Warren Spahn struck out more batters and won more games than any other left-handed pitcher in baseball history. In 22 years, he won 20 or more games 13 times. So he was unprepared for what happened in Appleton, Wis., not long ago.
"This little kid comes up to me and says, 'My father wants your autograph,' " Spahn said.
"I said, 'Well, don't you want it?' and he said, 'No.' So I asked him why his father wanted it, and he said, 'My daddy says you're old and you're going to die soon and it will become valuable.' "
What the organizers of the Cracker Jack Old-Timers Classic are counting on is that enough fathers would like one more shot at Spahn's autograph to make a success of the July 19 revival of baseball in RFK Stadium.
Spahn, who spoke yesterday at a luncheon at the Sheraton Washington Hotel for the Bob Addie Memorial Scholarship Fund, is one of 64 former players who are expected to appear in the five-inning exhibition.
Among American Leaguers listed to play are Camilo Pascual, Early Wynn and Mickey Vernon, all former Senators, along with Bob Feller, Whitey Ford, Lefty Gomez, Luke Appling, Al Rosen, Charlie Keller, Roger Maris, Brooks Robinson, Johnny Mize and Enos Slaughter.
The National League, which has become used to winning all-star games, will feature Ewell Blackwell, Don Newcombe, Robin Roberts, Johnny Vander Meer, Smoky Burgess, Ernie Banks, Pee Wee Reese, Ted Kluszewski, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Stan Musial.
Spahn isn't worried about the hitters he'll have to face. "Most of the guys who gave me trouble were high-ball hitters and the ball is going to be dropping a lot by the time I get it to the plate."
Of the thousands of people who are expected that night, Tom Gorman probably will be the only one not awed by the proceedings.
Gorman, who keeps track of such things as the number of managers (240) he threw out of games during his 25 years of umpiring in the National League, was behind the plate when Spahn and Lew Burdette pitched no-hitters and in left field when Don Larsen recorded his perfect game in the World Series.
"This (umpiring) is the only job in the country where you're never wrong," said Gorman, who freely swapped anecdotes with Spahn and Burdette at yesterday's luncheon.
He told about the time he waited for three days for a chance to get back at Leo Durocher, and when the manager came charging out of the dugout to protest an "out" call at first base, quieted him by saying the runner touched the bag with the wrong foot.
"Then there was this lady who sat behind the plate in Brooklyn, real leather lungs, who used to yell before the game, 'Follow the white line if you want to get to first base, Gorman.' "
Gorman, Spahn and Burdette said they were delighted to get the opportunity to help revive baseball in Washington, if only for one night.
More than 14,000 tickets have been sold, with the most expensive seats already gone, a spokesman said. Tickets still are available for $10, $8, $6 and $3 at the RFK box office and Ticketron outlets.