11.08.06

Johnny Sain, RIP

Posted in Baseball at 2:20 am by

Former Boston Braves starter Johnny Sain passed away yesterday in Downers Grove, IL at the age of 89. From the Chicago Tribune’s Michael Hirshey.

A right-hander, Sain was a 20-game winner four times. He completed more than half the games he started and was a three-time All-Star in an 11-year career shortened by extensive military service in World War II.

If his 139-116 career record was merely good, his feats in the 1948 season were near mythic, particularly in September of that year. Sain pitched nine complete games in 29 days, winning seven and teaming with Warren Spahn to lead the Boston Braves to the National League pennant.

He capped the streak by beating Bob Feller and the Cleveland Indians 1-0 in the first game of the World Series.

Cleveland rallied to win the Series in six games.

“Spahn and Sain and pray for rain” was a stretch-drive slogan that described the two Braves aces’ effectiveness, as well as the team’s overall pitching shortage.

After Sain was traded to the New York Yankees in 1951 for a minor-league pitcher named Lew Burdette”a future World Series star himself”he excelled as a relief pitcher. In 1954 he led the American League with 22 saves.

As pitching coach for the White Sox, Yankees, Twins and Tigers, Sain tutored 16 pitchers who won 20 or more games in a season. Jim Kaat, of the Twins and the White Sox, and Jim Bouton of the Yankees credit him with rejuvenating their careers.

“Johnny Sain belongs in the Hall of Fame for a combination of his accomplishments as a great pitcher and pitching coach,” Bouton said. “He’s the greatest pitching coach who ever lived.”

Bouton was 21-7 for the 1963 Yankees, but he achieved more lasting fame as the author of the irreverent, best-selling baseball Book “Ball Four.” Bouton said Sain “was more than a great pitching coach to me. He was a philosopher, a calming influence on struggling pitchers.”

Two of Kaat’s three 20-victory seasons came with the White Sox, and he credits Sain, who suggested he switch to a no-windup delivery after struggling in his later years with the Twins.

“He meant more to my career than anyone I know,” Kaat said. “Johnny Sain knew more about the touch, feel, and mental side of pitching than anyone I’ve encountered in my 50 years of professional baseball. I don’t even want to think about where my career would have gone without his help.

As a coach, Sain championed such notions as pitchers throwing every day between starts and throughout the off-season to keep their arms strong and healthy. He believed throwing was far more important than running””You don’t run the ball up to home plate,” he once famously explained”and his pitchers loved him for it.

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