Friday, January 8, 2016

Dodgers' home field was anathema to Spahn

Regular readers of my blog have probably figured out that I am a big fan of Warren Spahn.

He was the ace of the Milwaukee Braves staff during my childhood and probably the second-greatest left-handed pitcher of all time.

Among my custom card creations are two that picture Spahnie as a Braves pitcher, in the format of 1954 and 1955 Bowman. I've also done an alternative version of Spahn's 1965 Topps card as a Mets pitcher. There are two cards, 1969 and 1971 Topps-style, marking his time as manager of the Tulsa Oilers. I've also done a 1972-style card of Spahn as a Cleveland Indians pitching coach. There may even be a few more Spahn customs down the road.

As I read microfilm of back issues of The Sporting News, I'm always drawn to articles and feature about Spahn. One such in a mid-1963 issue caught my attention because it hit on another area of personal interest: streaks.

According to that article, between the second game of the Aug. 21, 1948 double header and June 28, 1963, Spahn never won an away game against the Brooklyn/L.A. Dodgers; not in Ebbets Field, not in the L.A. Memorial Coliseum and not in the Dodgers' new stadium in Chavez ravine.

Prior to the beginning of the 9/48 to 6/23 losing streak, Spahn had faced the Dodgers in Brooklyn nine times. In his rookie season of 1942 he had no decision in his first-ever appearance there on April 20. After serving three years in the army during World War !!, Spahn was 1-1 with a no-decision in 1947. He was 2-1 with a save at Ebbets in 1948 prior to the start of his bad-luck skein.

During that drought, Spahn lost once more at Ebbets in 1948, twice in 1949 (though he did earn a save in relief on Aug. 22), five times in 1950, twice in 1951 and once in 1952.

Spahn got a no-decision in his only game at Ebbets in 1953, being knocked out of the box early with Milwaukee behind 4-2. They rallied for a 9-8 victory.

By the mid-1950s, Braves manager Charlie Grimm took the jinx seriously and Spahn did not pitch at Ebbets Field (or Roosevelt Stadium, for that matter) at all in 1954-1957.

The Dodgers' move to Los Angeles in 1958 did not change Spahn's luck against the team on their home field. He lost once and had a no-decision that season at the Coliseum.

In 1959, Spahn lost once in L.A., had a no-decision and a blown save. In 1960 he only pitched there once, with no decision. In 1961, Spahn lost twice at the Coliseum.

His luck was no better at the new Dodger Stadium; he lost his only game there in 1962.

Spahn had accumulated 16 losses, three no-decisions and a blown save against the Dodgers on their home field between Aug. 21, 1948 and June 28, 1963.

When he finally broke the streak, he did so with one of the finest performances of his career.
On June 28, the 42-year-old lefty had a perfect game going into the seventh inning before giving up a single to Jim Gilliam. Later in the game Frank Howard and Maury Wills also singled. While Spahn was completing his shutout, Don Drysdale, on the mound for the Dodgers, also had a good game going. He scattered seven hits and allowed just one run before taking the 1-0 loss. The win was the 338th for Spahn, and his 58th shutout.

With the ice broken, Spahn won again the next time he appeared in Los Angeles, beating the Dodgers 6-1 in a complete-game effort Aug. 23.

In 1964, his final year with the Braves, he had an eight-inning no-decision on April 19 and took a loss there on June 16.

The first time Spahn pitched in Los Angeles after being sold to the Mets for the 1965 season, he notched a win, going to 1-1 with a loss there on June 20. After being released by the Mets and signing as a free agent with the Giants, he pitched just once more in Dodger Stadium. He started the Sept. 6 game but was lifted in the second inning, not figuring in the decision.

Whether home or away, Spahn fared worse against the Brooklyn/L.A. Dodgers than any other team during his entire career, 1942-1965. He appeared against them 77 times, with a 24-37 (.393) record. (Actually, Spahn's record against the Milwaukee Braves in 1965 was 0-2, but that's not statistically important.)

Besides the regular season, Spahn pitched in the Dodgers' home park once in the All-Star game on the Dodgers' home field. In 1949 he started for the National League at Ebbets Field. He gave up four hits and four runs in 1.1 innings. He did not have a decision in the 11-7 loss to the AL. In the second All-Star game of 1959, he was named to the NL team (as he was 17 times in his career), but did not appear. The game was played Aug. 3 at the Coliseum, and Spahn was scheduled to start the next day in San Francisco.

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Another Spahn item found in TSN in mid-summer 1963 concerned picture-taking at the All-Star game.

A photographer was posing Spahn and Koufax and asked if the two lefties could stand closer together. "We can't get these noses any closer," Koufax said, grabbing Spahn's honker.

In a similar vein, at some occasion or other comedian Bob Hope asked Spahn to autograph a photo. Spahn was reported as personalizing the portrait, "To Old Ski Nose from Old Hook Nose."

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