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Old Time Mets - Warren Spahn

Barry DuchanSunday, January 14, 2007
By Barry Duchan


Warren Spahn Warren Spahn was one of the greatest lefthanded pitchers of all time. Warren Spahn also pitched for the Mets. Unfortunately, those two facts are mutually exclusive.

Spahn was a great pitcher for the Braves for many years, a perennial 20-game winner and a real workhorse, regularly logging over 250 innings and 20 complete games a year. In an era when most pitchers called it quits at around age 35, Spahn was still a big winner, a 23-game winner in fact, at the age of 42 in 1963 with a 2.60 ERA, one of his very best years. With his big high kick and great assortment of stuff, he was truly a legend in his own time.

Then, in 1964, he seemingly lost it. His record with the Braves plummeted to 6-13 with an ERA over 5 and only 4 complete games. His Hall Of Fame career was coming to an end, and perhaps it was time to bow out gracefully. But Spahn was convinced he could still pitch and following the 1964 season, his contract was sold to the Mets.

The Mets not only expected him to be their number one starter, but also gave him the job as pitching coach, presumably assuming that someone who had been so successful as a pitcher would be highly qualified to teach their pitchers. Big Mistake.

Not only did Spahn never regain his form, but he was constantly focused on doing so, to the detriment of the rest of the Mets' pitching staff who needed all the help they could get. Spahn appeared to be a coach in title only. His primary job was trying to get Warren Spahn back on track. Maybe at the age of 44, he had just had it. In July, with a 4-12 record, the Mets released Spahn. He immediately got picked up by the Giants where he ultimately ended his career, posting a 3-4 record and pitching decently.

He was later deservedly elected to the Hall Of Fame, but his brief tenure as a Met may be best forgotten.

Note: More of Barry Duchan's writings can be found on his own Metscentric blog.

About Barry Duchan: I've been following the Mets since 1962. Have to admit I was a Yankee fan as a kid, but I found it to be so much more interesting to see how a young team could build itself up rather than following a team where the season didn't really begin until October. I remember them all - Casey, Marv, ChooChoo, Don Bosch, The Stork, etc. As the years went on, I became more and more of a Mets fan, and a Yankee hater once Steinbrenner and Billy Martin entered the picture.   Read More -->

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Comments (5)

I kind of remember Spahn being a pretty good hitter.I seen him pitch a game at Shea and I think he hit a homerun?

But you got to love Spahn's comment about Casey: "I played for Casey Stengel both before and after he was a genius."

Whoa, Warren Spahn. I'm not entirely sure I see the relevance, and I don't care either; it's fun just reading that name again.

Some really great players get more or less forgotten quickly, don't they? Spahnie retired only three years before Mickey Mantle; he actually hung around sort of like Koufax, showing up at spring trainings in the hopes that some of what he had would rub off on the youngsters. And for my money Spahn was the more interesting interview, too; he was well known as a joker, and he had skill at coining the well turned phrase on the subject of baseball, delivering lines that are still in currency today ("Hitting is timing. Pitching is destroying a hitter's timing.").

Mantle had none of that; but since they both departed the acene Mantle has gotten maybe a hundred times more press than Spahn. You can't convince me that Mantle was the greater player.

Winner of 363 major league games, all of them at age 25 or afterwards. He came up briefly with the Braves at age 21, then World War II interrupted his baseball progress. He saw real combat, too; I can't remember the details but I believe he either made Sargent or maybe was commissioned as an officer.

Bill James wrote in 1986: "The bottom four pitchers on the list of the greatest career lefthanders (Jams' list of ten) are Sandy Koufax, Jim Kaat, Tommy John and Billy Pierce. Warren Spahn won twenty games more times than all four of them combined."

Amazing man.

Okay I dug it up; it's a slow day. This is from "1942: When Baseball Went to War":

Warren Spahn, the winningest left-handed pitcher in history with 363 wins, served three years as a combat engineer during World War II. Spahn saw action during the Battle of the Bulge, was wounded in the foot and survived the collapse of the Remagen Bridge in Germany.

"The Green Light Letter proves that baseball is a part of the American way," said Spahn. "The game, that tradition and the love affair that the American public has for baseball survived, and it always will." Spahn returned from the war with three battle stars, a citation for bravery and a Purple Heart. Spahn also earned a battlefield commission as second lieutenant, the only major league player to earn such an honor.

>

I wonder if Warren Spahn was born earlier than any other player who ever played for the Mets. I have a hunch that he might be. He wasn't very good when he pitched for the Mets (I remember how disappointed I was at the time) but that would at least give him a certain significance in the history of the franchise.

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