Though Cooperstown is home to the game’s greatest managers, the Hall of Fame has yet to induct any coaches. Many believe the line starts behind Johnny Sain and his protege Leo Mazzone.
Sain might already have a plaque for his playing career if not for his military service during World War II. The right-hander broke in with the Boston Braves in 1942. His first year Sain appeared in 40 games and led the Braves in saves. Then he missed three full seasons serving his country in World War II.
Upon his return, Sain was magnificent. He won 20 or more games in each of the following three seasons, and in four out of his next five. Sain was named to the All Star team in both 1946 and ’47 when he won a combined 45 games. Despite missing three seasons in his prime, Sain finished with 139 wins, 140 complete games, and 53 saves.
Sain was also adept with a bat in his hands. He hit .245 for his career and had 101 RBI in 774 at bats. In 1948 he led the entire National League in sacrifice hits in 1948 – the first pitcher to lead the league in any offensive category. Sain led his league’s pitchers in RBI five time. His 20 career strikeouts are the least amount for all hitters with between 500-800 lifetime at bats since 1910.
Despite his all star career, Sain greatest contributions to baseball came during his time as a pitching coach.
He helped make Whitey Ford a Hall of Fame pitcher and later guided the Twins pitching staff to the team’s first pennant in 1965. Sain also served as pitching coach for the World Series champion ’68 Tigers.
After that he moved on to Chicago where he worked as the White Sox pitching coach. At every stop Sain’s pitchers had great success.
In his 17 seasons as a pitching coach Sain tutored 16 hurlers who won 20 or more under his guidance. He was effective with a variety of personalities and talents, coaching such men as the Yankees’ Ford, Denny McLain, Jim Bouton, Jim Kaat, Wilbur Wood, Mudcat Grant, and others.
In the questionnaire above, Mazzone writes of Sain’s Cooperstown worthiness. “Should be a lock. Check track record – knew more about the mental approach and physical mechanics [than anyone] I ever met. Positive all the time.”
There is much debate as to whether the Hall of Fame should recognize coaches with a plaque. If they ever do, Sain and Mazzone make a fine place to start.