Saturday, March 14, 2015

Final Spahn custom is '65 make-over

I've spent a lot of time this past month working on six custom cards of one of all-time favorite Milwaukee Braves, Warren Spahn. You can find information on my 1954 and 1955 Bowman-style Spahn cards in my blog entry of Feb. 28. My 1969 and 1971 Topps-style Tulsa Oilers manager's cards were detailed here on March 4, and my 1972 Indians coach card was shown on March 11.

This reworking of a 1965 Topps-style card of Spahnie as pitcher-coach of the N.Y. Mets is likely to be my final Spahn custom.
The "real" 1965 Topps
Warren Spahn card.

You can't fault Topps for its 1965 Warren Spahn card. He was sold from the Braves to the Mets in November, 1964, and the gum company wouldn't have had the opportunity to get a photo of Spahn on Mets uniform in time for its Third Series. Thus he's pictured capless in a Braves jersey on card #205.

I, on the other hand, could take advantage of numerous quality color images of Spahn in an actual Mets uniform to come up with my remake.

In doing my research on Spahn's post-Milwaukee days, I learned a lot I didn't know, principally from reading back-issue microfilm of The Sporting News. In 1965 I had put my card collecting on hiatus and, for the most part, abandoned my interest in baseball in favor of following the American Football League.

What I found most interesting in my review of 50-year-old baseball "news" was the feud that had developed between Spahn and Braves manager Bobby Bragan in 1964, and led to the player and team parting ways.

In the Dec. 19, 1964 Sporting News, the paper's Milwaukee correspondent aired the dispute in this article.

Scathing Words Fuel Hot Feud
As Bragan, Spahn Swap Insults


Manager Bobby Bragan of the Braves pulled no punches in a verbal blast at Warren Spahn, the future Hall of Fame candidate who was sold to the Mets recently.
Bragan said that the 43-year-old veteran, winningest lefthanded pitcher of all time, had been so ineffective last season that only his “name” had kept him in the major leagues. He also charged that Spahn had worried only about himself and his $80,000 salary.
Spahn returned the fire, saying, “Bragan does things like that.” He added that the outspoken manager had also said uncomplimentary things about other players after they had left the Braves.
The duel of words actually started the day Spahn was sold to the Mets, November 23. Spahn hinted then that every move made by Bragan and Braves’ President John McHale last season seemed to be predicated on the rumored switch to Atlanta. He said, among other things, “Just when a player would get hot, Bragan would take him out of the lineup.”
Salary-Minded, Bragan Says
            Bragan’s barrage went like this: “Spahn could have helped us a reliever late in the season if he hadn’t been thinking about that $80,000 salary of his. He knows he can’t be cut more than 25 per cent under baseball law, so he can bluff his way through next season and still not take a very big salary cut. He’s not thinking of the team. He’s thinking about Warren Spahn—the great Spahnie.
            “He’s a future Hall of Famer and an immortal and all that stuff. But let me tell you that if any other pitcher had been shelled the way he was last season, he would have been shipped to Denver. But this was Warren Spahn and he had to be handled with great care, even if he couldn’t get anybody out.
            “He got old all of a sudden. After all; he was 43 and how long did he expect to go on? Other great players have faced up to it and quit—Stan Musial, Joe DiMaggio. But not Warren Spahn.
            “He stopped smoking and that’s dangerous because a guy has a tendency to eat when he’s used to reaching for a cigarette. He was ten to 15 pounds overweight all season. He was dead on his feet. His legs were gone. He couldn’t get off the mound and they were bunting him silly.  On top of that, his control was terrible.
            “I see now that he’s shooting off his mouth about how I didn’t start him enough and that he can win those 44 games he needs to hit 400. Truthfully, I started him too often.”
            Bragan said that Spahn had been offered a radio job with the Braves for $50,000, and said, “You think he’d take that? You think he’d come down to $50,000 a year? Not good old Spahnie.”
            And here is Spahn’s retort: “Bragan does things like that. He hasn’t said anything about me that he hasn’t said about other players who left the club. Lou Burdette, Del Crandall, you name them.
            “But I prefer not to get into a running argument with him. All I’m interested in is having a good year with the Mets and proving that Bragan is wrong.
Blames Inactivity for Wildness
            “I don’t deny that my control was off, but I’ve always contended that a pitcher has to work regularly and I wasn’t doing that the last half of the season.
            “I thought we had the best club in the league, but when he did things like starting a couple of rookies (Dan Schneider and Clay Carroll) in a double-header at Chicago, it made you wonder whether he wanted to win.
            “Talk to the other players about Bragan. You’ll find out how much he was disliked.
            “As for the radio job he was talking about, I never received anything like a concrete offer with definite terms. They got rid of me because of the money—my salary.”
            Asked whether he would have retired rather than play for Bragan again, Spahn said, “I wouldn’t have let him run me out of baseball.”

            Despite the Spahn-Bragan war of words, the Braves’ stockholders voted unanimously at their Dec. 11 meeting to retire Spahn’s uniform number 21, worn during his 20 seasons with Boston and Milwaukee.
            (At that same stockholders meeting, all of the Wisconsin members of the Braves’ board of directors were ousted, including Vince Lombardi. Nominated for a seat on the board, but roundly defeated, was “Allan (Bud) Selig, Milwaukee automobile dealer.”)

            Spahn was able to get uniform number 21 from the Mets when first baseman Ed Kranepool, who had worn the number since the team was formed, gave it to the veteran. Kranepool took #7. Later in the year, when Spahn went to the Giants, he was given #21 by Len Gabrielson, who also took #7.

            As the new year rolled around, Spahn tried to quell the war of words with Bragan, telling the Milwaukee writers, “I would like to prove Bragan wrong by my deeds rather than by any comments. I want to do well in 1965 to make him eat his words.”

            Bragan, however continued to publicly needle Spahn.

            At the Milwaukee Baseball Writers’ annual Diamond Dinner on Jan. 24, the Braves’ manager, in his dinner speech, said, “I’d like to say that one of the basic reasons we thought it best for Spahnie to go to the Mets was that he and Casey Stengel had more in common. Not age—wealth. As far as I’m concerned, Spahnie, there’s no feud and I hope you win 400 games.”

            Bragan then recited a little verse, “Whatever I said in anger and whatever I shouted in spite, I’m sorry that I said those words, ‘cause I thought of some worse ones last night.”

            Spahn sat expressionless during Bragan’s remarks and did not answer them when he spoke later in the program. He poked a little fun at himself when he said, “It is wonderful to be here. Not many six-game winners are honored like this.”

            After a brief contract dispute, Spahn took up his duties with the Mets at spring training. It was reported that he would be paid $65,000 as a player-coach, about 20% less than his last Braves salary. Baseball rules at the time would have allowed New York to cut his salary by a maximum of 25%.

            Spahn made his Mets mound debut starting the second game of Grapefruit League spring training against the World’s Champion St. Louis Cardinals. He pitched three innings, giving up four hits and three runs, walking three and striking out one in taking the 3-4 loss to Bob Gibson. Fellow player-coach Yogi Berra was behind the plate during Spahn’s outing.

            He took the mound again on March 20, pitching four innings of scoreless relief in a 2-3 loss to the White Sox.

            In his last two spring training games, Spahn started and got the wins. On March 25 he defeated the Yankees 3-2; on April 4 he beat the Tigers 3-4.

            Spahn’s win over the Yankees came largely as a result of his hitting. He was 2-for-2 with a sac fly at the plate, including a home run and two RBIs. Against the Tigers he continued his hot hitting with a 2-for-3 day and another pair of RBIs.

            While Spahn was 2-2 in his spring training exhibitions, the Mets didn’t fare as well. They had a spring record of 11-15-1, worst among NL teams.

            Spahn made his first appearance back in Milwaukee for special pre-game ceremonies at the Braves’ final opening day in Milwaukee on April 15. He had started and gone eight innings in a no-decision against the Astros in New York the previous day. He and other members of the 1953 Braves team were introduced and trotted out to the positions they had played when the team debuted in Milwaukee in 1953. He was attired in his Mets uniform and received a standing ovation.

            Returning to his new team, Spahn won his next two starts, both complete games, at Los Angeles and San Francisco.

            Spahn got another win on May 3, but it doesn't appear in the official record. He was credited with the Mets' victory over the N.Y. Yankees in the annual Mayor's Trophy Game, which benefited New York sandlot baseball projects. Spahn pitched one inning in relief in the 2-1 10-inning victory. Fellow Mets player-coach Yogi Berra did not appear in Yankee Stadium in the game against the team that had fired him after losing the '64 World Series.

            When he made his first appearance on the mound back in Milwaukee on May 20, his record was 3-3. The turnout was the largest since opening day and they were there to cheer on their old hero. Spahn cruised through the first four innings, shutting out the Braves on just two singles, walking nobody and striking out a pair. The wheels came off in the fifth. He gave up seven earned runs, including a grand slam to Eddie Mathews. Spahn took the loss 1-7. 

          Spahn rebounded on May 24th with a 6-2 victory at Philadelphia. The win was career number 360 and it raised him to sixth place on the all-time major league wins list. Later in the season, on Sept. 27 while pitching for the Giants, Spahn got St. Louis Cardinals catcher Bob Uecker looking at a called third strike. It was strikeout number 2,528, breaking a tie with Bob Feller and moving Spahnie up to third place on the all-time career strikeouts list. At that time he was behind only Tim Keefe and Cy Young on the list.

         On June 29, Spahn again took the mound against the Braves when Milwaukee visited Shea Stadium. He lost again, 8-6. It was his seventh straight losing decision, bringing his season record to 4-11. In six innings thrown, he gave up eight hits, including home runs to Frank Boling, Gene Oliver and Eddie Mathews.

         Spahn had been unable to make Bragan “eat his words.”

         With the Mets mired in last place, 27-1/2 games off the pace, Spahn was given his release on July 17. Two days later, the S.F. Giants, picked him up to bolster their staff in the midst of a pennant race. 

          At the time, San Francisco had only two left-handers on its pitching staff, both relievers, Bill Henry and Masanori Murakami.

         Giants manager Herman Franks was not exactly effusive over his new staff addition. "What can we lose?", he asked rhetorically. Maybe he's through, maybe he isn't. So let's take a look. We'll use him as a spot starter and middle-inning relief man. He can win a couple of games for us. And in a pennant race such as we have going, a couple of wins could be the difference."

         Spahn made his Giants debut in San Francisco on July 22 against the Reds. The press reported he got a standing ovation as he took the mound to start the game and another when he was lifted in the top of the third with the Reds ahead 3-1. 

          Though he didn't factor in the decision, Spahn had immediately paid dividends for the Giants. Paid attendance was nearly 18,000, with nearly 12,000 more ladies' day and kids' tickets swelling the crowd. A Giants official credited the crowd to Spahn, saying they would normally expected fewer than 10,000 at a Thursday afternoon game.

          The second batter Spahn faced in his Giants bow was Pete Rose, who homered. The blow brought Rose's 1965 average against Spahn to .692 (9-for-13). Overall, in the years Spahn faced Rose (1963-65), the Reds' infielder compiled a .531 average (17-for-32) against him.

          The Giants climbed from fourth place to first between the time Spahn joined the team and Sept. 7. They held onto the pennant lead until Sept. 28, finishing the season in second place.

            Spahn took his regular turn as a starter, with occasional relief appearances, for San Francisco through the end of the season, winning three more and losing three more to end his season with a 7-16 record and an ERA of 4.01.

            His last outing against the Braves had come in Milwaukee on Aug. 1. He pitched two innings in relief to close the game with a 2-4 loss, though he didn’t figure in the decision.

            When Spahn had joined the Mets as pitching coach, he found a staff that over the season averaged just 25 years of age. Of the 20 pitchers who took the mound for the Mets in 1965, only three achieved winning records and the team ended the year last in the National League in losses, saves, ERA and strikeouts.

            By insisting on being carried as a player-coach, Spahn had deprived the Mets of one roster spot, though it’s unlikely that had any effect on the team’s 50-112 record.

            As I mentioned, this will likely be my last Spahn custom. In the absence of any suitable color photo of Spahn with San Francisco, it would be easy enough to colorize an extant black-and-white portrait photo of Spahn in a Giants cap for a 1966-style card. I have yet to see any photo of him when he was with the Mexico City Tigers in 1966. While there are several nice photos of Spahn with the Angels as a coach in the 1970s, I haven't found any photos of his days with the Hiroshima Toiyo Carp in Japan in the 1970s.

Thus, tis seems to conclude my custom card homage to Warren Spahn.


  1. I learned quite a bit I didn't know about Spahn reading this. Great post, great card.

  2. Great job. There's some I really like about player coach-player cards


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