Braves legend Warren Spahn is sold to the Mets

Part of the INSIDE PITCH series
Written by: Jonathan Coe

Warren Spahn was an expert on baseball longevity. But after 20 seasons in a Braves uniform, even the indestructible Spahn had begun to show signs of age.

On Nov. 23, 1964, the Milwaukee Braves sold the winningest left-hander in the history of baseball to the New York Mets.

Spahn was the mainstay of the Braves’ staff during their heyday of the 1950s. He pitched in three World Series and won 20 or more games 14 times. His last such season was in 1963 when he posted a 23-7 record at age 42. But after slipping to 6-13 the following year, Milwaukee sold him to the Mets.

He had a 4-12 record for the Mets during the first half of the 1965 season – while simultaneously serving as the team’s pitching coach – but was sold again to San Francisco, with the Mets receiving $1 in return. With the Giants, Spahn was 3-4 with a 3.39 ERA in 16 appearances.

He never pitched in the majors again, but spent part of the 1966 season in the Mexican League and then pitched in 1967 for the Pacific Coast League’s Tulsa Oilers at the age of 46.

“I never felt age was a factor in baseball,” Spahn said. “I always felt that if a young guy could do it, then I could do it. I just had to work that much harder in order to get in shape.”

Spahn compiled a career 363-245 record, set a then-record strikeout mark for southpaws (2,583) and pitched two-hitters: One at the age of 39, the other at 40.

His pitching prowess during one of the longest tenures in baseball history led to his election into the Hall of Fame in 1973.

Among numerous other feats, Spahn owns the National League record for most career home runs by a pitcher with 35. He was an All-Star 17 times during his career and added a Cy Young Award in 1957 to his long list of accolades.

“You know, (what) amazes me, well, the 363 wins definitely. But you know he was in the Army (for three years) in his prime,” said teammate and fellow Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro. “If you take those years and put them back into Major League Baseball, he probably wins another 30, 40 or 50 games, and that puts him above 400 (wins).”

Beyond his play, he was a giant in the community. No individual made a greater contribution to the fabulous Milwaukee baseball story than the Buffalo, N.Y., native who eventually became a rancher in Oklahoma.

“As a young Milwaukee Braves fan during the 1950s, I have many wonderful and vivid memories of the great Warren Spahn on the mound at County Stadium,” said former MLB Commissioner Bud Selig. “He is a Hall of Famer and one of the greatest pitchers in the history of the game.”

Jonathan Coe was the fall 2011 Public Relations intern for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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Part of the INSIDE PITCH series