Warren Spahn

Yesterday one of baseball’s greats passed on to that hall of fame in the sky. Warren Spahn’s passing, the winningest lefty of all time, gives us a chance to reflect back on baseball the way it used to be played before the million-dollar babies, strikes, and other tug-of-wars over the greed that marks baseball today.

In Warren’s day, a pitcher pitched until he couldn’t any longer. Today’s pitchers, for the most part, can barely make the seventh inning (witness the recent painful example of Pedro Martinez in the ALCS). In all fairness, part of this is because of the current managerial trends to replace pitchers willy-nilly in hopes of getting the best statistical matchups. But I think part of the reason has to be mental toughness and a “there’s no tomorrow” attitude the old ballplayers seemed to have.

A great example of this was the legendary game between Warren Spahn and Juan Marichal. The game went 16 innings with BOTH pitchers staying in the whole way…a classic showing of this tough-guy approach to the game. At the time Spahn was 42 while Marichal only 25. When Marichal’s coach wanted to pull him out, he said, “A 42-year-old man is still pitching. I can’t come out.” Macho stuff. No doubt Spahn would have stayed in even if his arm fell off…he would simply have thrown using his other arm, figuring out some crafty way to get the job done.

For those of us who love baseball, we’re reluctantly used to managers who change players like itchy shirts, and players that seem to have self-imposed limits…not because we agree with these tactics, but it’s what we have, what we’re given. But I’m still young enough to remember when players played until they couldn’t any longer, and “strategical” fiddlings by managers were few and far between. Today’s players may be bigger and stronger (perhaps not all naturally either), but the heyday players of old who played until they couldn’t are becoming a distant memory.