1952 Topps: Johnny Sain

Move over, Shohei. You’re not the only slugging pitcher in baseball. Johnny Sain, of “Spain and Sain and pray for rain” fame, finished second in batting average during the 1947 season while winning 21 games. He hit .346, better than Ted Williams’ 343. Sain’s performance wasn’t just a few fluke hits, either. He put up a 107 OPS+ to go with it, showing he was better than the average hitter among all players. He repeated the feat with a .353 average and 133 OPS+ in 1954. Sain was noted for his ability to make contact, striking out only 20 times over the course of his entire career. That’s about half the rate that Tony Gwynn struck out.

The New York-based Topps Gum Company was eager to show off the Yankees’ newest addition when the company released its massive 1952 baseball card set. Sain had been a late-season pickup for the Yankees and was instrumental in the team winning a third consecutive championship. Topps placed Sain in the first series checklist and made sure to picture him in a uniform reading “NEW YORK” in a typeface double the size of any other text appearing on the card.

Fun fact: Sain completed 140 of the 245 games he started in an 11-year career, including 9 CGs in a row inside of a single 4 week period.

Adding Sain to My ’52 Topps Set Build

I really like the colors on this card. The black border between the color background and white edges of the card provides a nice, almost comic-book style contrast. The angled, high-contrast yellow and red background is reminiscent of the dazzle camouflage employed by navy ships prior to late WW2.

The card can be found in two varieties, one with biographical text erroneously meant for Joe Page’s card and the other in the format shown below. This card is pretty much shot with rounded corners and a couple thumbtack holes, but it was a welcome addition to the collection from an obliging card show discount bin. I actually picked up both the Sain and Page cards (corrected versions) on the same day and am willing to hazard a guess that many collectors add both cards at the same time.