Braving the Knuckler

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Phil Niekro

Hall of Famer Phil Niekro pitched for the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves for 21 years, winning all but 50 of his 318 career victories in a Braves’ uniform. He is the winningest knuckleball pitcher in major league history, and amassed the third most wins of any Braves pitcher (after Warren Spahn and Kid Nichols). Continue reading

Trust the Law

 

Career Year: Vern Law – 1960

Vern Law was a lanky right-hander whose fortunes as a pitcher improved steadily throughout the 1950s … just as his team, the Pittsburgh Pirates (his only major league team over a 16-year career), clawed its way out of the bottom of the National League standings by the close of the 1950s. Continue reading

Command and Control

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Lew Burdette

It’s natural to remember Lew Burdette as primarily a 1950s pitcher. That was his dominant decade. Teaming with Warren Spahn and Bob Buhl to fashion one of the most formidable starting rotations in the National League, Burdette was a commanding right-handed starter, using his power and control to win 120 games for the Milwaukee Braves between 1953 and 1959. Continue reading

Warren and Christy … Together at Last

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(September 8, 1963) Pitching a nine-hit complete game, Warren Spahn raised his season record to 20-5 as the Milwaukee Braves beat the Philadelphia Phillies 3-2 at Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia.

It was the thirteenth time in his career that Spahn won 20 or more games. That tied him with Christy Mathewson for the most 20-vistory seasons in the major leagues.

The 1963 season was the thirteenth 20-victory season in the career of Warren Spahn. It was the seventh straight season when Spahn led the National League in complete games.

The 1963 season was the thirteenth 20-victory season in the career of Warren Spahn. It was the seventh straight season when Spahn led the National League in complete games.

For the 42-year-old Spahn, it was his nineteenth complete game of the 1963 season. He would finish the season with 22 complete games, the most in the majors. Spahn recorded no strikeouts or walks during the game.

The Braves scored in the first inning when lead-off batter Lee Maye singled and advanced to second on an error by Phillies starter Dallas Green. Frank Bolling sacrificed Maye to third, and Maye scored on Hank Aaron’s groundout to Phillies second baseman Tony Taylor. It was Aaron’s 117th RBI of the season.

The Braves’ lead held up as Spahn pitched a shutout through six innings. Tony Gonzalez led off the bottom of the seventh inning with a triple and scored on a Roy Sievers sacrifice fly.

In the eighth inning, Green walked Eddie Mathews, who scored on Gene Oliver’s sixteenth home run. Spahn pitched a scoreless eighth inning and allowed a solo home run by Don Demeter in the ninth. Don Hoak doubled to put the potential tying run in scoring position, but Spahn retired Bob Oldis and Wes Covington to end the game.

The losing pitcher was Green (5-4).

Shown in an undated photo is Christy Christy Mathewson was the first major league pitcher to win 20 or more games 13 times. (Warren Spahn was the second.) Mathewson finished his career with 373 victories, third most in major league history (tied with Grover Cleveland Alexander) and 10 more than Spahn.

Christy Mathewson was the first major league pitcher to win 20 or more games 13 times. (Warren Spahn was the second.) Mathewson finished his career with 373 victories, third most in major league history (tied with Grover Cleveland Alexander) and 10 more than Spahn.

Spahn’s 1963 season was one of the best of his career, as he finished the season at 23-7 with a 2.60 earned run average. It was also his seventh straight season leading the National League in complete games, and he pitched seven shutouts, tying his season high and the second most in the league (behind 11 Sandy Koufax shutouts).

Though he tied Mathewson for most 20-win seasons, Spahn fell short of matching Mathewson’s 373 career wins. Spahn retired after the 1965 season with 363 victories, the most by any left-hander in baseball history.

300 and Counting

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(August 11, 1961) The Milwaukee Braves today defeated the 2-1 behind the six-hit pitching of Warren Spahn.

Warren Spahn's 12th victory of the 1961 season was also his 12th complete game ... and the 300th win of his career.

Warren Spahn’s 12th victory of the 1961 season was also his 12th complete game … and the 300th win of his career.

For Spahn (12-12), it marked the 300th victory of his career, and made Spahn the thirteenth pitcher in major league history to reach the 300-victory plateau. He was also the first 300-game winner in two decades, following Lefty Grove in 1941.

Spahn drove in the game’s first run in the fifth inning with a sacrifice fly that brought home catcher Joe Torre. The Cubs tied the game at 1-1 in the sixth inning. Ron Santo scored on an Andre Rodgers RBI single.

Braves center fielder Gino Cimoli hit a solo home run in the bottom of the eighth inning off Cubs starter Jack Curtis (7-7). Curtis and Spahn each allowed just six hits.

For Spahn, the victory marked his twelfth complete game of the season … and Spahn would lead the National League in complete games in 1961 for the fifth consecutive season. He would also lead the league in ERA (3.02) and victories at 21-13.

And he still had 63 victories left in his 40-year-old arm.

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The Greatest Pitching Duel of Our Lifetime

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(July 2, 1963) In one of baseball’s most memorable pitching duels, the San Francisco GiantsJuan Marichal and the Milwaukee BravesWarren Spahn both hurled 15 scoreless innings before Willie Mays ended the marathon with a home run off Spahn in the bottom of the 16th inning, giving San Francisco a 1-0 win.

Warren Spahn

Warren Spahn

Spahn (11-4) allowed nine hits in 15.1 innings pitched, striking out two Giants batters. Giants right-hander Marichal (13-3) allowed only eight hits in pitching his 16-inning shutout. Marichal struck out 10 Braves and lowered his season ERA to 2.14.

Willie Mays’ lead-off home run in the 16th inning broke up a scoreless pitching duel between Warren Spahn and Juan Marichal.

Willie Mays’ lead-off home run in the 16th inning broke up a scoreless pitching duel between Warren Spahn and Juan Marichal.

Mays’s walk-off home run was his 15th of the season. He would finish the 1963 season with 38 round-trippers (to go with a .314 batting average and 103 RBIs). Mays still holds the major league record with 22 extra-inning home runs.

Spahn would finish the 1963 season at 23-7 with a 2.60 ERA. It would be the last winning season of his Hall of Fame Career.

Juan Marichal

Juan Marichal

Marichal, also a future Hall of Famer (this particular game featured seven different future HoFers), finished 1963 with a 25-8 record and a 2.41 ERA. He would lead the majors with 321.1 innings pitched.

 

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Slam Bam Brave

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Tony Cloninger

A hard-throwing right-hander, Tony Cloninger stepped up as the Milwaukee Braves‘ ace in the mid 1960s when time finally caught up with Warren Spahn. Cloninger was also, like Spahn, a dangerous hitter who could win games with his bat as well as his arm.

Tony Cloninger emerged as the ace of the Milwaukee Braves’ pitching staff in the mid-1960s. He won 43 games in 1964-1965.

Tony Cloninger emerged as the ace of the Milwaukee Braves’ pitching staff in the mid-1960s. He won 43 games in 1964-1965.

Cloninger was signed by the Braves in 1958 and made his debut with the team in June of 1961. During his first three seasons with the Braves, he had a combined record of 24-16 with a 4.31 ERA.

Cloninger’s breakout season came in 1964, when he went 19-14 with a 3.56 ERA. In 1965, Cloninger turned in a 24-11 season with a 3.29 ERA. He posted career highs in complete games (16), innings pitched (279), and strikeouts (211). He also led the league in bases on balls with 119, a feat he would repeat in 1966, when his record slipped to 14-11. That was also the season when Cloninger set a hitting record that no batter has ever topped.

On July 3, 1966 in Candlestick Park, Cloninger won his ninth game of the season with a 17-3 complete game performance over the hometown San Francisco Giants. Cloninger’s bat produced nine of the Braves’ 17 runs that day, including two consecutive grand slam home runs.

Tony Cloninger drove in nine runs in the Braves’ 17-3 victory over the San Francisco Giants on July 3, 1966. Eight of those RBIs came on consecutive grand slams.

Tony Cloninger drove in nine runs in the Braves’ 17-3 victory over the San Francisco Giants on July 3, 1966. Eight of those RBIs came on consecutive grand slams.

Not a bad hitter for a pitcher (.192 lifetime average), Cloninger hit .234 in 1966, with five home runs and 23 RBIs. Unfortunately, by the end of the 1966 season, Cloninger was already on the downside of his pitching career.  He won only five more games for the Braves over the next two seasons, and was traded to the Cincinnati Reds in a deal that brought Clay Carroll and Woody Woodward to the Reds and sent pitcher Milt Pappas to the Braves. As a spot starter and long reliever, Cloninger was a combined 27-33 in four seasons with the Reds.

The St. Louis Cardinals traded Julian Javier for Cloninger just before the 1972 season, but he was only 0-2 in 17 relief appearance for St. Louis, and retired after the 1972 season. He finished with a career record of 113-97, and 11 career home runs.