Warren Spahn of the Braves, age 40, pitched his second no-hit game last week. Photographer Mark Kauffman was there and caught these batter's-eye views, including one of the bat cutting through Spahn's windup (below).
'EVERYTHING SEEMED EASY'
Warren Spahn is almost the oldest and almost certainly the wisest pitcher in baseball. Last week he pitched the second no-hit, no-run game of his life, against the San Francisco Giants; the first came last September against the Philadelphia Phils, in his 15th year as a major league pitcher. Because it is so late in his career (his 40th birthday was just a week before his second no-hitter), Spahn depends in large measure upon his head rather than his arm.
"I guess I got farther than most people on my physical equipment," he says. "Hell, look at me now. I'm not a big guy and I'm 40 years old. I stand up there looking at a big, strong 25-year-old kid waving a bat and I know I can't overpower him. I have to outthink him. I have to keep him off balance. This is hard work for a 40-year-old. If there wasn't the satisfaction of winning the mental fight with the batter, I might not be out there."
(Willie Mays, the redoubtable Giant hitter who two days after the no-hitter had four home runs in one game off Milwaukee pitching, agrees. "He's not fast," Mays said. "He's not even sneaky fast. But he's always pitching you low and away and he mixes them up real good. You never know what to expect. He's amazing.")
"It was one of the easiest games I ever pitched," Spahn said about the no-hitter. He is a hawk-faced, nearly bald man with cold green-brown eyes and an air of immense self-assurance. "Everything seemed easy. I didn't think about it until after the fifth and then I figured I'm over the hump and it's downhill."
He drew a home plate with his finger on the table in front of him. "Here," he said. "Here's what you throw at. You can eliminate this part," and he drew a square inside the plate with the stubby, wide forefinger of his left hand. "You never throw there," he said. "You throw at the corners. Even when it's 3 and 0 on the batter, you throw at the corners. I don't think I could get the ball over if I threw up the pipe."
How, he was asked, could he hit so narrow a target so consistently?
"I spent my life throwing a baseball 60 feet 6 inches," he said.' 'Why shouldn't I be able to control it?" He spread his left hand and looked at it. It is not a big hand.
"I had to change my signals for this game," he said. He pulled a piece of paper over to him and drew three squares on it. "This is the way I been using signals since I came up," he said. "One finger for the fast ball, two for the curve, three for the screwball, four for the slider, five for the change. Then you set the call that you take from the catcher by the count on the batter. Say it's 1 and 0, for instance. Maybe that would mean I take the third finger signal the catcher gives. If he flashed two, two and one in order, I'd take the last signal. That would be the fast ball."
He smiled. "Me and Alvin [Alvin Dark, the San Francisco manager] came up together to Boston in 1946," he said. "We spent a lot of time together, talking about pitching. He wanted to know all about it. He knows my signal system, too. So I changed it for this game. They get a man on second, he can see the catcher's signals just as well as I can. All he has to do is let the batter know if I'm going to throw a fast ball or breaking stuff. If it's a fast ball, maybe he crosses his legs when he takes a lead; breaking stuff, he doesn't. So I changed."
He thought about Dark for a minute and laughed.
"We used to talk about situations," he said. "The night before the game, I tried to remember all the things we had talked about so I could figure out Alvin's thinking during the game. I walked two guys, McCovey and Hiller. I had 3 and 0 on them and knowing Alvin's thinking, I figure he's going to tell them to hit away, so I couldn't give them anything good. Besides, they're both left-hand hitters, and over the years I've had more trouble with good left-hand hitters than with right-hand batters. So I couldn't give them anything to hit." (Both McCovey and Hiller were put out on double plays that were started by Spahn himself. He is an exceptionally deft fielder.)
"There are two places to throw to a batter," Spahn said. "Low and outside, where he can't see the ball very well and up close on the handle of the bat at the belt, where he can't get the bat around. Some batters, with quick bats, good reflexes—you haven't got any place to pitch to them. They can hit nearly anything you throw up there. Then you have to work on them to set up a pitch. You have to think with them—try to figure what they expect, then change it. And you have to be careful in what you say sometimes."
He lit a cigarette and puffed it quickly.
"I remember one year," he said, "Cincinnati tied a record for home runs that season. They hit something like 220 home runs—I don't remember. But I told a writer that I liked to pitch against them because all of them were swinging for the fence and you could get them to go for bad pitches. Then the next time I pitched against Cincinnati, I figure Wally Post must have read that story. He used to go for pitches on the edges, maybe off the plate. This time he began waiting for something down the pipe, and I found out he was a different kind of batter. Where I was getting ahead of him before, I was getting behind him—1 and 0, 2 and 0—and then I had to come in there with a pitch."
Late in the game the Giant bench began to ride him. "They were hollering, 'You got a no-hitter going, you lucky son of a bitch,' " Spahn said, laughing. "I could hear Alvin's voice, too. But you can't listen to those things. You've got to focus down on a narrow area. The batter, the catcher, the umpire. That's your world. You have to concentrate on it. All the time. You can't think of anything outside that area."
The ninth inning was the only one in which Spahn's no-hitter was in doubt. It started with Ed Bailey, a left-handed power-hitting catcher, at bat. Bailey lifted a towering pop fly behind and to the left of the plate, and Charley Lau, the Braves' second-string catcher and Spahn's roommate, dropped the ball.
"Maybe that helped me," Spahn said.
"I felt so sorry for Charley that I really bore down and struck him out. Maybe it helped me to be pitching to Lau, too. You know, Del Crandall has been catching me for 10 years and he's a great catcher. But in 10 years we might have established a pattern that the batters know, even if they only know it subconsciously. With Charley in there, the pattern is changed. I told Charley before the game to call the pitches however he wanted. The only time I shook him off was when I had to come in with a strike in a certain area and I knew which pitch I could do it with. Sometimes when I shake my head, I'm not really shaking off the call. We do it to confuse the batter. He's standing up there figuring, 'Spahn's coming in with this kind of pitch and I'm going to hit it,' and then I shake my head and he stops and thinks, 'Why did he do that?' Then he figures out something else and I shake my head again, and the first thing you know, I got him thinking the way I want him to. Then I've got the confidence and he hasn't. You have to get every psychological edge you can get in this game."
The second batter in the ninth inning was pinch hitter Matty Alou, a very fast ballplayer.
"I knew he was coming up to bunt," Spahn said. "I know how much Alvin wants to win and I knew he wanted to spoil the no-hitter for his team's sake. The only thing surprised me was Alou bunted on the first pitch. He dragged the ball down toward first base and I went over to it automatically and the only thing I remember about that play was seeing Alou go by me as I bent over for the ball and thinking he had it beat out. The ball was dead when I reached it, which was good. If I had had to stop it and throw, I never would have made it. But I grabbed it and threw it backhand at Adcock in one motion and got Alou."
("Only two pitchers in baseball could have made that play," Dark said later. "Spahn and Haddix. They're the only ones who field their position that well.")
The last batter for the Giants was Joey Amalfitano, pinch-hitting for the pitcher.
"I knew Alvin would send him in," Spahn said. "He hit me as good as anyone last year. But I don't mind pitching to pinch hitters. I'd rather take my chances against a guy coming in cold off the bench."
Amalfitano hit a sharp ground ball to the left of the Brave shortstop, Roy McMillan. McMillan, a very quick infielder, got in front of the ball, but it took a freak hop over the top of the glove and hit him in the groin. He reached for it, missed, reached again, grabbed it and, in one instantaneous motion, threw to Adcock at first barely in time to catch Amalfitano. Then the Brave bench boiled onto the field; the game was over.
"I was afraid McMillan wouldn't pick the ball up in time," Spahn said. "Then the scorer would have given him an error. Maybe I would have got the next guy out, but it would have been a tainted no-hitter and I didn't want it that way. This one was pitched against some of the best batters in the league. The first one gave me a bigger kick because I waited so long for it, but it was against the Phils and they didn't have batters like Mays and McCovey and Cepeda and the rest of the Giants."
He thought about the game for a moment. "I made some mistakes," he said. "But I was lucky. You have to be real lucky. The only real bad pitch I threw was a screwball high to Mays that didn't do anything. And he tapped back to me for an easy out. That was lucky. You know what they say. The top half of the ball belongs to the batter, the bottom half to the pitcher. High balls get hit out of the park most of the time."
Dark, an intensely serious competitor who suffers horribly when he loses, sat wordless in front of his locker for a long time after the game. Then he said: "Spahn earned his no-hitter. I did all I could to break it up. Everything. He earned it."