Spahn’s 9th Armored Division, which preceded much larger groups of Allied troops, was charged with repairing roads and bridges. Spahn fought in the snowy, frozen Battle of the Bulge, getting nicked by bullets on the abdomen and back of the head. Crossing France and Belgium, his division arrived at the Rhine River and the Ludendorff railroad bridge at Remagen on March 7, 1945. While retreating, the Nazis had destroyed every intact bridge but the one at Remagen. The demolitions were in place, but for some reason they had never pushed the plunger. The bridge’s defense was crucial to the Allies for delivering men, vehicles and equipment to the German heartland. On March 9, Sergeant Spahn and the 276th were ordered to the bridge to remove the demolitions, repair the bridge, maintain it, and construct a second span for two-way traffic. Working furiously to maintain the girders, Spahn and Co. were bombarded by V-2 rockets while troops, tanks, and trucks crossed above them. A biographer, Al Silverman, later described the scene:
While the bridge vibrated and twanged like banjo strings, swaying precariously as marching infantrymen tramped across each catwalk, and tanks rumbled across the planked railbed, the units patched holes, bolstered the bridge with heavy supports, repaired damaged flooring and cratered approaches.”
Ten days after the first successful crossing, Spahn received an assignment at a meeting over the center of the bridge and walked off to explain to his platoon that they’d be taking over the bridge’s security at 4 p.m. At 3:56 a platoon member shouted, “Look at the back! The bridge is falling down!” Possibly overloaded, certainly bombarded, the span slipped into the river, leaving 28 soldiers dead, 93 injured, and Sergeant Spahn with shrapnel in his left foot. Having crossed the Rhine, however, the Americans were able to protect a second bridge and other smaller pontoon bridges they built. Surgeons removed Spahn’s shrapnel. On June 1, 1945, he was the only ballplayer given a battlefield promotion, from staff sergeant to second lieutenant. In all, he earned a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, a battlefield promotion, and a Presidential citation. That made him the most decorated ballplayer in World War II. (Like Spahn, Hoyt Wilhelm earned a Purple Heart, but Spahn alone received the Bronze Star.)
Aged rapidly by his battle experiences into a partially bald and fully-grown veteran, Spahn also built up stamina, concentration, and discipline during this period. “After what I went through overseas, I never thought of anything I was told to do in baseball as hard work,” he insisted. “You get over feeling like that when you spend days on end sleeping in frozen tank tracks in enemy-threatened territory. The Army taught me what’s important and what isn’t.”
Typically, Spahn found humor in the grimmest of situations. Because German spies would wear American uniforms, he said, “Anybody we didn’t know, we’d ask, ‘Who plays second for the Bums?’ If he didn’t answer ‘Eddie Stanky,’ he was dead.” Spahn had no use for being labeled a hero. “The guys who died over there were heroes,” he told his son, Greg. Nor did Spahn cotton to the view of baseball historians who estimated that he lost 30 or 40 wins to service time. “I matured a lot in those [war] years,” he said. “If I had not had that maturity, I wouldn’t have pitched until I was 45.” (A statement like that says much about character. By contrast, the querulous Bob Feller says that if it weren’t for his wartime service, “I’d have won more games than Warren Spahn.”)
Unaware that the war would end just two months later after the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, Spahn accepted the battlefield promotion, which forced him to remain in the service until the next May and miss the start of the ’46 baseball season. Instead, he became the hottest pitcher in Germany that spring; working for the 115th Engineers Group, he allowed one run and struck out 73 batters in four games. And when he returned stateside, the Braves immediately promoted him to the majors, on June 10, 1946. “This is the first time in years I’ve reported to anybody without saluting,” he told new Boston manager Billy Southworth. - Jim Kaplan, SABR
Maranville was known as one of "baseball's most famous clowns" due to his practical jokes and lack of inhibitions. When he was appointed manager of the Chicago Cubs in 1925—one of their worst seasons ever—he did not change his behavior. One night he went through a Pullman car dumping water on sleeping players' heads, saying, "No sleeping under Maranville management, especially at night." Not long after that, he was out on the street outside Ebbets Field in Brooklyn mimicking a newsboy hawking papers. He cried out, "Read all about it! Maranville fired!" And so he was—the next day.
Maranville was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1954, along with Bill Terry and Bill Dickey, in his 14th year of eligibility. His election came just months after his death at age 62.