Georgia native “Spud” Chandler was one of the best pitchers in the American League from 1937 to 1947, when he won 109 games and lost only 43. Playing his entire career with the powerful New York Yankees, Chandler never had a losing season, and his .717 winning percentage is the highest in major league history among all pitchers with 100 or more victories. He was named to the American League all-star team four times and is a member of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. Also an outstanding all-around college athlete, Chandler earned a posthumous induction in 2000 into the University of Georgia (UGA) Circle of Honor, the highest tribute paid in UGA sports.
Spurgeon Ferdinand Chandler was born on September 12, 1907, in Commerce. He grew up in Franklin County and graduated from Carnesville High School in 1928. From 1929 to 1932 he attended UGA and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture. At the university Chandler starred in track, football, and baseball. A halfback for the football team, he threw a touchdown pass in UGA’s victory over Yale University in the 1929 dedication game of Sanford Stadium. Two years later Chandler played football against New York University in Yankee Stadium. He walked out to the pitcher’s mound (the stadium was used for both football and baseball games during their respective seasons), hurled a football through the uprights of a goalpost, and told his puzzled teammates that he was destined to pitch for the Yankees, his favorite team since boyhood.
While in college Chandler rejected offers to play professional football for the New York Giants and baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs. Immediately after graduating from UGA, however, Chandler signed to play baseball, his first love, with the New York Yankees.
Chandler spent five years in the minor leagues before joining the Yankees for the 1937 season. Injuries marred his early career, and he did not become a regular member of the Yankee rotation until the early 1940s. In 1941 Chandler’s mastery of the slider, a fastball that curves, or slides, just before it reaches the batter, made him one of the premier pitchers in the American League. Chandler’s finest season, and one of the best for any pitcher in Yankee history, was 1943. He tied for the league lead in wins with twenty, topped or tied for the lead in many other pitching categories, and led the major league in both winning percentage and earned-run average. He pitched two convincing victories over the Cardinals in the first and final games of the 1943 World Series. Chandler finished his superlative season by winning the American League’s Most Valuable Player award and The Sporting News player of the year award.
Chandler missed the 1944 and 1945 seasons while serving in the U.S. Army. He returned to the Yankees in 1946 and again won twenty games. Injuries plagued the forty-year-old Chandler in 1947, and he retired as an active player at the end of the season. He had pitched for seven pennant winners and six world champions.
On the mound Chandler exuded determination, confidence, and the aura of Yankee invincibility. These qualities, in addition to his pitching skill, earned him the accolades of both his teammates and his opponents. Yankee manager Joe McCarthy named Chandler one of the three best pitchers he had ever coached, Yankee catcher Bill Dickey called Chandler the best pitcher he had ever caught, and the great Boston Red Sox hitter Ted Williams described Chandler as one of the three toughest pitchers he had ever faced.
After his playing days ended, Chandler managed teams in the minor leagues, served as a major league pitching coach for the Kansas City A’s, and scouted for the Yankees and other teams. When he finally retired in 1984, he had spent more than fifty years in professional baseball. Chandler died on January 9, 1990, in South Pasadena, Florida.