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R.I.P. Johnny Sain

This, the first ever cross-posting between my two blogs, is in honor of former major-league pitcher Johnny Sain, who died last week at the age of 89.

Sain was a member of the pennant-winnning 1948 Boston Braves, where his and teammate Warren Spahn’s success relative to the rest of the pitching staff led to the well-known rhyme, “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain.” (This past summer, some Cardinals fans altered the rhyme to read “Carp and Soup, the rest are poop.”) Sain went 139-116 with a 3.49 E.R.A. for the Braves, Yankees, and Athletics in an eleven-year career.

This obituary appears on both my book and baseball blogs because

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Sain is one of the most memorable characters in Jim Bouton‘s wonderful Ball Four (1970). Much of the drama and fun of the book comes from the distrust with which Bouton is viewed by his teammates, coaches, and the baseball establishment. After all, the man reads books on the team flights–and on top of that, he’s a knuckleballer. Throughout the book, Bouton clashes with his manager and pitching coaches. The biggest problem he encounters is resistance to the fact that, as a knuckleballer, he’s sharper if he throws pretty much every day, while ordinary pitchers perform better on a schedule with days off. Most of the other players and coaches refuse to accept that Bouton knows what he’s talking about; he’s seen, variously as a malcontent and a moron.

Sain, on the other hand, takes a minimalist coaching approach. He looks at each player and sees what works for him. You pitch better if you throw every day? Throw every day. You pitch better if you make sure to do your running? Do your running. Quiet but effective, Sain isn’t suspicious of difference, nor is he at all controlling; he’s just looking to make his pitchers better. Therefore, he stands in such stark contrast to nearly everyone else in the book that he appears a genius both of baseball and of life in general.

I’ve been told it was raining in Boston the day of Sain’s death. I guess that means Spahn started the next day for the Heavenlys, with Sain up the day after. After all, though I usually come down on the side of there being no heaven, if there were to be one, it would be inconceivable without baseball.

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