Originally Posted by chicagowhitesox1
Ted Williams and Warren Spahn both have stated that a big reason why they played at highl levels at an older age is because of time missed from war. I don't know if thats why they were effective but maybe the missed time did help prolong their careers because really they are two of a very small list who played at a decent level at an older age. Stan Musial would be another but he also missed time due to war. I know Bob Feler stated many times that the war saved his arm so maybe the missed time really did help out.
In Warren Spahn's case, it wasn't the time off that he credited, but the maturity he gained. He was a combat engineer during the Battle of Bulge and distinguished himself to the point where he received a commission in the field. He said that with what he had been through, he was a different person. Ted Williams trained Navy pilots during World War II. Later, his fighter was hit by enemy fire on a mission during the Korean War. Getting back to base alive was likely more intense than hitting third for the Red Sox. I don't think Spahn or Williams ever said anything about saving their careers for an age when their bones would be more brittle. As I recall, Williams in his autobiography wrote that military service took away prime athletic years and a chance to challenge Babe Ruth's career home run record.
Of course, there were other players who came back from America's wars and didn't have the productive years they missed tacked on at the end. Bob Feller, Rapid Robert, declined rapidly after the age of 32, despite having the advantage of three seasons off in the 1940s. There were even those who couldn't complete at the same level upon coming home, even if they didn't sustain injury in a military uniform.
But, really, you don't know if Tony Gwynn had missed three seasons during his athletic prime that he wouldn't have been hitting over .320 at the age of 44 as well as the age of 41.