Minor league baseball players often work in the offseason to supplement their income. Only a few have made a second career in another sport. Longtime major-college football referee and major-league scout Shaky Kain was one of those.
Kain pitched and managed in the minor leagues before starting a long scouting career while also serving as a college football referee in the Southeastern Conference. As a pitcher he won 16 games in a season four times and had 103 career victories but never reached the majors.
He managed in six minor-league seasons, winning three championships and making the playoffs every year. Perhaps if he had found this success in a different organization instead of in the strong New York Yankees farm system he would have had an opportunity to work his way up to manage in the major leagues.
Thomas Gerald Kain was born on July 7, 1907, in Nashville, Tennessee, one of nine children of John Lawrence and Mary Catherine “Mollie” (McCormack) Kain. His siblings were Edmund, Ethel, Merlin (Mike), John Jr., James, Nellie, Mary, and Margaret.
Shaky – the origin of his nickname is lost to history – attended Hume-Fogg High School in Nashville. In August 1923 he pitched for an Albany, Georgia, baseball club against an Americus club led by Shoeless Joe Jackson. He got the win in the 5-1 victory. Jackson went 2-for-4.
Kain played football and baseball at the University of Georgia, beginning with the 1924 football season. He began as a fullback and switched to halfback for the 1926 season. He also played baseball during the 1925-27 seasons. He was the alternate baseball captain in 1927. In the summer of 1926 he played for a semipro baseball team in Tate, Georgia, made up mainly of University of Georgia players.
In the 1926 collegiate season Kain was a starting pitcher in the regular rotation. Existing records show he had wins over Vanderbilt, Auburn, Georgia Tech, and Notre Dame.
The 1927 season showed Kain credited with wins against Ohio State, Kentucky, and Georgia Tech. A sports columnist in the Atlanta Constitution on May 1, 1927, wrote of Kain’s game against Georgia Tech: “The lad was possessed. He had everything and pitched like a veteran. … Kain is Class A caliber right now if his hurling Saturday afternoon is any sample of his progress.”
The sportswriter was correct; Kain began his career as a minor-league pitcher with Albany (Georgia) of the Southeastern league that summer, going 6-8 on the mound.
In 1929 Kain pitched for Southwest LaGrange in the Chattahoochee Valley League before signing with Buffalo of the International league. He pitched in one game for Buffalo that season and in two games the next season. In 1931 Shaky’s contract was purchased by St. Joseph of the Class A Western League, where he put together one of his best seasons, a 16-8 won-loss record with a 3.78 earned-run average.
In 1932 Kain married Mary Ruth Woolard, with whom he raised two sons, Larry and Thomas Jr. That same year he went 13-13 for St. Joseph. The next season he began with Tulsa before being released, then was picked up by Durham of the Piedmont League, an affiliate of the New York Yankees, for whom he posted an 11-5 record. In 1934 Kain pitched for two other Yankees affiliates, Binghamton in the New York/Penn League and Norfolk of the Piedmont League, for the season compiling 16 wins.
In his closest approach to the major leagues, Kain pitched for the Yankees’ Newark farm team in an exhibition games against the parent club in March 1935 and gave up home runs to Lou Gehrig and Red Rolfe. He ended up returning that season to Binghamton before moving on to pitch in Norfolk. Shaky had another 16-win season in 1936 with Binghamton and Williamsport (a Philadelphia Athletics affiliate) and repeated that feat in 1937, again in Williamsport.
In 1938 Kain returned to Williamsport, where he struggled and then moved on to Charleston. In 1939 Shaky became the player/manager for the Butler Yankees in the Class D Pennsylvania State Association, leading them to the regular season title before losing in the playoffs. The following two seasons he led the club to the league championship.
In 1942 Kain managed Amsterdam of the Canadian-American league to the regular-season pennant before losing in the championship round of the playoffs. Returning to Norfolk for the 1943 season (he had played there in 1934), Shaky again won a championship. Among his players there were Yogi Berra and Garland Braxton. Perhaps not adapting well in his first professional season, Berra staged a “strike,” saying he was too hungry to play. Kain fished out a couple of bucks and gave them to Berra. Yogi rushed out, gulped down three or four hamburgers and a couple of sodas, burped a couple of times and was ready to play. [The Sporting News, August 7, 1971, p.20]
Berra told how Kain settled him down when he became frustrated, giving him advice on how to handle the comments coming from the fans in the stands. “Some fans were giving me nasty comments, and I was real frustrated,” Berra related. “After I slammed the bat in the dugout, my manager, Shaky Kain, took me off the corner for a talk. He said, ‘Look, this is going to happen. More to you than to others. And in language worse than you’ve been hearing. You gotta learn not to get mad. They’re the characters who pay your salary. Let ’em holler all they want. Figure they’re entitled. If you ever show them, or anyone, that they’re getting to you, you’re dead. Ignore. That’s what you gotta do, ignore.’ It was a hell of a speech and I’ve always followed that advice. [When You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take it: Inspiration and Wisdom from one of Baseball’s Greatest Heroes, by Yogi Berra and Dave Kaplan. New York: Hyperion Books, 2001, p. 113]
Kain left baseball, as many others did, to accept a wartime job with the Vultee Aircraft Corporation of Nashville. He spent two years there before returning to managing, taking the 1946 Norfolk club to the playoffs.
Shaky had scouted some while also serving as a minor-league manager but he began his full-time scouting career with the Yankees, working for the team in 1947 and 1948. He moved over to scout with the Pirates from 1949 through 1951, then on to the Phillies from 1956 through 1959 and the Cubs in 1960 through 1968. He mainly scouted the Southeast for those clubs. At this time it is unknown if he worked in baseball from 1952 through 1955. He signed major leaguers Ron Campbell, Jimmy Stewart (a longtime scout himself), and Don Kessinger.
In the offseason Shaky was a college football referee, officiating for 28 years in the Southeastern Conference. He was considered the South’s top referee of his time, as evidenced by his being selected to be the referee for the Senior Bowl for 14 straight seasons and also officiating in the Sugar Bowl and the Orange Bowl. He served for a time as the commissioner of the Middle Tennessee Officials Association. In the late 1940s he was the president of the Southeastern Conference Football Officials Association
In 1957 and 1958 Shaky was the president of the Nashville Old Timers Baseball Association and was a member of the group for many years.
Kain was inducted in 1986 into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. The Kain family connection with professional baseball continued as his grandson Chip served as a broadcaster for the Tennessee Smokies of the Southern league.
Shaky helped longtime scout Lenny Yochim enter the scouting profession. Yochim recalled, “Shaky had scouted the Southern Association, in which I had spent much time. We had talked over the years and he had asked about some players, so I guess he appreciated my opinions on players. After I retired we would meet when he came to town and in the conversations he had asked me if I would keep him advised of the high- school and college players who I thought had a chance. No money involved. Then along came Buster Mills [the 1930s outfielder who later was a coach and scout], and he wanted the same service. I agreed for a small stipend that season and it grew from there into a full-time job. In my opinion Shaky Kain was a fine person, great personality and true to his word. He was a credit to baseball.”
Shaky lived out his retirement years in Brentwood, Tennessee, near Nashville. He died on June 24, 1971, in Baptist Hospital in Nashville. He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Nashville.
Dallas Morning News
Nashville Banner obituary, June 25, 1971, p. 38
New York Times
SABR Scouts committee Who Signed Who database
Tennessee Death Certificate
The Sporting News obituary, June 24, 1971
The Sporting News
University of Georgia website