Tuesday, March 2, 2010
#46) WARREN SPAHN
Warren Spahn joined the New York Mets when his contract was purchased from the Milwaukee Braves on November 23, 1964. The winningest left-hander in major league baseball history came to the team in the dual role of pitcher and coach. Warren was in the twilight of his Hall of Fame career when Braves manager, Bobby Bragan questioned his motive for continuing to pitch. "He can bluff his way next season and still not take a pay cut." Bragan said, "He is only thinking about Warren Spahn—the great Spahnie." Those comments irritated Spahn who requested a trade and was sold to the Mets.
In New York he was reunited with his first manager in baseball, Casey Stengel. Things had not went particularly well for the two men during that experience. During his rookie season he had been instructed by Stengel to throw his first two pitches at batter, Pee Wee Reese's head. When Spahn only went shoulder height and inside, forcing a walk, an irrate Casey stormed to the mound. "Yer outta the game." he said, "and when you get to the dugout, keep walking till you reach the clubhouse. There's gonna be a bus ticket there back to Hartford. You'll never win in the major leagues. You got no guts." Years later, Stengel would admit that demoting Warren was the biggest mistake he had made in baseball.
During 1965 the two competitors still did not see eye-to-eye. Spahn had lost his effectiveness and the great pitcher was just a shadow of his former self. Stengel complained, "The hitters jump on him so quick, I can't get him outta there fast enough." After his retirement, Warren was asked about their relationship and responded, "I pitched for Casey Stengel both before and after he was a genius."
Spahn would pitch in 20 games for the Mets with a 4-12 record and 4.36 ERA. He was released by New York on July 22nd and signed with the San Francisco Giants. After leaving the majors, Warren pitched in Mexico and the minors before finally retiring in 1967 at the age of 46. When he was criticized for pitching that long, he said, "I wanted to pitch until they tore the uniform off me, and that's just about what happened."
Warren's greatest moment of courage did not occur on a baseball field. The pitcher became a soldier when he served the United States during World War II. He was awarded a Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his bravery under fire in the Battle of the Bulge. As a member of the 176th Combat Engineers Battalion, Spahn earned a battlefield commission to first lieutenant after several members of his company were killed during the famous taking of the Bridge at Ramagen over the Rhine River.
Warren Spahn passed away in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma on November 24, 2003. The 82-year old had battled assorted illnesses in his final years.
I created Warren Spahn's card in the set from an autographed index card in October 2008.