Monday, June 8, 2015

'63 Spahnie buttons funded scholarships

One of the greatest bargains among original Milwaukee Braves souvenirs of 1963 is the "Spahnie" pinback button issued in conjunction with Warren Spahn Night at County Stadium on Sept. 17.

Even today, an example of the 2" diameter red, white and blue button in like-new condition can be had for less than $10.

The low price for a 50+-year-old bit of Braves Hall of Famer memorabilia can be largely attributed to the fact that, extrapolating from news accounts, there may have been as many as 200,000 of the buttons issued. A contemporary newspaper account indicated that as much as $50,000 was projected to be raised by sales of the 25-cent buttons.

The button sales were designed to create, along with private gifts, initial funding for the Warren Spahn Scholarship Foundation. The foundation was created to annually provide two sophomores at Wisconsin colleges or universities $1,000 scholarships for their junior and senior years.

A cursory google-search failed to provide any indication that the foundation is still in existence today.

A good luck at the festivities that comprised Warren Spahn Night has been written by Milwaukee Braves fan extraordinaire Dave Klug. With his permission I'm excerpting here . . .

(On) September 17th, 1963, the Braves and the good folk of Milwaukee and fans far and wide held a gala Spahnie Night Celebration.

Fans were encouraged to buy and wear their Spahnie buttons ... all monies realized from button sales (went to) a Spahn Scholarship Fund. During the planning stages, Spahn insisted that there be a minimal amount of gifts to him or his family and that all monetary gifts go to the Scholarship Fund.

The festivities actually got underway at a 12:30 P.M. kick-off luncheon at the Wisconsin Club on Wednesday the 16th.

Among the notables at the luncheon were Fred Haney, Bob Feller and Lefty Grove . . . and Spahn's catcher from his army days, Roy Reimann. Spahn admitted to being "a little choked up" and gave credit to his teammates as "the real guys who are responsible for me being up here".

The largest crowd of this year -- 33,676 -- turned out to pay tribute to one of their long-time heroes. Most of them remembered to wear their Spahnie buttons. The program started late due to multiple traffic jams on the Freeway.

Every one who was there -- from Lefty Grove, Johnny Sain, Carl Hubbell and Gabby Hartnett to the ardent fan in the stands to the media people to the fans who couldn't attend -- had their own special memories of Warren Spahn. Some got to voice them, some just had them in their hearts. A well-known baseball fan, President John F. Kennedy sent a letter that said in part: "Dear Warren . . . You are one the few men in the history of baseball who has the distinction of establishing new records of achievement and new historic landmarks in each game in which you play. Your . . . years of success . . . have been a testimony to your strength and character, competitive zeal and physical stamina. Few athletes in our time have won the universal admiration which you have in your many years as a player". The crowd was in whole-hearted agreement. There was a sign in the stands that read "Wisconsin nominates Warren Spahn for President".

Each National League Club sent a player -- in uniform -- to make that team's presentation. Frank Bolling was selected as the Braves team representative at the celebration. The team gave Spahn wood-working machinery for his wood-shop at home in Hartshorne, OK. Lorene Spahn and son, Greg also received gifts.
(Mrs. Spahn received a jewelry box and Greg, then age 14, got a Western saddle). 

When the already-legendary left-hander finally came up to speak, the crowd gave him a two-minute standing ovation. When things quieted down a bit, he said, "I'm sure there have been more fortunate people but, I'm the luckiest guy in baseball. I'm sure these guys would agree (pointing to the Giants team -- that night's opponent -- everyone laughed). My sincere thanks from the bottom of my heart for making this occasion and this Scholarship Foundation possible. God bless you."

The whole atmosphere of the evening was celebratory with the Stadium decorated in bunting plus a fireworks display. Organizers announced that they had already received $30,000 toward the scholarship fund and estimated they'd probably be getting another $40-$45,000. 

While the Spahn Night celebration was universally acclaimed a success, the ensuing game was not.

Seeking his 21st win of the season and 348th of his career, Spahn took the mound against Bobby Bolin of the Giants. He was shelled for five hits and four runs before being taken out after three innings. The Braves lost 11-3. It was their eighth loss in a row and dropped them from fourth to sixth place in the NL.

Spahn closed out his season with three straight wins, bringing his total to 23 and matching his career best.

While the Spahnie buttons are ubiquitous, a related piece of memorabilia is much scarcer today. A large, heavy cardboard sign, measuring 14" x 22" and advertising the sale of the buttons, is worth $600-750.

1 comment:

  1. Listening to the game on my little transistor radio, I (and probably most Braves' fans) thought he shouldn't have been allowed to pitch), especially after hearing his emotional speech. Will Milwaukee ever see another 23-7 pitcher?


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