08/12/2003 7:41 PM ET
Braves unveil Spahn statue
ATLANTA -- Warren Spahn's legacy was created in Boston and Milwaukee. But the legend of baseball's most successful southpaw will exist forever in the form of a larger-than-life statue that was unveiled outside Turner Field on Tuesday afternoon.
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
Spahn, whose 363 career victories are the most ever recorded by a southpaw, sat in a wheelchair and displayed a youthful wit as his friends, family and fans saw the bronzed image of his exaggerated delivery, with the patented high leg kick, for the first time in Atlanta.
"I took great pride in mooning people," Spahn said. "That's the reason I developed that leg kick."
Spahn's statue, which joins those of Hank Aaron, Phil Niekro and Ty Cobb in Turner Field's Monument Grove, was made possible by the diligence of Gary Caruso, a long-time Spahn admirer, who chaired the fundraising project to ensure that the $95,000 needed to complete the monument was donated by an impressive group of contributors.
Braves chairman of the board Bill Bartholomay's $10,000 contribution currently ranks as the highest. Those who contributed more than $1,000 had their name placed on a plaque below the statue.
Other recognizable contributors include Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Chipper Jones, Niekro, Elton John (part-time Atlanta resident and Braves fan), Yogi Berra, Bobby Cox, Bobby Doerr, Ernie Johnson, Randy Johnson, Stan Musial, Nolan Ryan, Red Schoendienst, Joe Torre and Bobby Cox.
"I am privileged that the statue is here with Hank Aaron and all the other dignitaries that represent the Atlanta Braves," Spahn said. "I am particularly delighted that the Atlanta Braves are having success today, because if the statue came here and they were in seventh place, I don't think it would be very popular."
Caruso, the editor of Chop Talk , has attempted to get a statue of Spahn in Atlanta for many years and was finally able to make it happen this year. His love for the Braves Hall of Fame hurler dates back to the 1957 Milwaukee Braves world championship season.
"I think it's a disservice to call him the winningest left-hander of all-time," Caruso said of Spahn. "Because I think he's the greatest pitcher of all-time."
The fact that his win total is the fifth-most ever accumulated by a pitcher in Major League history proves that he is one of the greatest pitchers of all-time. But as Niekro and Caruso both pointed out during the ceremonies, that total could have been much greater had he not missed three seasons while serving his country in World War II.
"You know the thing that amazes me, well the 363 wins definitely," fellow Cooperstown enshrinee Niekro said on Tuesday afternoon. "But you know he was in the Army for four years in his prime. If you take those four years and put them back into Major League Baseball, he probably wins another 30, 40 or 50 games and that puts him above 400 [wins]."
Spahn, who wore No. 21, won 21 games eight times in his career, including the 1957 season which was highlighted when he faced Whitey Ford and the Yankees in Game 1 of the World Series.
Ford, who first met Spahn when Mickey Mantle opened a bowling alley in 1953, and Spahn met two more times in the 1958 World Series, with Spahn changing his fortunes from the previous year with two wins. They have remained close throughout the years and Ford made sure he was in Atlanta on Tuesday to see the unveiling of this grand monument.
"As they said today he was one of the greatest pitchers I've ever known," Ford said. "But he's also a wonderful person."
Over the past two years, the 82-year-old Spahn has broken his femur and four ribs, suffered a punctured lung and had fluid build to a point in his lungs that doctors believed he wasn't going to make it. But it was evident this man still has a sharp mind and a will that was present throughout what was one of the most impressive careers ever compiled in Major League history.
"I am pleased that baseball thought enough of me to scare the people if you will with the statue here," Spahn said. "The only scary thing I have is the statue is going to be here when I leave. That disserves me. Either the statue goes with me or I'm going to stay with the statue."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.