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Spahn & Sain & What Many Hold To Be True Will Often Rot Your Brain

Baseball fans may be aware of the saying “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain.”

(Above–Spahn on the left and Sain on the right.)

These words are about the 1948 Boston Braves. Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain were two starting pitchers on the ’48 Braves team that won the American League pennant and then lost the World Series to the Cleveland Indians.

The Boston Braves, after a stop in Milwaukee for a few years, are the current Atlanta Braves.

The words are, as I have learned in researching  this post, from a poem written by a Boston sportswriter named Gerald Hern.

Here is the poem—

First we’ll use Spahn
then we’ll use Sain
Then an off day
followed by rain
Back will come Spahn
followed by Sain
And followed
we hope
by two days of rain

The poem conveys the idea that the only decent starting pitchers for the Braves where Spahn and Sain. It suggests the only way the Braves could win was to have Spahn pitch one day, Sain another day, and then hope for rainouts that would get Spahn and Sain back on the mound without having to use other pitchers.

I’ve been aware of this saying since I was a kid. I suppose I’ve long-believed it reflected the truth.

The thing is—It is not true. I was looking up some baseball facts the other day and I came across the 1948 Braves. I saw that the famous poem was not true.

This  made me grumpy. Why do we often believe in things that are not true?

It is not true that Healthcare Reform comes with so-called Death Panels. (Read here about all the helpful aspects of Healthcare Reform)

It is not true that Barack Obama’s trip to India cost $200 million a day.

And it is not true that the 1948 Boston Braves had only two decent starting pitchers.

Sain was a great pitcher in 1948. He pitched a number of innings, did not allow many runs to be scored, and won a bunch of games. Warren Spahn, however, did not in 1948 stand out from the other two pitchers in the Boston rotation.

Braves starting pitchers Bill Voiselle and Vern Bickford had solid seasons in 1948. Bickford was better than Spahn. Though Bickford’s superior performance was muted by the fact that Spahn helped his team by pitching over 100 more innings than did Bickford.

(Below–Vern Bickford baseball card. Bickford seems to have been a decent guy. He died of cancer at age 39. It is good we can recall him.)

Here are the pitching statistics for the 1948 Braves. Look it up for yourself.

Spahn had good years leading up to 1948 and he went on to a Hall of Fame career. However, in 1948, he was just one of three reasonably effective starting pitchers in the shadow of Sain.

People have been believing this story about Spahn and Sain for over 60 years.

I know this is a small matter given all the troubles we face in the world.

It is just that what we hold to be true is so often incorrect.

This is true in what we think about the world and it is true in what we think about the things in our personal lives.

Or, as the rap band Public Enemy once put it—Don’t Believe The Hype.

(Below–Bill Voiselle.)

November 22, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Nolan Ryan—He Focused On Strikeouts Over Winning And His Team

I follow baseball. I find it intellectually engaging without being stressful. I don’t follow any team and I don’t have strong feelings about most players. I  follow the various teams and I enjoy the statistics.

But if there is a player I’ve not liked over the years, it is Nolan Ryan. Mr. Ryan always struck me as more about macho than about a team approach. He appeared to me always as a macho Texan Lone Ranger type.

Mr. Ryan is from Texas.

Here is Nolan Ryan’s career record.  Here is a profile of Mr. Ryan.

(Above is a picture of Mr. Ryan in action. At the bottom of the post is a picture of Warren Spahn.)

The reason I’ve never liked Mr. Ryan is summed up by his former pitching coach the Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn. Mr. Spahn spoke of Mr. Ryan in the book The Only Game In Town:Baseball Stars of the 1930’s and 1940’s Talk About The Game They Loved. This book is a series of oral accounts of baseball back in the day that was compiled by former Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent.

Here is what Mr. Spahn said about Mr. Ryan—

“…I was Nolan Ryan’s pitching coach at Anaheim when he was there and I tried to get him to throw his curveball and his change to set up his fastball. But Nolan had such a big ego, he wanted to strike out people instead of win.” 

Here is Warren Spahn’s career record.  Here is an obit of Mr. Spahn.

Mr. Spahn is suggesting that if Mr. Ryan had developed a wider array of pitchs to throw instead of relying on his very fast fastball, that he would have been more successful. He would of had more tools to get batters out.

You might assert that Mr. Ryan was a very successful pitcher because he is the all-time leader in batters struck out. Mr. Ryan struck out 5,714 batters in his career.  This gives Mr. Ryan 900 more strikeouts more than the current runner up.

What is less known is that Mr. Ryan is also the all-time leader in walks allowed. He allowed 2,795 runners to reach first base on walks. This is around 950 more than the runner up in this statistic. That is a lot more walks than the next guy. 

Mr. Ryan had 950 walks more than the number two out of 2,795 walks in comparsion to 900 more strikeouts over the runner-up out of 5,714 strikeouts.

Mr. Ryan could throw fast to get a strikeout, but he could not control his pitching to keep runners of first base with a walk.

One measure of a pitcher is his relative earned run average. This is how many runs are charged to a pitcher adjusted for the run scoring environment of the stadiums he pitched in and how the rest of the league is performing.  100 is average. Anything above 100 is above average.

Mr. Ryan’s number is 111. This ranks him as tied for 287th among all pitchers in this measure.  That’s good, but nowhere close to great. The all-time leader among starting pitchers is Pedro Martinez who has a number of 154. If you follow baseball, you can study the list linked to at the top of this paragraph and see the multitude of pitchers not regarded nearly as well as Mr. Ryan who were, in fact, more effective at preventing runs scoring than was Mr. Ryan.

Mr. Ryan’s record as a pitcher was 324 wins and 292 defeats. He began his career in 1966 and retired after the 1993 season.  

Much is made of the fact that Mr. Ryan pitched 7 no-hitters. No other pitcher has more than four. That’s fine–But Mr. Ryan started 773 games. So that is 7 out of 773 starts. 

Mr. Ryan’s teammates and the fans of the teams he played on, would have better served if he had applied as much effort to true greatness as he did to showing off how fast he could throw. While Mr. Ryan was a generally effective pitcher over many innings pitched, what he is most know for are a selection freakshow statistics as much as or more than actually winning games.

That’s a macho Texan Lone Ranger for you. 

March 11, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 6 Comments