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Warren Spahn passes away
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11/24/2003  7:18 PM ET 
Warren Spahn passes away
Lefty was winningest southpaw in Major League history
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Warren Spahn (right) and Phil Niekro share a laugh at the 1999 Braves Hall of Fame induction. (Erik S. Lesser/AP)
ATLANTA -- When Warren Spahn was immortalized in August with a larger-than-life bronze statue in front of Turner Field, Major League Baseball's most successful left-handed pitcher was emotionally overcome to the brink of embarrassment.

"I am pleased that baseball thought enough of me to scare the people, if you will, with the statue here," Spahn said. "The only scary thing I have is the statue is going to be here when I leave. That disserves me. Either the statue goes with me or I'm going to stay with the statue."

When the Braves begin the 2004 season, they will do so in the shadow of this beautiful statue and with the sad reality that the greatest pitcher in their franchise's rich history has passed away.

Spahn, the winningest left-handed pitcher in Major League history, died peacefully at the age of 82 in his Broken Arrow, Okla., home on Monday afternoon. Funeral arrangements are pending.

Spahn's family has chosen not to release the cause of death.

When Spahn visited Atlanta this past summer, he displayed that same fighting spirit that gave him so much success throughout his playing career. He has been fighting various illnesses over the past few years and was forced to begin using a wheelchair last year.

"I am terribly saddened to learn of the passing of Warren Spahn today," Commissioner Bud Selig said in a released statement. "As a young Milwaukee Braves fan during the 1950s, I have many wonderful and vivid memories of the great Warren Spahn on the mound at County Stadium. He is a Hall of Famer and one of the greatest pitchers in the history of the game. More importantly, he was my friend. I will miss him. On behalf of Major League Baseball, I offer my heartfelt condolences to his family and friends."

Spahn, who played 20 seasons with the Boston and Milwaukee Braves from 1942-64, won at least 20 games 13 times. He amassed 363 career wins, the fifth-most in Major League history. The southpaw was inducted into Baseball's Hall of Fame in 1973, the first year he was eligible.

Making his accomplishments even more remarkable is the fact that his career was shortened while he served a three-year tour of duty in World War II, during which he received a battlefield commission. His first big-league win didn't come until he was 25 years old in 1946.

"You know, the thing that amazes me, well, the 363 wins definitely," fellow Cooperstown enshrinee Phil Niekro said earlier this summer. "But you know he was in the Army for four years in his prime. If you take those four years and put them back into Major League Baseball, he probably wins another 30, 40 or 50 games, and that puts him above 400 [wins]."

While remembering Spahn on Monday, former Milwaukee Braves shortstop Johnny Logan compared his former teammate to Curt Schilling, a current-day pitcher who is known for his ferocity on the mound.

"Spahnie would joke around when he wasn't pitching, but when it was his turn, it was business," Logan said. "I remember times when the bases were loaded or it was a crucial moment, and when [Braves manager] Fred Haney would approach the pitcher's mound, Spahnie would say, 'What do you want?'

"Haney said, 'Are you gonna get this guy out?' Spahnie would say, 'I'm not going to depend on my relievers to do it. I'll get him out.'"

Spahn, who was an inaugural inductee into the Braves Hall of Fame in 1999, was always a warrior during his playing days. Each year from 1947-63, he tossed at least 16 complete games and tossed 20 or more during 12 of those seasons.

"I really think he was the greatest competitor to ever play," said Gary Caruso, the editor of Chop Talk and the chair of the committee that raised nearly $100,000 for the Spahn statue.

One of Spahn's greatest competitive displays actually resulted in a Braves loss. On July 3, 1963, a 42-year-old Spahn locked up in a classic duel with a 25-year-old Giants right-hander named Juan Marichal. The two future Hall of Famers each worked into the 16th inning of a scoreless game that ended when Willie Mays hit a solo homer off Spahn.

"It was great to play behind him and know that we had a chance to win every ballgame," Logan said. "He was a 20-game winner for so long. I have to say that he was a man of ability, emotion and knowledge of hitters. He knew all of their weaknesses."

Spahn's career included two no-hitters. His final one came in 1961, when he was 40 years old. His patented high leg kick has not been duplicated. But his mental approach has been copied by the likes of Tom Glavine, whose father was among the many members of the past generation to view Spahn as the greatest pitcher who ever lived.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.





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