and would not be eligible for Hall of Fame election until 1973.

Today’s rules stipulate that a player’s Hall of Fame candidacy clock continues to move forward as long as they do not appear in an MLB game.

“At the time, I wasn’t aware it would delay my chances,” said Spahn after learning of his election to the Hall of Fame. “But it didn’t matter. If I had it to do all over again, I would do the same thing.”

A 17-time All-Star, Spahn led the NL in victories eight times and won the 1957 Cy Young Award. His high-kicking motion and impeccable control kept batters off-balance, and his remarkable durability produced 5,243.2 innings pitched – the most of any southpaw.

“He has wonderful physical qualities. He had exceptional speed,” said Hall of Fame general manager Branch Rickey. “He has what I call mysterious speed. Even with all his variety of pitches, his fastball is still is bread-and-butter pitch.

“Spahn rates with any other great pitchers of all time. Young, Johnson, (Alexander), Matty… Spahn is just as good, if not better.”

Spahn would be inducted on Aug. 6, 1973 in Cooperstown with a class that included Roberto Clemente, Billy Evans, Monte Irvin, George Kelly and Mickey Welch. He returned to Cooperstown for the annual Induction Ceremony nearly every year afterward until his passing on Nov. 24, 2003 at the age of 82.

“I will never forget that look on his face when I told my dad (about being elected to the Hall of Fame),” Spahn said. “I think for me the biggest kick was seeing that look on his face.”


Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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Part of the INSIDE PITCH series