TCMA 1946 Play Ball Reprints Johnny Sain Did the Impossible

The Boston Braves had a rough go of it through the first 40 years or so of the 20th century.

Things got so bad in the 1930s, in fact, that they changed their name to the Bees.

That didn’t help much, as the Bees never finished higher than fifth in the National League from 1936-40, so it was back to being the Braves in 1941.

Casey Stengel’s charges continued to struggle, though, finishing 30 games under .500, and without a ton of hope.

Then, in 1942, two young arms debuted for the Braves — lefthander Warren Spahn and righty Johnny Sain. There was nothing really auspicious about their first year in Boston flannels, and Sain wasn’t really all that young at 24 (though Spahn was just 21).

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But at least Sain appeared in 40 games, with three starts — Spahn managed just four uninspiring (5.74 ERA) appearances.

And then, they were both gone, swept away by the war from 1943-45.

While Spahn and Sain were gone, the Braves kept being the Braves, never finishing above .500 and always in 6th in the NL.

When the two hurlers came back in 1946, they were veterans in more ways than one, and they were more than ready for the rigors of a Major League Baseball season. That summer, Sain went 20-6 with a 2.21 ERA and 24 complete games, enough to finish fifth in MVP balloting.

Spahn, meanwhile, moved into the fifth slot in the rotation and racked up an 8-5, 2.94 ERA line.

Mort Cooper, Ed Wright, and Bill Lee rounded out a solid starting staff that helped offset an offense that could muster just 44 home runs and 630 total runs, and the Braves finished fourth at 81-72.

Now, they still landed 15.5 games out of first place, but things were looking up!

Of course, Spahn would step squarely into the four-man in 1947, and the duo would head a 1948 team that nabbed Boston’s first pennant since 1914, aided by an improved offense that scored 739 runs.

Still, it was the Spahn and Sain show, as evidenced by the popular refrain coined by Boston Post sports editor Gerald Hern — “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain.”

By the time that team gelled, young fans could finally get their hands on some baseball cards of their favorites, too, with both hurlers appearing in the 1948 Bowman set and Spahn also making the cut for the 1948 Leaf issue.

But if you wanted a card to commemorate the duo’s triumphant return from war, you were out of luck — there were basically no cards to be had in 1946.

It took a few years — a few decades, actually, but TCMA decided to rectify that situation in 1984 … at least partially

By that time, of course, both Spahn and Sain had long since retired, and Spahn had cemented his legacy as a downright baseball legend, perhaps the greatest lefty in the modern era to that point. He had also been featured on numerous baseball cards over the years.

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Sain’s fortunes had been a bit less rosy, but he did win three World Series rings after he moved over to the Yankees, from 1951-53. And, though, he’s no Hall of Famer, Sain did finish his 11-year career with a fine 139-116 record and a 3.49 ERA.

That arc is fitting because, for many collectors, TCMA is sorta like Sain himself — familiar in one context but also successful in other areas.

For me, and I suspect many other collectors who were at our (first) hobby peak in the mid-to-late 1980s, TCMA was all about minor league cards — they were the place you went to find pre-rookies of all the superstars before there were things like draft picks cards and all the other rush-to-market tactics of today.

But TCMA also fired up the presses for several special issues, like all-time team sets and overarching all-time greats sets.

And, of course, there were these Play Ball “reprint” sets.

Also of course, there weren’t any *real* Play Ball sets in 1946, but the brand was popular with collectors at the end of the Great Depression and the beginning of World War II from 1939-41. The 1984 TCMA set draws on those old design elements and adds a splash of green to liven up the black-and-white theme on the 45-card checklist.

Most importantly, it gives us Sain — but, alas, not Spahn — his first year back, when he found his MLB footing, and it’s a combo that’s still inexpensive enough to fit in most collecting budgets today.


Wow! Wax of the Day

In the fall of 1948, as the Braves were marching toward the World Series, and after they were dispatched by the Cleveland Indians, Bowman was rolling out its 1948 football card set. Every so often these days, you can find some evidence of those long-ago hobby thrills, like this 1948 Bowman football wax wrapper:

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It’s an amazing artifact of a hopeful time, and a time when most kids still had no idea who Topps was.

Check out the full listing on eBay (affiliate link).

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