Top 100 Mets: #91 - Warren Spahn

Warren Spahn was the greatest lefthander in the history of the game of baseball. He won an incredible 363 games, including 13 seasons in which he won at least 20 games. It is true that only four of those wins came as a Met, but just the fact that the infant Mets had this man on their roster at all, and what he means to the game of baseball as a whole, earns him our nod as Greatest Met #91.

His career ironically was almost short-circuited by a bold-legged, cantankerous old coot by the name of Casey Stengel when Ol' Case managed the Boston Braves in the early 40's. It was during a game against the rival Brooklyn Dodgers in Spring Training 1942, that Stengel ordered Spahnie to deck Pee Wee Reese, but Warren kept his pitches low and away. For this apprarent act of insubordination, Spahn was called "gutless" by his manager and sent packing to the minor league team in Hartford, Connecticut.

Spahn would not resurface in the Big Time until 1946, when WWII and his service to his country were completed. He was 25 years old, and had almost lost his life at Remagen. That was also the year he won his first big league game. It came on July 14, 1946, when he opposed another lefty, Fritz Ostermueller in Pittsburgh. Spahnie won that game 8-5 and that was win #1, with 362 more to follow. From that point forward, there would not be a better southpaw in the game. He would pitch well past his 40th year.

The 1948 season would be the one year of glory for the Boston NL franchise which would later move to Milwaukee in 1953. Warren was teamed up with Johnny Sain, who in his later years would go on to tutor such noteworthy pupils as Jim Kaat, and would become arguably the greatest pitching coach of all time. In those Bostonian days of the late 40's, the popular saying was "Spahn and Sain, and pray for rain", as the two pitching greats anchored the Braves starting staff from beginning to end. The 1948 season would be highlighted by a trip to the World Series, but alas, the Braves lost in six games to the Cleveland Indians.

Spahn would later go on to author a no-hitter at the age of 39 in 1960 against the Philadelphia Phillies (also his 20th win of that season), a second no-no at age 40 against the San Francisco Giants, and post a record of 23-7 at the age of 42. He seemed immortal, and possibly his arm was. But the knees obviously hadn't been dipped in the River Styx and he was practically wheelchair bound by the age of 50.

Surprisingly, Spahnie and Ol' Case were reunited on the 1965 Mets. "I knew him before and after he was a genius", joked Spahn later about Stengel. Spahn served the dual role of pitching coach and starter. The Mets had a new stadium out in Queens called Shea Stadium and Warren went on to notch four wins (against 12 losses) in little more than half a season in New York with the fledgling team.

This tour of duty with the woeful Mets of the Mid-Sixties might actually have prevented Spahn from climbing farther up the victories list. He dearly wanted the NL record for W's of 373, held jointly by Christy Mathewson and Grover Cleveland Alexander. He also was looking to join Cy Young and Walter Johnson as history's only 400 game winners. But it wasn't to be…

















His arm was still willing but his knees gave way. He was dealt to San Francisco midway through the 1965 season, and finished the year at 7-16 overall (the aforementioned 4-12 as a Met), and called it a career at the age of 44.

My personal memory of Spahnie was the first big league game I ever attended and would be the only game that I saw with both my father and grandfather. It came on June 11, 1965 when I was 12 years old and the World's Fair was going on across the street in Flushing, Queens.

I was a little leaguer at the time but had no idea that I would be in for the treat of my young life. Two future Hall of Fame pitchers on the the mound that day in the brand spanking new Stadium called Shea: Warren Spahn for the Mets and Don Drysdale for the Dodgers.

Both the greats pitched up to their billing that day, and it was a homer by Drysdale that just cleared the fence in straightaway center field that decided the game 2-1 in favor of the Left Coast Dodgers. Truly a first game to remember, my big league baseball baptism.

Spahn's refusal to take himself out of the starting rotation and assume a lesser role in the Mets bullpen, led to Stengel sending him to San Francisco. Casey quipped, "I'm afraid he's lost it, because the pitchers are hitting him."

The final 7-16 season of 1965 (with an ERA of 4.00) combined with the Mets and Giants cost Spahn two records of which he was so proud: a career ERA under 3.00 and a lifetime winning percentage over.600.

The young Mets franchise was honored by greatness, if only for a few fleeting moments, by a man whose pitching records for a southpaw will probably never be surpassed. Certainly not in our lifetimes.

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