The late Warren Spahn, major league baseball's most successful left-handed pitcher, will be immortalized today in Oklahoma City.
The RedHawks and the Oklahoma Centennial Commission will unveil a heroic sized Spahn statue at 5:30 p.m., in the Deep Right area outside SBC Bricktown Ballpark.
The area will henceforth be known as the Warren Spahn Plaza, honoring the man who moved to Hartshorne in 1950 and died Nov. 24, 2003, in Broken Arrow.
Oklahoma City's Spahn statue, standing eight feet, eight inches, is identical to those previously installed at Turner Field in Atlanta and the Oklahoma Sports Museum in Guthrie.
Spahn won 363 major league games, a record for left-handed pitchers that isn't likely to be broken. The winningest active lefty, Tom Glavine, has 267 wins.
"My dad saw Warren when he was young, said former major league pitcher Tom Sturdivant, 75, "and he said Spahnie was going to be the best pitcher that ever lived. And I think he was."
Sturdivant, for the New York Yankees, and Spahn, for the Milwaukee Braves, were the starting pitchers in Game 4 of the 1957 World Series. Spahn won 7-5 in 10 innings.
But Sturdivant's main memory of Spahn is when he faced the famous lefty as the Pittsburgh Pirates' starting pitcher.
"He hit a home run in the ninth inning to tie the ball game up," Sturdivant said. "He was going around the bases laughing. I was cocky, and that took a little of the cockiness out. He hit it down the right field line, not more than two inches inside the line.
"If he hadn't hit it, it would've hit him in the head. He was a bad ball hitter. And I think I got beat in the 14th. We both went to the 14th."
When's the last time you heard of one pitcher, let alone two, going 14 innings? But that was Spahnie, who completed 382 of his 665 major league starts.
"Nobody hit him very well," said Sturdivant, who pitched in the major leagues from 1955-64. "He completed a bunch of ball games, and the next day he could go out there and pitch another ball game. There weren't very many people who could do that."
Spahn's control was excellent and his "out" pitch was one of the most difficult to throw, the screwball, which came in on left-handed hitters. And Spahn followed a full windup with his famously high leg kick.
"He looked like a karate kicker," Tom Sturdivant Jr. said.
He often looked unhittable, cleverly hiding the ball in his extra large hands and releasing his pitch from all sorts of angles.
"He didn't give you a whole lot of ball to look at," said Cal McLish, 79, a major league pitcher from 1944-64. "You didn't get a good, long look at his pitches. He kind of hid it pretty good with that kick and delivery that he had."
Bobby Morgan, who played in the major leagues from 1950-58, remembered getting a single against Spahn in Brooklyn's old ballpark, Ebbetts Field.
"On a little curve ball over the outside of the plate, I got a base hit to right field and drove in a run off him," said Morgan, 79. "But that was it. I was probably about one-for-20 against him."
A few hitters had some success against Spahn. But only a few. And sometimes those successes came when the runs, hits and errors didn't really matter.
Like spring training in Miami in the late 1950s.
Jim Gentile, now 71, solved Spahn for a groundball double over the first base bag and a home run over the left-center field wall.
"I hate to say that, because Spahnie was such a great pitcher," said Gentile, who played in the major leagues from 1957-66. "It was only spring training.
"I never got to face him again and I'm glad of that. I wouldn't want to face him a living, I'll tell you that. Everybody finds an acorn once in a while. I was lucky."
So was Jim Weigel on June 13, 1984, at All Sports Stadium. Before an Oklahoma City 89ers' game, Spahn and fellow Hall of Famer Bob Feller gave a pitching exhibition.
"The first pitch Spahnie threw me was right down the middle," said Weigel, who was the Niners' general manager from 1982-93.
"I hit a rope, a line drive right down the line," Weigel said. "It hit the warning track and bounced and hit the wall. For a second I was feeling pretty good, but he gave me this look, and I figured he was going throw at my head."
"Instead," Weigel said, "he threw me something that just all of a sudden dropped. I swung and missed by six feet. Then he kind of smiled at me."
Spahn was 63 years old at the time.
About 20 autumns earlier, Spahn took another Oklahoma City mound, at old Holland Field, for a postseason exhibition game.
"The only time I ever hit against him was one of those games we played here," said Cot Deal, 81, who played in four big league seasons. "And the dirty rat, it got down to 3-and-2 and he threw me one of those screwballs. But luckily he walked me."
In 1968-69, Deal and Spahn were rival managers in the Texas League. Deal was in Oklahoma City, Spahn in Tulsa.
"Spahnie was really a good guy," Deal said. "He was really popular with everybody, and I mean with everybody. Everybody loved Spahnie. He was very witty, very clever."
Weigel said, "He was a lot of fun to be around. He was a guy's guy. Everybody liked him."
Well, not everybody. Not when Spahnie and his famous leg kick and scroogie were on the mound. And, sometimes, not when Spahnie was batting, either.
"There were just eight teams in each league then," Sturdivant said, "and some of those old boys would knock your jock off. I think Spahnie hung mine up on the right field flag pole."Archive ID: 2510544