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From the archives: Who will Mets get next? Khrushchev?

Former Met Warren Spahn. (1965)

Former Met Warren Spahn. (1965) Credit: Newsday file photo/UPI

This story was originally published in Newsday on November. 24, 1964

An optimist is a 43-year-old pitcher who thinks he will win 20 games with the Mets. That’s Warren Spahn, the Mets’ new A) pitcher and B) pitching coach.

 As of the moment, Spahn represents not so much a pitcher as another public relations victory for the Mets. Within two weeks, the Mets have hired a grand guy image (Yogi Berra) and bought for an unannounced figure a great pitcher image (Spahn). Next week, maybe, they’ll hire a colorful ball player image (Bo Belinsky). There’s no business like baseball show business.

 The first reaction to Spahn as a Met coach is to pair Berra and Spahn and challenge any other coaching staff to a game. Considering the wealth of the men involved, you could make it a money game, $10,000 a man.

The next reaction is to project to opening day, 1965. It’s the first opening day game in Shea Stadium. It’s the Mets vs. the Dodgers. Pitching for the Dodgers is Sandy Koufax. And the battery for the Mets? Who else? Pitching: Warren Spahn. Catching: Yogi Berra. Has any other stadium had its first opening day featuring a battery of Hall of Famers? Not only are Berra and Spahn sure to make the Hall of Fame, but Koufax has a chance.

It should be established that Spahn thinks of himself first as a pitcher. He made that clear yesterday when he said, “It may look as if Warren Spahn is decrepit and wants to hang on. That is what I want to destroy. I have an ego, too. I will knock myself out trying to beat out young guys to show that I can pitch on this team.”

When he then said, “I still think I can win 20,” he was met with incredulity worthy of the statement. “With a 10th place club?” a reporter said with his eyebrows. Spahn answered, “Who knows? Who knows what the 10th place club will be like?”

If Spahn were coming to the Mets to grow old gracefully, things might be less fraught with sticky-wicket possibilities. Spahn, however, left the Braves because he wanted to be a starting pitcher. “I won 23 games two years ago and only six last year. Did I lose that much in one year? I don’t think so. I still want to try to win 400 games (he has 356) and I want to prove to Casey Stengel in spring training that I still can pitch.

Suppose he is called upon to be a relief pitcher with the Mets? “I don’t want to unless that has to be. I think a starting pitcher has the best job in baseball. He knows every four days he will be out there working in turn.”

But suppose, he was asked again, he is called on to pitch relief? “I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.”

Spahn, regrettably for such a noble performer, did not win any Boy Scout medals for selfless loyalty to team at Milwaukee. Manager Bobby Bragan wanted him to become a relief pitcher. He balked.

He felt he should be a starting pitcher. He used his prestige and exalted position to the point that Bragan didn’t push the matter, nor pitch Spahn. Warren finally got back in as a relief pitcher in crucial pennant games in the last weeks. He did not display the kind of spirit that one would want to instill in a whippersnapper coming off the farm.

Another thing. As a pitcher, Spahn will be taking up a spot that would have belonged to a young fellow aspiring to be a Met. Will the young reject – whoever he is – be able to look beyond the petty question of a spot on the roster to grasp the pitching points coming from Spahn? That is what is called a ticklish question.

When the Yankees named Whitey Ford as pitching coach last year, Spahn said he didn’t think a man could do both. Sooooo, Warren old man, what do you think of that now?

“I did say that,” he admitted. “I think, however, that it’s a matter of degree. I don’t think a man can pitch and handle all the details of coaching the way Jim Turner does. You can’t pitch and make all the schedules. I think you can be a pitching coach if you are thought of basically as a teacher – in spring training and in working with pitchers before the game. I have done that all along, without having any title or responsibility as coach.”

Ford, of course, did not have a happy time as pitcher and coach. “I think he was good at it,” Yogi Berra said, “Until he started having the trouble with his hop. Then, he was so worried about himself, he couldn’t devote enough time to the others.” It would be just like Whitey to give up a job unless he felt he was doing a good job.

There are significant differences between Ford and Spahn. Whitey, for one thing, probably has commanded more respect as a selfless team leader than Spahn has. And whereas Whitey is a generous man, it might be said Spahn is something of Berra’s match as a materialist. Among other things, Spahn hasn’t endeared himself to people with his law suit against the publisher of a pro-Spahn juvenile biography on the grounds the book was an unauthorized biography.

 Spahn, on the other hand, is more articulate than Ford. It is possible he would have a better grasp of the psychology of teaching than Whitey. As a sage once said – or should have said – there’s no telling what kind of a teacher a man will make until he starts teaching.

In the meantime, let us savor the appeal of the marquee: “Presenting the New  York Mets, starring Casey Stengel and an all-star cast, featuring Yogi Berra and Warren Spahn.” Oh, to be in St. Petersburg once spring training is here.

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