Seamheads: Greatest Pitching Duels of the Century

Gabriel Schechter reviews The Greatest Game Ever Pitched: Juan Marichal, Warren Spahn, and the Pitching Duel of the Century, by Jim Kaplan (Triumph Books, 2011), on the classic 16-inning matchup between two Hall of Famers on July 2, 1963:

What makes Kaplan’s book so captivating is not so much the blow-by-blow description of the game itself–interspersed a few innings at a time–as it is his account of how the two pitching masters arrived at that moment in time as equals despite the differences in their ages and the paths they followed to that unforgettable night at Candlestick Park.


Kaplan allows [us] to see Spahn as a product of his blue-collar background in Buffalo, and Marichal in the context of the history of his native Dominican Republic. We see them coming and going, and some of the most moving passages cover their post-career lives as both men attempted to pass on their love and knowledge of baseball and cement their legacies. Among other things, Kaplan provides the best account I’ve read of the unfortunate 1965 bruhaha between Marichal and Dodgers catcher John Roseboro.


My own nomination for the best pitching duel wasn’t even mentioned by Kaplan, and I don’t know why. For one thing, apart from the two World Series games he covered, it was the only game that mattered in a pennant race, adding an element of urgency that was absent on July 2, 1963. I’m referring to the October 2, 1908 game between the pennant-chasing Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Naps, featuring future Hall of Famers Ed Walsh and Addie Joss. … For my money, the pitching was the equal of the Koufax-Hendley game, with the added dimensions that it featured two future Hall of Famers in their best seasons in a game that helped decide the pennant race.

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Originally published: March 11, 2011. Last Updated: March 11, 2011.