Last week, July 2 to be exact, was the 50th anniversary of one of the greatest games ever performed by two opposing pitchers.
The Milwaukee Braves’ Warren Spahn and the San Francisco Giants’ Juan Marichal threw nothing but zeros on the scoreboard until a 16th inning home run by Willie Mays won it for the Giants, 1-0.
Don’t think these pitchers were putting up bagels against a bunch of stiffs, either.
The Braves lineup had Hank Aaron batting third and Eddie Mathews fourth. Two Hall of Famers with over 500 home runs each.
The Giants had two 500 home run hitting Hall of Famers themselves in Mays and his longtime cohort Willie McCovey. Throw in another Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda and two excellent hitters who went on to be better known as managers, Harvey Kuenn and Felipe Alou.
A game like that is completely unimaginable to today’s baseball fan. Someone, a general manager or the pitcher’s agent, would be screaming about the manager’s irresponsibility for allowing the pitch count to reach so high.
My guess is Spahn and Marichal never heard of a pitch count.
Legend has it that Spahn told manager Bobby Bragan he was done for the night after shutting out the Giants in the 9th inning. When he saw Marichal walking to the mound in the 10th, his competitive juices kicked in and he told Bragan forget about it. He was going as long as Marichal.
Both Spahn and Marichal have special places in my heart.
The first baseball game I went to was Spahn facing the Pittsburgh Pirates, June 9, 1963 – three weeks before he faced Marichal and the Giants.
I was lucky enough to grow up in Pittsburgh with my uncle, well known Las Vegas figure Jack Franzi. Uncle Jack, his son Zach and I went to so many games I couldn’t begin to count.
For years I saw Mays, McCovey, Aaron, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Ron Santo, Ernie Banks, Maury Wills, Dick Allen, Lou Brock and the likes every week. I was also watching Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Bill Mazeroski and other Pirates stars every night, as well.
You could bet if a top pitcher was on the mound facing the Pirates we would be at the game. I think I saw Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Bob Gibson, Gaylord Perry, and Steve Carlton every time they pitched in Pittsburgh.
Of all those great pitchers, Marichal was my favorite. I was enthralled with his high leg kick. He had an array of pitches he threw from a variety of release points. My young mind couldn’t grasp all that. I just knew charisma when I saw it.
After the anniversary of the 16-inning game, I went to search some statistics that I remembered hearing about Marichal. They are truly amazing. Baseball history doesn’t give him the credit he deserves.
From September 5, 1962 to August 13, 1968 Marichal started and won 109 games. Every one of those wins was a complete game. Before that incredible streak he completed 18 of 19 wins. If your calculator isn’t handy, that’s 127 of 128 wins. Also during that period were two relief appearances where he finished the game and got the win. I guess they figured he needed the work.
No one in the modern game (The ‘modern game’ is my lifetime. Hey, it’s my article.) approaches that mark. Spahn was closest with 75 consecutive completed winning starts.
I know today’s game is much different in so many ways, but I have to appreciate how the old guys finished what they started. Last year Justin Verlander led the majors with six complete games. Marichal had months with six complete games. Seriously.
Spahn completed 382 games in his 22-year career. He led the league in complete games nine times and had five other seasons with 20 or more complete games and did not lead the league.
No matter how much the game has changed, those are some amazing numbers. Those two great warhorses hooking up in that classic matchup 50 years ago seems appropriate.
I had one of the luckiest childhoods I know of, so don’t think I’m complaining. Although I know if I had grown up in San Francisco with my Uncle Jack I’m sure I would have been at that game. That would have been pretty cool.
Chris Andrews has over 30 years of experience as a bookmaker in Nevada. Check out his new website at www.againstthenumber.com. You can follow him on Twitter@AndrewsSports. Contact Chris at [email protected].