Remembering Yogi Berra, an American icon

Baseball today mourns the passing of Yogi Berra. Yogi was an American icon, a World War II veteran who was part of the D-Day invasion and a Hall of Fame catcher with the Yankees whose record of 10 World Championships will never be equaled. But above all that, Yogi was a great husband, a loving father, and a wonderful man, whose kindness, humility and sincerity touched all who knew him.

Yogi Berra played in the first baseball game I ever saw, in the summer of 1958 at Yankee Stadium. Yogi batted fifth and played right field and was 0-for-3 with a strikeout and a walk. And although the Yankees lost to the White Sox that day, I was hooked on baseball for life.

Yogi was a walking Bartlett’s who said everything from “It ain’t over till it’s over” to “It gets late early out there” to “Nobody goes there any more, it’s too crowded.”

On a personal note, I played competitive softball until I turned 60. In the later years I became a catcher, and proudly wore #8 in honor of Yogi.

Yogi’s passing hits home for me. My father was born in 1925, the same year as Yogi. My dad passed on his love of baseball to me. No doubt, he’ll be watching the Yankee game tonight.

We used to argue about who was the best catcher in Yankee history, Bill Dickey or Yogi Berra. My father, who saw Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig play, would say Dickey. Sorry pops, it was Yogi.

RIP Lawrence Peter Berra.

New York athletes by the numbers

Over the years, New York athletes have worn some of the most famous numbers in all of sports. Icons like Babe Ruth (#3), Lou Gehrig (#4) and Joe DiMaggio (#5) sit atop a long and storied list of Yankees, who will have retired all single digit numbers as soon as they get around to Derek Jeter (#2). Brooklyn Dodger Jackie Robinson wore #42, which has now been retired by major league baseball. Willie Mays wore #24 when he roamed center field for the New York Giants.

And there are so many more. Legends such as Lawrence Taylor (#56) with the New York Football Giants, Joe Namath (#12) with the Jets, Walt Frazier (#10) with the Knicks and Wayne Gretzky (#99) with the Rangers, just to name a few.

As you might expect, since there are more players per team and higher numbers in football, the Giants top our list of top New York athletes by number with 36. Every team is represented, even the Giants and Dodgers, who left New York for California in 1958. There are 21 Yankees, 16 Jets, 7 Mets, 6 Knicks, 5 Rangers, 3 Dodgers and Nets, 2 Devils and an Islander and baseball Giant on the list. If you’re counting with me that adds up to 101, with Casey Stengel (#37) getting the nod as both Yankee and Met manager.

Here are the top New York players by number from 0-99, with other candidates also listed. Competition was tough in some spots, most notably #10, where Walt Frazier edged out Pele, Eli Manning, Phil Rizzuto and Fran Tarkenton, and #42, where Mariano Rivera and Charlie Conerly failed to make the cut.

The New York numbers list:

0 – Orlando Woolridge (Nets)

Shane Larkin

1 – Pee Wee Reese (Dodgers)

Eddie Giacomin, Billy Martin, Earle Combs

2 – Derek Jeter (Yankees)

Brian Leetch

3 – Babe Ruth (Yankees)

Bill Terry, Harry Howell, Ken Daneyko

4 – Lou Gehrig (Yankees)

Mel Ott, Duke Snider, Tuffy Leemans, Scott Stevens

5 – Joe DiMaggio (Yankees)

Denis Potvin, David Wright

6 – Joe Torre (Yankees)

Tony Lazzeri, Carl Furillo

7 – Mickey Mantle (Yankees)

Mel Hein, Rod Gilbert, Ken O’Brien, Carmelo Anthony

8 – Yogi Berra (Yankees)

Bill Dickey, Walt Bellamy, Gary Carter

9 – Richie Guerin (Knicks)

Roger Maris, Graig Nettles, Andy Bathgate, Adam Graves, Clark Gillies, Hank Bauer, Charlie Keller

10 – Walt Frazier (Knicks)

Pele, Eli Manning, Phil Rizzuto, Fran Tarkenton, Brad van Pelt

11 – Mark Messier (Rangers)

Carl Hubbell, Lefty Gomez, Phil Simms

12 – Joe Namath (Jets)

Dick Barnett

13 – Don Maynard (Jets)

Alex Rodriguez, Mark Jackson, Odell Beckham, Dave Jennings

14 – Gil Hodges (Dodgers)

YA Tittle, Bill Skowron

15 – Thurman Munson (Yankees)

Red Ruffing, Earl Monroe, Dick Mcguire, Jeff Hostetler, John McLean

16 – Frank Gifford (Giants)

Whitey Ford, Dwight Gooden

17 – Keith Hernandez (Mets)

Vic Raschi

18 – Darryl Strawberry (Mets)

Don Larsen, Phil Jackson

19 – Willis Reed (Knicks)

Bryan Trottier, Dave Righetti, Jean Ratelle

20 –Allan Houston (Knicks)

Jorge Posada, Monte Irvin, Jimmy Patton, Joe Morris

21 – Paul O’Neill (Yankees)

Tiki Barber

22 – Mike Bossy (Islanders)

Dave DeBusschere, Allie Reynolds, Dick Lynch

23 – Don Mattingly (Yankees)

Bobby Nystrom

24 – Willie Mays (Giants)

Bill Bradley, Derrell Revis, Robinson Cano, Ottis Anderson

25 – Bill Mclchionni (Nets)

Dick Nolan, Jason Giambi, Joe Pepitone, Bill Cartwright, Mark Collins

26 – Patrik Elias (Devils)

Wade Boggs, Orlando Hernandez

27 – Rodney Hampton (Giants)

Scott Niedermayer, Alexi Kovalev

28 – Curtis Martin (Jets)

Al Leiter

29 – Catfish Hunter (Yankees)

Alex Webser

30 – Martin Brodeur (Devils)

Bernard King, Henrik Lundqvist, Dave Meggett, Eddie Lopat, John Davidson

31 – Dave Winfield (Yankees)

John Franco, Mike Piazza, Billy Smith

32 – Julius Erving (Nets)

Elston Howard, Sandy Koufax, Al Blozis

33 – Patrick Ewing (Knicks)

David Wells

34 – Charles Oakley (Knicks)

John Vanbiesbrouck, Don Chandler

35—Mike Richter (Rangers)

Mike Mussina

36 – David Cone (Yankees)

Jerry Koosman

37 – Casey Stengel (Yankees/Mets)

38 – Bob Tucker (Giants)

Johnny Blanchard

39 – Roy Campanella (Dodgers)

40 – Joe Morrison

Lindy McDaniel, Mark Pavelich

41 – Tom Seaver (Mets)

Matt Snell

42 –Jackie Robinson (Dodgers)

Mariano Rivera, Charlie Conerly

43 – Spider Lockhart (Giants)

Jeff Nelson

44 – Reggie Jackson (Yankees)

John Riggins, Ahmad Bradshaw

45 – Emlen Tunnell (Giants)

Tug McGraw, John Franco

46 – Andy Pettitte (Yankees)

Bill Baird

47 – Luis Arroyo (Yankees)

48 – Jacob deGrom (Mets)

Andy Pafko, Kenny Hill, Bobby Humphrey

49 – Ron Guidry (Yankees)

Erich Barnes

50 – Ken Strong (Giants)

51 – Bernie Williams (Yankees)

52– Buck Williams (Nets)

Jon Schmitt, CC Sabathia

53 – Harry Carson (Giants)

Don Drysdale

54 – Goose Gossage (Yankees)

55—Hideki Matsui (Yankees)

Ray Wietecha

56 –Lawrence Taylor (Giants)

57 – Johan Santana (Mets)

John Wetteland, Mo Lewis

58 – Carl Banks (Giants)

59 – Kyle Clifton (Giants)

Michael Boley

60 – Larry Grantham (Jets)

D’Brickeshaw Ferguson, Brad Benson

61 – Rick Nash (Rangers)

62 – Al Atkinson (Jets)

Joba Chamberlain, Carl Hagelin

63 – Karl Nelson (Giants)

64 – Jim Burt (Giants)

65 – Joe Fields (Jets)

Bart Oates

66 – Jack Stroud (Giants)

David Diehl, Randy Rasmussen

67 – Dave Herman (Jets)

Bill Ard, Kareem McKenzie

68 – Kevin Mawae (Jets)

Jaromir Jagr,Dellin Betances

69 – Rich Seubert (Giants)

70 – Sam Huff (Giants)

Leonard Marshall

71 – Dave Tollefson (Giants)

72 – Ose Umenyiora (Giants)

73 – Joe Klecko (Jets)

74 – Nick Mangold (Jets)

75 – George Martin (Giants)

Jim Katcavage, Winston Hill

76 – Rosey Grier (Giants)

Jumbo Elliott, Chris Snee

77 – Phil Esposito (Rangers)

Dick Modzelewski

78 – Jerome Salley (Giants)

Marvin Powell

79 – Roosevelt Brown (Giants)

80 – Victor Cruz (Giants)

John Elliott, Wayne Chrebet, Jeremy Shockey

81 – Andy Robustelli (Giants)

Amani Toomer, Gerry Philbin

82 – Mario Manningham (Giants)

Mark Ingram

83 – George Sauer (Jets)

84 – Harland Svare (Giants)

Zeke Mowatt

85 – Del Shofner (Giants)

Wesley Walker

86 – Verlon Bigggs (Jets)

Lionel Manuel

87 – Howard Cross (Giants)

Pete Lammons, Domenik Hixon

88 – Al Toon (Jets)

Pat Summerall, Eric Lindros

89 – Mark Bavaro (Giants)

90 – Jason Pierre-Paul (Giants)

Dennis Byrd

91 – Justin Tuck (Giants)

John Tavares

92 – Michael Strahan (Giants)

93 – Marty Lyons (Jets)

94 – John Abraham (Jets)

95 – Frank Ferrera (Giants)

96 – Barry Cofield (Giants)

97 – Mathias Kiwanuka (Giants)

98 – Jesse Armstead (Giants)

Fred Robbins

99 – Wayne Gretzky (Rangers)

Mark Gastineau, Steve DeOssie

The Babe, Huff, Joe Willie, Clyde and more — 12 New York sports icons in strange threads

The winningest goalie in hockey history and a future Hall of Famer retired recently after a brief seven-game stint with the St. Louis Blues. Wrong church, wrong pew. And wrong uniform. Brodeur will always be remembered as a Devil – he registered 688 wins during a 21-year run in New Jersey which started in 1991.

Here are a dozen iconic New York sports figures, legends on Broadway and Hall of Famers all, who wound up their careers in strange threads. Presented in chronological order:

1. Babe Ruth – The Sultan of Swat started and finished his career in Boston, but made his biggest mark in New York, where he hit 659 home runs and batted .349 during his 15 years with the Yankees. He left the Bronx in 1935 to join the Boston Braves, where he played 28 games and hit .181 before retiring. In one of his last appearances, on May 25, Ruth, right, belted three titanic home runs in a game in Pittsburgh, including his final home run, #714, the longest homer ever hit at Forbes Field. The Babe began his career as a pitcher for the Red Sox and won 89 games over six seasons before he was sold to the Yankees for $100,000 before the 1920 season.

2. Sam Huff – During his eight years as a New York Giant, Sam Huff never missed a game. He played in six NFL championship games, winning a ring in 1956, his rookie year. Huff was on the cover of TIME magazine at age 24, and was the feature subject in a CBS documentary called “The Violent World of Sam Huff.” Huff was traded to the Washington Redskins for defensive tackle Andy Stynchula and running back Dick James after the Giants lost the 1963 championship game to the Bears. He retired after the 1967 season, then returned to play for Vince Lombardi, a former offensive coach with the Giants and legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, in 1969.

3. Yogi Berra – It appeared as though Yogi Berra had played his last game in 1963. Yogi went to the dugout, where he managed the Yankees to the 1964 American League pennant. In a stunning development, Berra was fired after the Yankees lost a seven-game World Series to the Cardinals. He signed with the Mets as a free agent, and became a coach. However, Yogi played in four games with the Mets, catching in two of them, and had a pair of singles in nine at bats in his strange last hurrah. In his final game against the Milwaukee Braves at Shea Stadium, Berra struck out three times and was 0-for-4.

4. Willie Mays – The Say Hey Kid started and finished his career in New York, playing with two different National League franchises. separated by a 15-season stay by the bay in San Francisco. He began as a Giant in 1951 in New York, where he was National League Rookie of the Year. Mays, left, went West when the Giants moved to San Francisco for the 1958 season, and was traded to the Mets for pitcher Charlie Williams and $50,000 in 1972. Mays finished out his career in the 1973 World Series and knocked in the winning run with a 12-inning single against Oakland A’s reliever Rollie Fingers in Game Two. That Mets team, managed by another transplant Yogi Berra, lost to the A’s in seven games.

5. Don Maynard – The great wide receiver began his career with the Giants in 1958 and saw action in the 1958 NFL Championship game against the Colts, where he returned a pair of kickoffs, including one in overtime. Maynard then sat out the game for a year before joining the New York Titans in 1960. Maynard played 13 years for the Titans/Jets, where he had 633 receptions, 88 for touchdowns. He had a two-game, one-reception stint with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1973. Maynard finished his career with the Houston Texans – Shreveport Steamer of the World Football League (WFL) in 1974.

6. Eddie Giacomin – On October 29, 1975, Eddie Giacomin was placed on waivers by the New York Rangers and claimed by the Detroit Red Wings. One of the most popular players in Blueshirts history, Giacomin was an outstanding netminder in his 10 plus seasons with Rangers. Ironically, Giacomin’s first game with the Red Wings was Halloween, two days after he joined the Red Wings. Madison Square Garden partisans voiced their displeasure with the deal, and cheered on a win for Giacomin. Seeing limited duty, Eddie finished his career with Detroit two years later.

7. Tom Seaver – Tom Terrific, aka The Franchise, was the heart and soul of the New York Mets. He finished 25-7 in 1969 when he won his first Cy Young Award and led the Miracle Mets to their first World Championship. Seaver won Cy Young Awards in 1973 and 1975 as well, and in nearly 12 seasons with the Mets won 198 games, still the most in team history. Then on June 15, 1977, the Mets traded Seaver to the Cincinnati Reds for four players – Doug Flynn, Steve Henderson, Dan Norman and Pat Zachry. Seaver pitched for the Reds for nearly six seasons, returned to the Mets for one year in 1983, and wound up his career with the Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox before retiring after the 1986 season.

8. Joe Namath – Broadway Joe of Beaver, Falls, PA., quarterback under coach Bear Bryant at Alabama, signed a $400,000 contract after the 1965 NFL draft to play in New York, and soon owned the town. Namath, right, played 12 years for the Jets, becoming the face of the American Football League (AFL) when he led the Jets to an upset win over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. Before the 1977 season, Joe Willie was waived and picked up by the Los Angeles Rams. He won two of his first three starts, then had a horrible Monday night in a loss to the Chicago Bears. He backed up Pat Haden the rest of the season, and never threw another pass.

9. Walt Frazier – Clyde was a first round pick out of Southern Illinois in the 1967 NBA draft and played 10 years with the Knicks. Frazier was a key piece of the Knicks only two NBA champions. In Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals against the Lakers, the Willis Reed game, Frazier scored 36 points and added 19 assists in a Knicks blowout. Prior to the 1977 season, Frazier was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers as payment for free agent Jim Cleamons. Frazier played his final two seasons and three games of the 1979-80 season with Cleveland before retiring. Clyde’s 4,791 assists are still the most in Knicks’ history.

10. Bryan Trottier – He’s the all-time Islander leader in a multitude of team categories, including games, assists and points. He won a Calder, Art Ross, Hart and Conn Smythe Trophy. And he led the Islanders to four consecutive Stanley Cup titles beginning in 1980. Trotts signed as a free agent with the Pittsburgh Penguins after the 1990 season, and won two more Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992. He retired after the 1994 season.

11. Patrick Ewing – The number one overall pick in the 1985 NBA draft, Ewing quickly turned things around and made the Knicks a contender. The Georgetown product is the franchise leader in just about every major category, including games, points, rebounds and blocked shots. But after 15 seasons in New York and losses in the 1994 and 1999 NBA Finals, Ewing was sent to Seattle in 2000 in a multi-team deal in which the Knicks also traded Chris Dudley to Seattle and received Glen Rice, Luc Longley, Travis Knight, Vladimir Stepania, Larazo Borrell, Vernon Maxwell and two first and two second round draft picks. Ewing played a year with the SuperSonics and a year with the Orlando Magic, then retired.

12. Brian Leetch – One of the best defensemen in NHL history, Leetch helped the Rangers win their first Stanley Cup in 54 years in a seven-game series in 1994. Leetch won the Conn Symthe Trophy that year as playoff MVP, and also won two Norris Trophies as top defenseman and the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year. But late in the 2003-2004 season he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs for prospects Maxim Kondratiev, Jarkko Immon, and future first and second round draft picks. Leetch played his final season with the Boston Bruins and retired in 2005.

Instant replay: The 20 greatest Yankee HRs

Take a look, give a listen to the 20 greatest home runs in Yankee history. Many are on this list of 100 greatest home runs in baseball history.

Any list of greatest home runs would be incomplete without the immortal Babe Ruth.

1. 1927,  Babe Ruth belts #60

Ancient footage played to the music of Queen’s “We are the Champions,” the Bambino makes his mark and challenges all comers to match it. “60. Count em 60,” roared the Babe. “Let’s see some other son of a bitch match that.”

2. 1932, Ruth’s called shot, Game 3, World Series

The legendary called shot at Wrigley Field, with motion picture footage that shows Ruth pointing. But where?

3. 1932, Lou Gehrig,  4 HRs, single game

Close as we could come to video with Larrupin’ Lou is this photo. But you get the point, it was a long time ago. And four in one game — not even the great Ruth ever did that.

4. 1938, Joe DiMaggio, Game 2, World Series

Great radio call, Joe D goes “high and far over the fence in deep left field” at Wrigley Field to bury the Cubs in another Yankee sweep.

5. 1952, Mickey Mantle HR, Game 7, World Series

Mantle, just 20 years old, goes deep on a 3-1 pitch off Joe Black in the sixth inning at Ebbets Field to give the Yankees the lead for good on their way to their fourth straight World Series. Mel Allen with the play-by-play in the sixth – “that ball is going, going…it is gone.” Watch how fast Mantle gets around the bases.

6. 1956, Yogi Berra, 2 HRs, Game 7, World Series 

A signature moment for the Yankee catcher, who belted two early two- run homers against Don Newcombe to help the Yankees avenge their loss to Brooklyn the previous year in a 9-0 whitewash. Elston Howard also homered, and Bill Skowron hit a grand slam.


7. 1961, Roger Maris 61st HR

Not the Phil Rizzuto call (“Holy cow, he did it, 61 for Maris.”), but what the heck, Red Barber is pretty darn good.  At one point the camera catches Sal Durante, the fan who got $5,000 for coming up with the ball. Lots going on in this brief cut: fans booing Boston’s Tracy Stallard  for going to a 2-0 count against Maris, a young fan running on the field to shake the Rajah’s hand, and Maris being pushed out for a curtain call by his teammates.

8. 1963,  Mickey Mantle, tape measure shot

The Mick talks about the hardest ball he ever hit, which missed by less than a foot of clearing the right field facade of Yankee Stadium. No player has ever hit a fair ball out of the Stadium old or new — Mantle came the closest.

9. 1967, Mickey Mantle, 500th HR

Watch the gimpy-legged Mantle struggle around the bases after lining his milestone round tripper into the right field seats at Yankee Stadium. Jerry Coleman with the call. Again, kids on the field.

10. 1976, Chris Chambliss HR, Game 5, ALCS

Chambliss helps the Yankees win their first AL pennant in 12 years. Keith Jackson and Howard Cosell with the call. Talk about security in the Bronx — fans storm the field as Chambliss barely makes it around the bases.

11. 1977, Reggie Jackson, 3 HRs, Game 6, World Series

Mr. October earns his stripes with an unforgettable performance that matches the heroics of one George Herman Ruth.

12. 1978, Bucky Dent HR, AL East playoff

” Deep to left. Yastrzemski will not get it. It’s a home run. A three-run homer for Bucky Dent.”  Bill White with the call on the blast that brought Yaz to his knees and silenced Fenway Park.

13. 1987, Don Mattingly HRs in 8 straight games

Donnie Baseball ties Dale Long’s record by homering in his eighth consecutive game.

14. 1996, Derek Jeter controversial home run, Game 1, ALCS

Jeter, a rookie, shares the spotlight with 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier, who gives the Yankees a boost on this controversial eighth inning call that tied the score and made Bob Costas ask “And what happens here?”

15. 1996, Bernie Williams walk-off ,Game 1, ALCS

Same game as Jeter’s home run, the winning blow by Williams came in the bottom of the 11th. You may have to turn up the volume to hear it — but John Sterling gives a landmark Yankees win call as Bernie goes boom.

16. 1996, Jim Leyritz, Game 4, World Series

With Atlanta on the verge of taking a 3-1 lead in the World Series, Leyritz launches a game-tying, three-run homer to left to tie the game in the eighth. Watch the reaction on the Yankee bench, especially Don Zimmer.

17A. 2001, Tino Martinez, Game 4, World Series

Less than two months after 9/11, two outs in the ninth, game on the line, Martinez homers to tie the score. Derek Jeter’s walk-off wins it in the 10th. And the next night…..

17B. 2001, Scott Brosius  Game 5, World Series

….it happened again. One night after Tino’s shocker, Brosius goes yard with two down in the ninth to tie the score. This time the Yankees win in 12. Joe Buck with the dual calls.

18. 2003, Aaron Boone, Game 7, ALCS

With the score tied in the last of the 11th, Boone hits the first pitch from knuckleballer Tim Wakefield into the left field seats to send the Yankees to the World Series. Look closely in the background. As Boone is rounding the bases, Mariano Rivera is hugging the mound.

19. 2004, Jason Giambi, walk-off grand slam

This dramatic 14th inning walk-off in the rain gave birth to John Sterling’s Giambino.

20. 2009, A-Rod walk-off, 15th inning

YouTubeism baby. A millenial generation shot of A-Rod’s two-run blast that broke a scoreless tie with the Red Sox.

Albert Joins Babe, Reggie in Select Club

Albert Pujols, Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson are the only players in baseball history to hit three home runs in a World Series game.

No matter what he does the rest of this World Series and for the remainder of his career, Albert Pujols carved out his own special niche in baseball history with three home runs in the third game of the 2011 World Series.

The 31-year-old Pujols is a sure-fire, first ballot Hall of Famer once he retires, but unless he’s Babe Ruth (more on that in a moment) this World Series tour de force will be his signature moment.

More than a generation ago, on October 18, 1977, Reggie Jackson became Mr. October when homered three times on a cool night at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. Jackson, like Pujols, homered off three different pitchers as he led the Yankees to their first World Championship in 15 years with an 8-4 win over the Dodgers.

That year, Jax set a record with five home runs in a single World Series, including four in his final four swings. Mr. October was named 1977 World Series MVP.

Fittingly, Babe Ruth is the only other player to hit three home runs in a World Series game. Ruth accomplished the feat twice, both times against the Cardinals.

Babe Does It Twice
But unlike Pujols or Jackson, Ruth had dozens of signature moments. His record-breaking 60th home run in 1927, his called shot in the 1932 World Series, and his three home run game with the Boston Braves in 1935 days before he retired are three that come to mind.

In Game Four of the 1926 World Series, Ruth hit three home runs at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis to lead the Yankees to a 10-5 victory. The Yanks won the next day and returned to New York with a 3-2 lead, but Hall of Fame right-hander Grover Cleveland “Old Pete” Alexander beat the Yankees 10-2 with a complete Game 6 effort.

In the decisive seventh game, Alexander came on in relief in the seventh inning to fan Tony Lazzeri with the bases loaded. He walked Ruth, who had homered earlier in the game, with two outs in the ninth to put the tying run on base. But the Babe inexplicably tried to steal second base and was thrown out to end the Series with Bob Meusel on deck and Lou Gehrig in the hole.

Two years later, Ruth again hit three home runs in a World Series game against the Cardinals at Sportsman’s Park. The Yankees won the game 7-3 to sweep the Series. Ruth hit .625 in the 1928 World Series with those three homers and four RBIs and batted .625.

Plain as Rain, Sain Reigns in Baseball Trivia

“Spahn and Sain and Pray for Rain” was the battle cry of the 1948 Boston Braves.

Johnny Sain was born to a trivia answer. Last pitcher to face Babe Ruth, first pitcher to face Jackie Robinson, half of one of baseball’s most famous phrases, last man to coach a 30-game winner.

Here are 10 bits of trivia about Johnny Sain:

1. Sain began his career in 1942, and finished with a 4-7 record with the Boston Braves. He then entered the service, and did not resume pitching in the major leagues until 1946.

2. Sain threw the last pitch to Babe Ruth in an organized game. During World War II, Sain was a Navy aviator and pitched for a military team that included Ted Williams and other big leaguers. On July 28, 1943, his team played an exhibition game at Yankee Stadium against a group of major leaguers managed by Babe Ruth. Sain walked the Babe, who was then 48 years old.

3. Sain threw the first pitch in the major leagues to Jackie Robinson on April 15, 1947, at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. Robinson grounded out to shortstop, but the Dodgers went on to beat Sain and the Braves, 5-3.

4.Johnny Sain was a four-time, 20-game winner, all with the Boston Braves. He won 20 games three straight times from 1946-48, and won 20 again in 1950.

5. “Spahn and Sain and Pray for Rain” was the battle cry of the 1948 Braves. Boston Post sports editor Gerald V. Hern wrote a poem about the Braves dependence on two starters, Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain. The poem was inspired by the performance of Spahn and Sain during the Braves’ 1948 pennant drive. Boston swept a Labor Day doubleheader, with Spahn throwing a complete 14-inning win in the opener, and Sain pitching a shutout in the second game. Following two off days, it rained. Spahn won the next day, and Sain won the day after that. Three days later, Spahn won, then Sain won the next day. After one more off day, the two pitchers were brought back, and won another doubleheader, combining to go 8-0 over 12 days.

6. The Braves reached the World Series in 1948 for the first time in 34 years. In the opener at Braves Field, Sain pitched a four-hit, 1-0 shutout over Cleveland’s Bob Feller, who allowed only two hits but lost. Sain pitched another complete game but lost to the Indians 2-1 in Game Four. Cleveland won the Series in six games, the last time the Tribe won a World Series.

7.  Sain was traded to the Yankees during the 1951 season for Lew Burdette and $50,000. Sain was a member of three World Championship squads in New York. Six years later, Burdette beat the Yankees three times in the 1957 World Series to pitch the Milwaukee Braves to victory and win the MVP.

8. Sain was traded from the Yankees to the Kansas City A’s, along with Hall of Famer Enos Slaughter, for pitcher Sonny Dixon and cash in 1955, and retired shortly after. He finished with a 139-116 career record.

9. That’s the pitching side of the Sain ledger. An outstanding contact hitter, Sain always helped himself with the bat. He had a .245 career average and struck out a mere 20 times in 774 lifetime at-bats.

10. Sain later became a pitching coach with the Yankees, Twins, Tigers, White Sox and Atlanta Braves before retiring in 1986. He coached baseball’s last 30-game winner, Denny McLain. The only time Whitey Ford, Jim Bouton, Mudcat Grant, Earl Wilson, Denny McLain, Wilbur Wood, Stan Bahnsen and Jim Kaat won 20 games, Johnny Sain was their pitching coach.

Can’t Top This: Hornsby’s 5-Year Run

Nobody in baseball history — not Cobb, not Ruth, nor Williams or Bonds — ever put together a better five-year run than Rogers Hornsby.

Between 1921 and 1925, the St. Louis Cardinals second baseman won five consecutive batting titles — with averages of .397, .401, .384, .424 and .403. Overall the Rajah won seven batting crowns and hit .358 lifetime, highest for a right-hand batter in the history of the game.

During that five-year stretch, Hornsby also:

  • Led the NL in HRs in 1922 and 1925, winning Triple Crowns both years.
  • Hit .424 in 1924, the highest average ever recorded in a single season
  • Led the NL in OBP, slugging and OPS five straight times
  • Led the NL in hits, doubles, runs and RBIs three times, and triples once

In 1922, Hornsby led the league with 42 home runs, 152 RBIs,  a .401 average and 450 total bases. Only Ruth with 457 in 1921, ever had more. Not too shabby.

After winning his second Triple Crown and the NL MVP in 1925 with 39 homers, 143 RBIs and a .403 average, the Rajah’s numbers slipped to a more pedestrian .317 the following season. However, as player-manager he led the Cardinals to their first World Championship with a seven-game triumph over the Yankees.

Six Straight Batting Titles
Hornsby also won the NL batting title in 1920, when he hit .370 and led the NL in hits, doubles, RBIs, OBP, slugging and OPS. Not even the great Ty Cobb can match Hornsby’s run of six straight batting titles, between 1920 and 1925.

Throughout baseball history, other players have had remarkable five-year runs. Beginning in 1911, Cobb won five straight batting titles — .420, .409, .390, .368 and .369 — but couldn’t match up to Hornsby in some of the other categories. Babe Ruth won four home run titles, three RBI crowns and a batting title in his first five seasons with the Yankees, beginning in 1920.

Ted Williams hit .401 in  1941 and won American League Triple Crowns in 1942 and 1947 (the only player besides Hornsby to win two), but lost three years to World War II service. And more recently Barry Bonds had a remarkable run between 2000 and 2004, capped by a record 73 home runs in 2001.

But none can match the Rajah’s brilliant five-year run.

Just before Christmas in 1926, Hornsby was traded to the New York Giants for Frankie Frisch and Jimmy Ring. Following the 1927 season, the Giants shipped Hornsby to the Boston Braves for Shanty Hogan and Jimmy Welsh.

Hornsby played just one year in Boston. Despite winning his seventh and final batting title in 1928, Hornsby then was traded to the Cubs for Bruce Cunningham, Percy Jones, Lou Legett, Freddie Maguire, Socks Seibold and $200,000.

That deal paid off handsomely for the Cubs, as Hornsby earned his second MVP in leading the Cubs to the 1929 World Series.

Hornsby went on to manage the Cubs, St. Louis Browns and Cincinnati Reds, and was a coach for the original 1962 New York Mets. He passed away in 1963.


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