In a union of legendary rivals who represented baseball at its best, Stan Musial hired Warren Spahn to be a manager in the Cardinals organization.
Fifty years ago, on Feb. 25, 1967, a month after he was named Cardinals general manager, Musial bypassed Sparky Anderson and selected Spahn to be manager of the Class AAA Tulsa Oilers.
Anderson had managed the Cardinals’ Class A St. Petersburg club to a league championship in 1966 and reportedly was the top internal candidate for the Tulsa opening.
Spahn, who never had managed, was the recommended choice of Tulsa owner A. Ray Smith.
Though Cardinals executives such as farm director George Silvey had input, Musial, as general manager, had the final decision regarding who to hire as manager for the Cardinals’ top affiliate.
Matchup of marvels
In Spahn, Musial chose the candidate who had been his respected nemesis during their Hall of Fame playing careers.
Spahn, who pitched 21 seasons in the major leagues, primarily with the Braves, is the all-time leader in career wins (363) among left-handers. Musial, who played 22 seasons in the major leagues, all with the Cardinals, is the all-time leader in total bases (6,134) among left-handed batters.
Their matchups spanned the 1940s to 1960s. Musial has a career .318 batting average and .412 on-base percentage against Spahn, according to the Web site retrosheet.org. Musial has more hits (104), doubles (23), triples (6) and walks (50) versus Spahn than any other player. Only Willie Mays (18) hit more home runs against Spahn than Musial (17) did.
In his 1964 book “Stan Musial: The Man’s Own Story,” Musial called Spahn “the best National League pitcher of my era.”
“Spahnie was more than a student of pitching,” Musial said. “He was a scientist.”
Musial concluded: “It was a great challenge to hit against this cunning guy … and I’m proud to have done well.”
Pressure on Stan
If not for Bob Howsam’s departure, Musial and Spahn might never have worked together and Anderson might not have left the Cardinals.
On Jan. 22, 1967, Howsam resigned as Cardinals general manager and became executive vice president and general manager of the Reds. Musial, a Cardinals vice president, took on the additional role of general manager.
One of Howsam’s cronies was Tulsa manager Charlie Metro, who was waiting in the wings in case Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst faltered. Metro followed Howsam to the Reds, accepting a job as a scout.
With spring training close to opening, Musial and the Cardinals had to scramble to find a replacement for Metro in Tulsa.
Spahn, 45, was residing on his 2,800-acre cattle ranch in Hartshorne, Okla., about 120 miles from Tulsa. He made it known he wanted to get back into baseball. Smith was thrilled by the possibility of having a baseball icon manage his club, so the Oilers owner went to work on trying to convince Musial to make it happen.
On Feb. 20, 1967, Musial said Smith’s request was under review and that he hoped to announce a choice soon, The Sporting News reported.
Smith told the Associated Press that Musial had been pressured to select a candidate from within the Cardinals’ organization, “but we fought a hard fight” for Spahn.
Though Anderson was “first choice for the position,” according to The Sporting News, Spahn got the Tulsa job. Anderson was assigned to manage the Cardinals’ Class A club at Modesto, Calif.
Spahn’s hiring was announced by Smith at a news conference at Tulsa’s prestigious Southern Hills Country Club.
“The Oilers and Tulsa are mighty lucky to get a man of Spahn’s caliber,” Smith said.
Said Spahn: “I’ve always wanted an opportunity to manage. The ranch is great, but it’s more like a plaything. I’d like to manage in Tulsa for 10 years. Naturally, I’m for a major-league job someday, but first I’ve got to earn that.”
Tulsa opened the 1967 season with a roster that included pitchers Tracy Stallard and Wayne Granger; catchers Pat Corrales and Sonny Ruberto; infielders Elio Chacon, Bobby Dews and Coco Laboy; and outfielder Danny Napoleon.
Other managers in the Pacific Coast League that season included Chuck Tanner of the Seattle Angels, Whitey Lockman of the Tacoma Cubs, Bob Skinner of the San Diego Padres and Mickey Vernon of the Vancouver Mounties.
Under Spahn, Tulsa had a dismal 1967 season (65-79), though he did receive high marks for helping to develop starting pitchers Mike Torrez (10 wins) and Hal Gilson (15 wins). Silvey noted that Spahn “must have helped Torrez quite a bit. Mike has added a curve and he’s faster.”
Meanwhile, Anderson led Modesto to a 79-61 record and a league championship in 1967. After the season, Anderson joined the Reds as manager of their Class AA Asheville club.
Anderson “was so upset at being bypassed (for the Tulsa job) that he quit the Cardinals organization,” The Sporting News reported.
Two years after leaving the Cardinals, Anderson was named manager of the Reds and went on to build a Hall of Fame career.
Ups and downs
In 1968, Spahn took Tulsa from worst to first. The Oilers finished 95-53 and won the league championship.
Spahn managed Tulsa in 1969 (79-61), 1970 (70-70) and 1971 (64-76) before he was fired by Cardinals general manager Bing Devine.
“Devine said I had been here five years and there were young prospective managers in the organization who needed to move up,” Spahn said.
Though Spahn went on to work as a coach and instructor with other organizations, Tulsa would be the only team he would manage.
Previously: How Charlie Metro miffed Stan Musial
Previously: Warren Spahn and his Cardinals connection
Previously: Why the Cardinals fired Warren Spahn