John Sain's father had been an auto mechanic, and Sain eventually
taught the ballistics of throwing a baseball to pitchers with the thought
process of an engineer and psychologist.
Sain missed three seasons of baseball to military service (but in keeping
with his positive attitude and ability to make the most of every experience, he
turned his military pilot training to personal benefit by buying and flying his
Sain returned from the war and won at least 20 games in three straight
seasons, and he was a helluva hitter, pitcher or not. He had a career .245
average and twice batted better than .340 in a season. He struck out just 20
times in nearly 800 career plate appearances.
He believed in diversification and was not just a ballplayer. He became a
successful businessman and owner of an auto dealership, which gave him some
leverage in contract negotiations as a coach.
That he excelled at teaching the art of pitching didn't harm his job
Pitchers such as Jim Kaat, Al
Worthington and Jim Bouton thought Sain was the best pitching
coach in the game during their playing days, and years after Sain had suffered
strokes that incapacitated him, coach Leo Mazzone was putting Sain's
theories into practice with the Atlanta Braces' pitching staff.
Sain believed in positive thinking, but he pushed neither that nor his own
pitching approach onto his pitchers. Instead, as Twins' catcher John
Sevcik said, Sain was more like a truly great golf coach who would watch a
pupil, identify his strengths and focus on them, rather than try to get the man
to do it Sain's way.
After coaching the Yankees' pitching staff to three straight championship
seasons, he priced himself out of a job before the '64 season because he
thought new manager Yogi Berra would not be able to discipline or manage
players who had once been his teammates. That opened the door for Twins' owner
Calvin Griffith to hire Sain for the 1965 season.
Best pitching coach?
Griffith had never paid a coach $25,000 a year. In fact, that was what
Twins' outfielder Tony Oliva was paid in
1965 after Oliva won the American League batting title as a rookie. But
Griffith wanted someone to take charge of the pitching staff, and Yankees'
general manager Ralph Houk told Griffith that Sain did just that.
Most managers thought Sain gathered the pitchers into such a tight group
that the manager lost control of the staff. By all accounts, this was true, and
reportedly Houk had tired of that, but Sain's success was not to be disputed:
he ultimately became pitching coach for five pennant-winners.
"He's a dandy," Yankee reserve catcher Johnny Blanchard, a
Minneapolis resident in the off-season, told Griffith before the '65 season.
"He has brains, and he's a fine teacher."
Sain came into Minnesota saying he didn't "want to appear to be
Superman. All I can do is suggest." He did way more than that, and despite
an injury to Twins' ace Camilo Pascual
during the '65 season, Sain's four-man rotation sparkled and the bullpen was
worked hard, but repeatedly held opponents in check until the Twins' potent
offense could break open a game.
Sain was 47 when he came to the Twins for two seasons. When he left because
of a divide between him and third-base coach Billy Martin, he was immediately signed by
the Detroit Tigers, where he coached the game's last 30-game winner, Denny
Spahn and Sain, then pray for more Sain:
No one is disputing Warren Spahn's career record, but in 1948, when the Boston
Braves won the National League pennant, it was more Sain than Spahn.
That was the only season among five straight that Spahn, 15-12 in 35 starts,
didn't win 20 games. Sain was the force that year. It was the last of his
three-straight seasons of 20 or more wins. Sain went 24-15 with a save in 42
games (39 starts). He had a 2.6 ERA in 315 innings.