Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant did not accomplish much as a Yankee. After getting signed by New York as a 16-year-old pitching phee-nom out of Portland Oregon in 1944, this six foot three inch right-hander’s minor league career was interrupted by two years of military service just as WWII ended. When he returned from service he was still just 20 years-old and he was able to pitch his way onto New York’s 1947 Opening Day roster with a strong spring training performance.
Bucky Harris, the Yankee skipper back then, used Johnson in fifteen games that year including 8 starts. He finished his debut season with a 4-3 record and a 3.64 ERA. He also won a World Series ring that year though he did not appear in the Yankees seven-game victory over the Dodgers. After he got off to a slow start the next year, Johnson was included in a seven-player deal New York GM George Weiss made with the St. Louis Browns. Over the next eight seasons, Johnson became a journeyman, pitching for five different big league teams as well as spending quite a bit of time with the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League. He hung up his glove for good in 1960 and returned to his hometown, where among other things, he drove a Taxi for 25 years.
While researching Brown’s background for this post, I came across a one-hour video below, which shows an 86-year-old Johnson being interviewed in June of 2013, at his old grade school in Portland. It runs for about an hour and in it, Johnson either mis-remembers or exaggerates some of his accomplishments on the ball field. For example,he claims he once faced Bob Feller when he was on a 4-game winning streak and lost a 1-0 complete-game decision, but a review of his career performances turned up no such streak or decision. He also claimed he won 27 games for Toronto during the 1957 season but Baseball-Reference.com has him winning just 17 games that year. Despite these apparent exaggerations, I found the interview delightful to listen to and hopefully you will as well.
Here are Johnson’s Yankee and career pitching statistics.
|BAL (3 yrs)||7||11||.389||6.54||62||20||19||4||1||2||179.0||242||144||130||22||108||66||1.955|
|WSH (2 yrs)||7||16||.304||4.11||50||26||12||8||1||2||212.2||218||108||97||13||91||89||1.453|
|NYY (2 yrs)||5||3||.625||5.23||23||8||8||2||0||0||72.1||92||47||42||4||35||25||1.756|
|SFG (1 yr)||0||1||.000||6.26||17||0||6||0||0||1||23.0||31||19||16||2||8||14||1.696|
|CHW (1 yr)||8||7||.533||3.13||46||16||17||3||3||7||144.0||129||53||50||14||43||68||1.194|
The best year I ever saw any Yankee team have was the 1998 squad. With Tino Martinez, Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter and Scott Brosius leading the offense and David Cone, David Wells, Andy Pettitte and Mo Rivera the pitching corps, Joe Torre’s team won an incredible 114 regular season games and then put together an 11-2 postseason which included a four-game sweep of the shell shocked Padres in the World Series. That team had everything including a bullpen filled with specialists of every kind and a bench packed with guys who knew their roles and filled them brilliantly. One of the subs was the super-quick Homer Bush. He was used as a pinch runner, pinch hitter and once in a great while, a spare infielder. His job was to get on first base, disrupt the opposing pitcher’s rhythm and score runs. In just 78 plate appearances that season, Bush had 27 hits and walked five times for an on-base-percentage of .420. He also scored 17 runs for the Bomber’s high powered offense. The following February, New York traded Bush along with Wells and reliever Graeme Lloyd to the Blue Jays for Roger Clemens. Given a chance to play regularly, Homer hit .320 for Toronto in 1999 and stole 32 bases. That performance got him a three-year $7.5 million contract from the Jays following the season. Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there for the native of East St Louis, IL. Bush hurt his hip and was never again an everyday player and in 2002 he was released by both the Jays and the Marlins. He tried a comeback unsuccessfully with the Yankees in 2004.
|TOR (4 yrs)||305||1222||1131||148||320||47||5||10||102||56||49||204||.283||.321||.360||.681|
|NYY (3 yrs)||64||97||89||21||31||3||0||1||8||7||5||21||.348||.389||.416||.805|
|FLA (1 yr)||40||58||54||7||12||0||0||0||5||2||3||13||.222||.263||.222||.485|
Five months before the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees, they made a trade with Boston during the 1919 regular season for this right-handed starting pitcher. Mays went 9-3 for New York that year and then won 26 games for the 1920 Yankees, during Ruth’s first season in New York. He was also directly involved in one of baseball’s greatest tragedies in August of that same season. It was Mays who threw the pitch that hit and killed Indian shortstop, Roy Chapman.
At the time, Mays had become one of the least liked players in baseball history. There were good reasons why. In the minors, this native of Liberty, KY had converted his conventional pitching delivery to an extreme sidearm, almost underhand delivery. It was unorthodox to say the least which is why Mays was successful with it. One of the keys to becoming a good big league hitter is being able to pick up the ball while it is still in the pitchers hand. This is much easier to do when the guy on the mound throws overhand because at one point the ball is held high over his head, making it much easier to see. Instead of throwing from over his head, May’s pitches came hurling at opposing hitters from his shoe-tops. Back when he pitched, there were no lights in Major League stadiums and pitchers were permitted to rub up the baseball so vigorously that its whiteness was transformed into a hard-to-see rainbow of earth-tone colors. Everyone also smoked back then so there was a very visible, smog-like haze present in the air of every big league game caused by tens of thousands of fans exhaling their cigarette and cigar byproducts. Then there were the shadows, resulting from the fact that with no lights, every Major League game began in the early afternoon when the sun was high but ended in the shadows caused as it made its daily descent behind the tops of stadium walls, toward the western horizon.
This all explains why opposing hitters had a real difficult time seeing Mays’ pitches. Now add to that the fact that Mays was one mean and crazy dude. He had a ferocious temper and hated to lose. He fought just as much with his own teammates as he did with opposing players. His own Yankee Manager, Miller Huggins once said that if he came across Mays lying down in a gutter, he’d kick the guy! To top it all off, the guy was a self-avowed headhunter. He admitted throwing his already hard-to-see submarine fastball up and in under the chins of hitters as a way of intimidating them. That’s why so many players and sports pundits refused to believe Mays when he claimed the the pitch that killed Chapman was an accident.
Mays helped New York capture its first AL pennant the following season with a 27-9 regular season performance. He then lost two of three decisions in that year’s World Series defeat to the New York Giants and slumped to 12-14 the following year. Mays had pitched over 646 innings of baseball during his two twenty-win seasons in New York and the stress on his left arm must have been horrific. He was able to pitch just 81 innings for the Yankees in 1923 and was sold to Cincinnati. He rebounded with the Reds, winning 20 games in 1924. But his pitching arm was never again the same. He retired after the 1929 season with a 207-126 lifetime record.
|BOS (5 yrs)||72||51||.585||2.21||173||112||47||87||14||12||1105.0||918||365||271||8||290||399||1.093|
|CIN (5 yrs)||49||34||.590||3.26||116||80||25||52||6||4||703.1||740||303||255||10||134||158||1.243|
|NYY (5 yrs)||80||39||.672||3.25||164||124||33||91||9||11||1090.0||1114||476||394||47||279||273||1.278|
|NYG (1 yr)||7||2||.778||4.32||37||8||19||1||0||4||123.0||140||67||59||8||31||32||1.390|