Career Year: Warren Spahn – 1961
Throughout his amazing 21-season career, Warren Spahn strung together more career years than any other pitcher of his generation.
He was a 20-game winner 13 times. He led the National League in complete games nine times. He led the league in shutouts and innings pitched four times each, and had the league’s lowest earned run average three times.
He was baseball’s Cy Young Award winner in 1957, when he was 21-11 with a 2.69 ERA. But his best season came in 1961, when he led the league in four different pitching categories … at the age of 40.
Spahn was a 2-1 loser to the St. Louis Cardinals on Opening Day, pitching a 10-inning complete game. He won his next three starts – all with complete games – and was 5-4 at the end of May with a 2.93 ERA. He already had six complete games and had pitched into at least the ninth inning in three of his losses. He pitched the second no-hitter of his career on April 28, beating the San Francisco Giants 1-0.
Spahn struggled in June: 3-5 with a 4.43 ERA and only two complete games for that month. He was 2-3 in July; both of his victories were complete games.
Going into August, Spahn was 10-12 with a 3.63 ERA. There were some whispers that age had finally begun to catch up with him. But in the heat of August, he brushed away any such doubts. He made six starts in August, and won all six with complete games. His ERA during August was 1.00.
Spahn was nearly as unbeatable in September. In seven starts, he was 5-2 with five more complete games and a 3.20 ERA. He finished the season at 21-13 with a 3.02 ERA, the lowest in the National League. His 21 victories tied him with Cincinnati’s Joey Jay for the most in the league.
Spahn’s 21 complete games led the National League for the fifth consecutive season. He led the league with four shutouts and his 262.2 innings pitched was the second highest in the league (10 fewer than teammate Lew Burdette).
He also won his 300th game during the 1961 season, only the third southpaw in major league history to reach that plateau, and the first to do it in the National League. Now that’s a career year.