Classic Yankees: Johnny Sain

Spahn and Sain and pray for rain…

Although Johnny Sain is famous for that phrase associated with the 1948 Boston Braves, he also made a considerable impact on the Yankees, both as a player and as a coach.

In 1942, Sain, age 24, made it to the majors with the Boston Braves. His manager was the one and only Casey Stengel. He started three games, relieved in 37 more, and was 4-7, six saves, with an ERA of 3.90, ERA+ of 85.

He then lost three full years due to WWII service.

Upon his return, Sain was a 20-game winner in 1946, 1947, 1948 and 1950, teaming up with Warren Spahn—thus the famous rhyme.

In 1946, Sain was 20-14, 2.21 with an ERA+ 157. He led the NL in CG and finished fifth in the MVP voting.

1947 saw Sain go 21-12, 3.52, ERA+ 112. He was named to the All-Star team and finished 16th in the All-Star voting. On April 15, 1947, it was Sain who was the first MLB pitcher to face Jackie Robinson.

In 1948, the Braves won the pennant. Across town, the Red Sox lost a one-game playoff to the Indians. Had the Red Sox won, Boston would have had their own version of the “Subway Series.” It was the second pennant for the Braves while in Boston—and the last.

To date, the Braves franchise has one three World Series: one in Boston (1914), one in Milwaukee (1957) and one in Atlanta (1995).

Sain was the runner-up in the 1948 MVP voting to Stan Musial. Sain led the majors with 24 wins, lost 15, and had an ERA of 2.60 (ERA+ 149). He also led the majors in GS, CG, IP (314 2/3), hits given up (he led the NL in that category in 1947, due to being a workhorse), and batters faced. Once again, he was an All-Star.

In game one of the WS, Sain threw a four-hit shutout to outduel Bob Feller 1-0. Feller only gave up two hits. This was the game in which there was a controversial call at second base when Feller tried to pick off Phil Masi of the Braves. Masi was ruled safe, and scored the only run of the game moments later.

Sain pitched a fine game in Game 4, going eight innings, but he lost 2-1. The Braves lost to the Indians in six games—Cleveland’s last baseball championship to date.

In that 1948 season, the Braves drew almost 1.46 million fans to Braves Field (now Nickerson field, Boston University). But the team plummeted into the second division in 1949, and to last in 1951. When they finished last again in 1952, they drew 281,271 fans all year. That’s an average of just 3653 a game! The Red Sox owned the town.

It’s an irony of the times. Just five years after the Braves were playing in the World Series, they were playing in Milwaukee. Just four years after the (NY) Giants won the WS (1954) they were playing in San Francisco, and just two years after losing Game 7 of the 1956 WS to the Yankees, the Dodgers weren’t in Brooklyn anymore but were in Los Angeles.

Sain had a bad year in 1950, going just 10-17, 4.81, ERA+ 79. He led the majors in earned runs given up.

He rebounded in 1951, going 20-13, 3.94. Due in part to his workload, he led the majors in hits and HR given up. His ERA+ was 98. He finished 21st in the MVP voting.

He began 1951 with the Braves, and struggled, going 5-13, 4.21, ERA+ 88. In August of that year, the Yankees were looking for an extra arm, and Sain was available. Stengel remembered his former player, and a deal was made. Sain went to the Yankees for Lew Burdette and $50,000. Burdette would get his revenge against the Yankees in the 1957 World Series, when he threw three CG victories against them (Games 2, 5 and 7). Burdette would win Game 2 of the 1958 WS against the Yanks, but lost games Five and Seven.

Sain went 2-1, 4.14 in his month with the Yankees in 1951 with an ERA+ 94. His total stats were 7-14, 4.20, ERA+ 89. He pitched in one WS game, giving up two runs in two innings. Although a late arrival, Sain got his first WS ring.

For 1952 and 1953, Sain was a spot starter/long reliever on a staff that had Raschi, Reynolds, Lopat and, in 1953, Ford (Whitey was in the service in 1952). In 1952, Sain started 16 games and relieved in 19 more, going 11-6, seven saves, 3.46 with an ERA+ 96. He finished 29th in the MVP voting.

In the WS, Sain pitched well, but took the loss in game Five, his only game of the series. With the Yanks leading 5-4, he came in for the sixth. Duke Snider singled in the tying run off Sain in the seventh, and then doubled home the eventual winning run in the top of the eleventh. Mize gave up just those two runs in six innings pitched, but lost. The Yanks won Games 6 and 7 in Brooklyn, and Sain got his second WS ring.

In 1953, Sain was an All-Star for the third and final time. He started 19 games, relieved in 21 more, and was 14-7 with an ERA of 3.00. ERA+ 123, nine saves. He led the league in K/BB. He pitched 3 2/3 innings of one-run relief in Game One of the series, and got the win. He gave up two runs in two innings in Game Four. He earned his third WS championship ring.

Sain started two WS games, and relieved in four more. His WS record was 2-2, 2.64.

Strictly a reliever in 1954, Sain went 6-6 and led the AL with 22 saves. He led the league in games finished and posted an ERA of 3.16 (ERA+ 110).

Sain turned 37 at the end of 1954, and the 1955 season would be his last. After just three games with the Yanks, Sain was dealt to the KC A’s with Enos Slaughter for Sonny Dixon and cash. The Yanks would eventually reacquire Slaughter. The nondescript Dixon would appear in just three games for the Yanks, all in 1956. Sain, 0-0, 6.75 for the Yanks, went 2-5, 5.44 for the A’s (their first season in Kansas City after having moved there from Philadelphia). For the season 2-5, 5.58 and just one save, ERA+ 75.

Sain retired with a record of 139-116, 51 saves, and an ERA of 3.49, ERA+ 107. His 162 game average would be 25 starts, 18 relief appearances, 14-12, 3.49. He was a decent hitter, hitting .245 with 3 HR in his career.

When he came to the Yankees, he took over #11 from Joe Page.

Sain then became a very well-respected and successful pitching coach. After being a pitching coach for the A’s in 1959, he was the pitching coach for the Yankees from 1961-1963, a period that saw three pennants and two world championships. This was also the time when Whitey Ford switched from Casey Stengel saving him for use against only good teams to being used as the ace in a four-man rotation. Ford had his best seasons under Sain, winning 25 in 1961 and 24 in 1963. Also in that time frame, Sain developed Ralph Terry into a 23-game winner in 1962, and Jim Bouton into a 21-game winner in 1963. When Sain wanted a raise for 1964, the Yanks let him go, naming Ford as player-coach.  Bouton, in his book Ball Four, praised Sain.

Sain went to the Twins for two years (1965-1966), and the Twins won the 1965 A.L. pennant. Mudcat Grant won 21 games that year. The next year, Jim Kaat won 25.

From 1967-1969, Sain was pitching coach for the Tigers, and the Tigers won the 1968 WS behind Denny McLain’s 31 wins. McLain would win 24 in 1969. Earl Wilson, with 22 wins in 1967, was another 20-game Tiger winner for Sain. Mickey Lolich won three WS games in 1968, and was a 19-game winner in 1969.

Sain went to the White Sox from 1971-1975, and while they didn’t finish in first place, Sain got 20-win seasons out of Wilbur Wood, ex-Yankee Stan Bahnsen, and his old protégé, Jim Kaat.

Sain was pitching coach for the Braves in 1977, then again in 1985 and 1986.

Sain died in November of 2006, aged 89.

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One Response to Classic Yankees: Johnny Sain

  1. Mike Sommer says:

    1947, 16th in MVP voting. Also won three World Series. My misprint and error. I tried to correct, but I guess it didn't take.