Johnny Sain

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1954 Topps #205 Johnny Sain

John Franklin Sain

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Biographical Information[edit]

"Spahn and Sain and pray for rain!" - rallying cry for the 1948 Braves

Johnny Sain, who received as much as 34% of the Hall of Fame vote, was part of a classic pennant run in 1948 with the Boston Braves. He was signed originally in 1936, but did not become a regular until 1946. In later life he became a highly successful pitching coach.

He was in the minors from 1936 to 1941, notably going 16-4 for the Newport Cardinals in 1938 and 18-10 for the same team in 1939. He had a .294 minor league batting average.

Sain broke in with the Boston Braves in 1942, going 4-7 with 6 saves (which was good enough to be #4 in the league in saves). Because of World War II, he did not appear again until 1946, when he became a regular starting pitcher at the age of 28. He was with Boston through most of the 1951 season. He won 20+ games from 1946 to 1948. He was an All-Star in 1947 and 1948, and was named Pitcher of the Year by the Sporting News in 1948. He was in the top 3 in the league in ERA in both 1947 and 1948, and led the league in victories in 1948.

It wasn't completely fair to say that the 1948 Boston Braves had only Warren Spahn and Sain as decent pitchers, as the famous rhyme quoted above implies. Bill Voiselle had an 13-13 record with a 3.63 ERA in 36 appearances. Vern Bickford, Bobby Hogue, Red Barrett, Ernie White, and Nels Potter all made frequent appearances as starters or relievers with ERAs better than Warren Spahn's season ERA of 3.71. In spite of Gerald Hern's famous poem in the Boston Post, Spahn had just one start (and two relief appearances) in the six World Series games. Sain pitched two complete games in that series, winning one and losing one.

After two less-impressive seasons in 1950 and 1951, Sain was traded close to the end of the season in 1951 to the New York Yankees, where he was to spend most of the rest of his career. The Yankees, managed by Casey Stengel, won the World Series in 1951, 1952 and 1953. In 1954, they won 103 games although they finished second in the league, behind a historically great Cleveland Indians team, and in 1955 they won the pennant. Sain was both a starter and a reliever in 1952 and 1953. He had 11 victories and 7 saves in 1952, and 14 victories and 9 saves in 1953. In 1954 he became a full-time reliever, with 22 saves, which was the top save total in the league. He appeared in only 3 games with New York in 1955 before going to the Kansas City Athletics, in a trade with Enos Slaughter for Sonny Dixon and cash. He finished up with them with a 2-5 record and one save.

He was a good hitter for a pitcher, with a .245 lifetime batting average. He had 28 doubles and 101 RBI. More impressively, he only struck out 20 times in his entire career, while walking 24 times. He is one of only three pitchers to have compiled over 100 RBI in fewer than 800 at-bats (the others are Earl Wilson and Jim Tobin). In 1946, he went an entire season without striking out, going 28 for 94 (.298). Only two other players have gone an entire season of 90 or more at-bats without striking out since 1910: Lloyd Waner, in 219 at bats in 1941, and Bill Rariden in 101 in 1920.

While he pitched very well for Boston in the 1948 World Series, with a 1.06 ERA, his Yankee teams were more successful, winning all three of the Series in which he pitched for them.

Based on similarity scores, the most similar contemporary pitchers were Frank Lary and Harvey Haddix. Sain's main main teammates were Bob Elliott, Tommy Holmes, Warren Spahn, Earl Torgeson, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle and Phil Masi.

As a pitching coach, Sain was widely admired by his players. He coached for six clubs, Kansas City (1959), the New York Yankees (1961-1963), the Minnesota Twins (1965-1966), the Detroit Tigers (1967-1969), the Chicago White Sox (1971-1975), and Atlanta Braves (1977 and 1985-1986). He had fifteen pitchers win 20 games in a season under his stewardship. Ten of his pitchers led the league in victories and five of his pitching staffs won the league pennant. In 1985, he was on the same coaching staff as Leo Mazzone, one of the top pitching coaches of the next generation.

"Sain is not only the greatest pitching coach who ever lived, he's a man who tells the truth. - Jim Bouton in Ball Four

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • 3-time All-Star (1947, 1948 & 1953)
  • NL Wins Leader (1948)
  • AL Saves Leader (1954)
  • NL Innings Pitched Leader (1948)
  • 2-time NL Complete Games Leader (1946 & 1948)
  • 15 Wins Seasons: 4 (1946-1948 & 1950)
  • 20 Wins Seasons: 4 (1946-1948 & 1950)
  • 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 5 (1946-1950)
  • 300 Innings Pitched Seasons: 1 (1948)
  • Won three World Series with the New York Yankees (1951, 1952 & 1953)

Further Reading[edit]

  • Jim Bouton: Ball Four, Wiley Publishing Inc., New York, NY, 1990 (originally published in 1970). ISBN 0-02-030665-2
  • Jan Finkel: "Johnny Sain", in Bill Nowlin, ed.: Van Lingle Mungo: The Man, The Song, The Players, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2014, pp. 105-112. ISBN 978-1-933599-76-2
  • Jan Finkel: "Johnny Sain", in Gregory H. Wolf, ed.: A Pennant for the Twin Cities: the 1965 Minnesota Twins, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2015, pp. 191-201. ISBN 978-1-943816-09-5
  • Anne R. Keene: The Cloudbuster Nine: The Untold Story of Ted Williams and the Baseball Team that Helped Win World War II, Sports Publishing LLC, New York, NY, 2018. ISBN 978-1-68358-207-6 * Jan Finkel: "Surprising Johnny Sain", in The Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Number 36 (2007), pp. 73-76.

Related Sites[edit]