Thursday, April 27, 2006

Karl Spooner

It was supposed to have been a prelude of things to come.

Instead, it was just a tantalizing glimpse of what could have been for Karl Benjamin Spooner, the Brooklyn Dodgers’ 23-year old flame-throwing southpaw.

Spooner broke into the big leagues in spectacular fashion.

On September 22, 1954, he shut out the eventual world champion New York Giants on just three hits, while striking out 15 batters—a record number of whiffs for a pitcher in his first game. Afterward, Dodger catcher Roy Campanella called Spooner “the greatest young pitcher I’ve ever seen.”

Four days later, in the season finale, “King Karl” blanked the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates on four hits, while fanning an even dozen.

His 27 strikeouts in consecutive starts were the most ever by a National League hurler and fell one short of Bob Feller’s major league record. Spooner tied another big league mark by tossing back-to-back shutouts in his first two games.

On a Dodger team loaded with stars, Spooner appeared to have the brightest future.

However, fate intervened.

The following spring, an injury to Spooner's golden left arm ruined what might have been one of the most brilliant of all pitching careers.

The injury limited Spooner to just 98.2 innings as he bounced between the starting rotation and bullpen.

As a starter, Spooner struggled, posting a 3-5 record with an earned run average of 4.24 in 14 starts.

In 15 relief appearances, Spooner sparkled, winning five of six decisions, saving two games, and registering a microscopic 1.11 ERA.

So, it was quite a surprise when Dodger manager Walt Alston decided to start Spooner in the sixth game of the 1955 World Series.

It turned out to be a mistake.

True to form, Spooner retired only one batter in the first inning and was pounded for five runs, including a three-run home run to the New York Yankees’ Moose Skowron.

This would be Spooner’s last appearance in a big league game.

His career was not supposed to end this way; not this early.

But, at least he would go out a champion. Brooklyn went on to win their one and only World Series the following day.


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