At home at fenway

Keeping on eye on Dustin, Papi, Youk & a few good books

Spahn & Juan & the thrill was on

Posted by athomeatfenway on December 31, 2011

On the same day that the media made me smile by reporting that Hal Steinbrenner tried to cheat the I.R.S. out of $460,000, author Jim Kaplan made me doubly happy when I read in his book that the Evil ones buried Vic Power in the minors for 5 years because his skin was too black.

That’s the kind of Yankee dirt for which I’m always looking.

I came across this factoid in Kaplan’s well-researched and eloquent book, The Greatest Game Ever Pitched, Juan Marichal, Warren Spahn and the Pitching Duel of the Century.  (Triumph, 2011.). 

The subject is the 16-inning duel on July 2, 1963 at Candlestick between 42-year old Warren Spahn and 25-year old Juan Marichal.  The old man and the kid, future Hall of Famers.  Both men pitched a complete game.  Spahn threw 201 pitches.  Marichal threw 227.  Willie Mays beat Spahn with a solo homer in the bottom of the 16th.  Final score Giants 1, Braves 0.

7 HOF’ers saw action.  Spahn, Marichal, Mays, McCovey, Aaron, Matthews and Cepeda.

There were 256 warm up pitches.  427 pitches thrown to batters.  Great fielding plays and errors.  Stolen bases and pickoffs.  Singles, doubles, and a final culminating confrontation between 2 All Time Greats, Mays and Spahn.

The game itself is a 16 inning delight.  But if the telling of the game were all the story, this book would be very short — or so stretched out it would be boring.

So Kaplan gives us much more than the game.  He intersperses Marichal and Spahn’s life stories.  He writes sidebars about other notable pitching duels, record games and other studies.  He recreates Jack Morris’ 10-inning complete game in the 7th game of the 1991 World Series, Harvey Haddix’s 1959 13-inning perfect game loss to Lou Burdette & the Braves, the 1981 duel between Yale’s Ron Darling and St. John’s Frank Viola in which the former pitched a no-hitter for 11 innings while the latter pitched a shutout for 12.  He lobbies for Johnny Sain’s HOF-worthy career as a pitcher and a coach, and details the 33 inning game in 1981 between the Rochester Redwings (with Cal Ripken) and the Pawtucket Red Sox (with Wade Boggs).  All of these diversions are crisp and riveting.

One thing that Kaplan does singularly well is to meld in germane insights from other authors to illuminate a point — or render one poetic.

For instance, Kaplan first compares the MLB crowds of today to those of 1963.   In 2011, they rock to rap music, semi-aware a game is being played.  In 1963, they are focused on play completely.  Kaplan borrows a line to transport us:  “Immersed as they were, the fans reflected Paul Gallico’s description of baseball onlookers.  ‘The crowd as a whole plays the role of Greek chorus to the actors on the field below.  It reflects every action, every moment, every changing phase of the game.  It keens.  It rejoices.  It moans.’”.

Seamless.  Smooth.  Brilliant.


There were many golden nuggets.  Here are two of my favorites.

Willie Mays hit 22 extra inning HR’s in his career.  He is the only player to have homered in every inning from 1 through 16.  I say, with everything else we know that makes Mays worthy of the title “Greatest Player of All Time”, these two additional facts help to make the case complete. 

When Spahn entered the post-game locker room, his team mates applauded.  There were tears in his eyes and everyone else’s.  His mates lined up to shake his hand.  After the game, Carl Hubbell, Hall of Fame screwballer and minor league supervisor for the Giants, remarked, “Here is a guy 42 years old who still has a fastball.  He just kept busting them in on the hands of our guys and kept getting them out….He ought to will his body to medical science.”

Last thoughts

One thing stopped me in my tracks.  Ken Burns’ 1994 landmark Baseball documentary is breathtaking in its scope, arresting with its images, and fascinating through its use of historians, writers and artists.  Kaplan makes the point that Burns all but ignored Latino ballplayers in that 10 volume work.  That seems undeniable.  Think about it.  Burns shined the light briefly on Clemente.  Marichal was absent.  Tiant.  Aparicio.  Cepeda.  Carew.  Perez.  All largely MIA or without emphasis.  This absence in the Burns’ work is ironic given how important the film maker positions race in Baseball history.  I suspect most of us watched the documentary and never even noticed.

Howard Bryant’s fine recent biography of Henry Aaron brings to life the extraordinary Braves teams of 1956 to 1959, among others.  Because Spahn’s MLB timeline starts fully 8 years before that of Aaron, Kaplan gives us the other end of a talented Braves continuum that stretched from Spahn/Sain/Holmes to Aaron/Matthews/Spahn.  I hope Atlantans appreciate the majesty of the bloodline that connects to Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz. They should read both books.

I heartily recommend Greatest Game to you. 

And if you have any good Yankee dirt, a la Vic Power, by all means send it my way.

Go Sox.

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