Clayton Kershaw earns third Warren Spahn Award in four years
By Darl DeVault
Special to Guthrie News Page
Los Angeles Dodger fans, still smarting from seeing their local star Matt Kemp traded from the club last week, have a positive local Dodger story. Baseball fans can buy tickets to the 16th annual Warren Spahn Award Gala the evening of January 14, at the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame and Jim Thorpe Museum in Oklahoma City.
Dodgers’ left-handed power pitcher Clayton Kershaw will be honored for throwing the most wins in baseball (21) with a 1.77 earned run average (ERA) to lead the majors and 239 strikeouts in 2014. He will receive a 2-foot-3-inch bronze statue of Spahn in his famous high-kicking windup for being the best left-handed starting pitcher in Major League Baseball. A pitcher’s wins, earned run average, and strikeouts have determined the annual winner since 1999.
The addition of the Spahn Award rounds out the honors for the Dodger southpaw’s accolade-filled season. Aside from earning the title of best lefty in baseball three of the last four years, Kershaw notched the National League pitching title, its Cy Young and MVP awards on his way to being selected Baseball America’s Major League Player of the Year for 2014.
“It is an honor to be the recipient of the 2014 Warren Spahn Award. The prestige of this award isn’t lost on me. I am also grateful for the opportunity to play alongside so many awesome teammates who provide the support and confidence for me to do my job” Kershaw said in November. “Spahn was a great pitcher with a legendary career. To be recognized in his honor is pretty special. Thank you for the privilege of representing this award for the 2014 baseball season.”
The award is given in honor of the late National Baseball Hall of Famer Warren Spahn, an Oklahoman who accomplished something few Major League Baseball pitchers have– he led the majors in wins for all the years spanning his lengthy career. What makes this even more remarkable is Spahn’s major-league career was interrupted for three and a half years while he distinguished himself as a U.S. Army combat engineer in Europe in World War II.
The award began in 1999 by the Oklahoma Sports Museum (now Territorial Capitol Sports Museum) in Guthrie to honor one of Oklahoma’s most outstanding pitchers in MLB history by celebrating the achievements the most outstanding MLB left-handed pitcher. The award was conceived by OSM publicist Darl DeVault, and brought to life by OSM President Richard Hendricks and the board of trustees. It has grown to be seen by MLB as one of the outstanding awards presented each year.
Spahn’s 363 wins led the majors from 1942 to 1965, his whole career, even counting the years he was away in the Army. Although he only pitched 15 innings in 1942, and won his first game in 1946, his total wins overall still led this 23-year period. Even after his belated first win at age 25, he still became the winningest left-handed pitcher in history. His closest rival did not even break 300 wins. Early Wynn had 297 wins in that same 23-year time span, while Robin Roberts followed with 281, Whitey Ford with 232 and Billy Pierce with 211.
Kershaw coming to Oklahoma City in January adds even more to local Dodger news lately since they are the newly announced parent club of the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers. Last week Midwest City hitting sensation Kemp was traded from the Dodgers to the San Diego Padres.
The award winner receives permanent possession of a bronze trophy sculpted by noted Edmond artist Shan Gray who worked closely with Spahn while sculpting the bronze award depicting the legend in his windup as a Milwaukee Brave. The 37-pound trophy stands 27½ inches tall. The 16-inch silicate bronze statue atop the trophy is mounted on an 11½- inch bell-shaped base with a black and gold marble capstone. Originally created as work of art, it was first appraised at $15,000 in 1999.
Former award winners are: Gio Gonzalez (2012); Kershaw (2011, 2013); David Price (2010); CC Sabathia (2007–2009); Johan Santana (2004, 2006); Dontrelle Willis (2005); Andy Pettitte (2003); and Randy Johnson (1999–2002).
Three identical 9-foot bronze versions of the statue created by Gray and cast by John Free Jr. at the Bronze Horse Foundry in Pawhuska, Okla., also honor Spahn. They are on display at the Atlanta Braves’ Turner Field Monument Grove, outside the museum at 4040 N. Lincoln in Oklahoma City and the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark Oklahoma City. Spahn died in 2003 at 82 soon after the dedication of the first version of his statue at Turner Field.
Already 6′ 3″ and 215 pounds, the Dodgers drafted Kershaw out of high school in 2006 from Dallas. He became a starting pitcher in 2008 as the youngest player in the NL. Now he is the premiere power pitcher in baseball and the youngest to win three Spahn Awards. He is closing in on Randy Johnson’s record of four consecutive wins from 1999 to 2002, when Johnson also threw the most strikeouts ever in baseball over those four seasons. CC Sabathia won his third consecutive Spahn Award in 2009 as a Yankee.
Spahn’s importance to the sport is more than being the winningest lefty pitcher ever. Among all pitchers whose entire careers were in the post-1920 live-ball era Spahn has the most shutouts with 63 and the most complete games with 382.
Kershaw is reaching importance to baseball quickly as well by posting the lowest ERA of any big league starter with 1,000 innings since World War II. Kershaw leads Yankee Whitey Ford at 2.75 and Dodger legend Sandy Koufax at 2.76. The last four years saw him set a record as the first pitcher to ever lead the majors in ERA for that long a span.
And he is showing resilience as a top competitor, being sidelined for a flare up of a back injury for five weeks beginning in March and bouncing back to throw his first no-hitter in June.
Besides having the best season since he started coming to Oklahoma in 2012 to receive the 2011 award, Kershaw’s world has grown. He and his wife Ellen have established Kershaw’s Challenge in 2011. The charity built a home for vulnerable children in Zambia, The Arise Home, where they can stay until they complete high school. Their work in Africa through what they term their Christ-centered, others-focused organization is also going on in American cities along with their charity work at home in LA.
Oklahoma City’s Bricktown Rotary Club and the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame host the Gala that includes a major award for Oklahoma youth. It is the only Oklahoma event honoring a major league athlete for their play each year.
Ferguson Jenkins presents awards to 10 top Oklahoma high school baseball and softball athletes each year during the Gala. The youngsters receive the Ferguson Jenkins Outstanding Student Athlete Award from the National Baseball Hall of Fame power pitcher who led MLB in wins from 1967 to 1980 with 251. High school softball and baseball coaches each receive a Jenkins award as well. As a former 17-year state resident and Oklahoma youth sports supporter, Jenkins presents his awards to five baseball players and five softball players who distinguish themselves on and off the field.
For Gala ticket information go online to http://www.okcspahnawards.com, or contact Bill Hickman at 405.605.2375.