SweetSpot: Warren Spahn
I don’t know that the following players can claim as much as one of the best boxers we’ve ever seen, but they at least have something they can hang their hat on as being the best at. Take a look at three notable performances in non-traditional situations.
Greatest Hitter Performance on their Birthday
Nomar Garciaparra (7/23/2002) -- A year shy of 30, Nomar explodes to go 3-for-5 with three homers, eight RBIs, three runs and a walk in a game that saw his Red Sox rout the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 22-4. Nomar would only play one more full season from that point on, moving to Chicago, Los Angeles and finally ending things in Oakland.
Greatest Pitching Performance on their Birthday
Warren Spahn (4/23/1951) -- This one flat out amazed me. Sure, it’s a different era, but Spahn’s game stood out head and shoulders above the rest on the list. Spahn is most notably remembered for the poem about him and fellow teammate Johnny Sain.
“First we'll use Spahn
then we'll use Sain
Then an off day
followed by rain
Back will come Spahn
followed by Sain
by two days of rain.”
On his 30th birthday, Spahn would pitch 15 2/3 innings, complete the game in which he faced 56 batters, threw 184 pitches, struck out eight and walked just two. Unfortunately, he would allow two runs (one unearned) and get tagged with the loss.
Greatest Pitching Performance by a Teenager
When you think of this one, your mind instantly is drawn to a guy like Sandy Koufax, who retired from the game too soon. However, there was a certain other kid that pitched like a star before he left his teen years that did it not once, but twice, and within consecutive starts no less.
Dwight Gooden (9/7/1984 & 9/12/1984) -- After being selected fifth overall in the 1982 amateur draft, Gooden made his major league debut for the Mets in 1984. It was a debut that saw him win 17 games for the Mets. In September, Gooden would put up two starts for the ages, throwing back to back shutouts. Final line for both starts: 18 innings pitched, six hits, four walks, 27 strikeouts. Sheer dominance was how he’d close out the year as well, going 4-1 in the month with an ERA 1.29 and 62 strikeouts in just 42 innings pitched. If only he would have stayed clean. It would have been great to see what he was capable of over the long haul.
Joe Aiello writes for The View From the Bleachers blog, which is part of the SweetSpot network.
- Rob, Love your blog, but don't you think it's time for an apology to Livian Hernandez? He's 5-1 with a 3.88 ERA. In his last 4 starts he's given up 4 earned runs in 28 2/3 innings including the Mets only complete game this year and seven shutout innings yesterday. Sure, he may break down at some point, but he's certainly proved he's more than an acceptable 4th or 5th starter.
Andrew (Bronx, NY)
Hernandez started 14 more games for the Twins, going 4-7 with a 6.59 ERA, and I would argue that he essentially cost them the division title. Nobody owed Hernandez an apology; rather, Twins management owed an apology to the fans for letting Hernandez stay in the rotation for too long. In a season that wound up going down to the last game.
That said, Hernandez has pitched well for the Mets, with a strikeout rate significantly higher than what he did in 2007 or '08. If he continues to strike out more than five batters per nine innings, he's got a pretty decent chance of being perfectly useful. And if that happens, you'll read about it here. No apologies, though, because while my intellect might be lacking, my motives are pure.
- Hey Rob. You need to make a blog entry about Andy LaRoche. He's been pretty darn good, plus it's a great chance for you to give yourself a pat on the back.
- How did you manage to make it through an extended discussion of Warren Spahn without mentioning the war? It's not at all unreasonable to think that if he had gotten to play his age 22-24 seasons, he quite possibly would have made it to 400 wins. I know you're not about counterfactuals--nor should you be because he just as easily could have gotten injured--but here's the base of my question: If Spahn had won 400, would we even be debating who was the greatest lefty?
I do not mean to diminish the service of Spahn, who saw real combat in Western Europe and could easily have been killed near the Remagen Bridge. But while I've always been perfectly willing to give "extra credit" to hitters -- Phil Rizzuto, for example -- who missed time because of the war, I'm reluctant to extend that same courtesy to pitchers, and particularly to pitchers whose arms were still young and tender when they served.
Am I wrong? Perhaps. But considering that I wound up with Spahn atop my list anyway, I hope you won't hold it against me.