COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. –Warren Spahn was an expert on baseball longevity. He seemed to have the ultimate "rubber arm."
That's why it came as a surprise to many when – 47 years ago this week – 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 the age of 42. But after slipping to 6-13 the following year, Milwaukee sold him to the Mets for $1.
He had a 4-12 record for the Mets during the first half of the 1965 season, but was sold again to San Francisco where he won three of seven decisions in his last season of big league baseball.
"I never felt age was a factor in baseball," said Spahn. "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 no-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 14 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 four years in his prime. If you take those four 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)," said fellow Braves pitcher and Hall of Famer Phil Niekro.
Beyond his play, he was a giant in the community. No individual made a greater contribution to the fabulous Milwaukee baseball story than the 43-year-old Oklahoma rancher.
"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. He is a Hall of Famer and one of the greatest pitchers in the history of the game," recalled Commissioner Bud Selig.
Not a single fan in Milwaukee will ever forget the night Spahn became the 13th pitcher in baseball history to win 300 games, or the nights he pitched his no-hitters, or his three spine-tingling victories over the Yankees in the 1957 and 1958 World Series.
He was truly "Mr. Brave."
Jonathan Coe is the fall 2011 Public Relations intern for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum