Monday, April 25, 2011

#147 - Bart Johnson

Bart Johnson had a big kick. Not as big as Juan Marichal's but Bart was 6'5" so even half way up was plenty big. Here he gets it going in Oakland. '73 saw Bart return to the bigs via a journey that took him to another league (Single A), another position (outfielder), and nearly another sport (basketball). But Bart was a guy who appreciated challenges and he would sure get plenty of those.

Bart Johnson is another Cali kid who was a local hoops star and played some baseball. He went to BYU and scored 28 points a game for its freshman team. He was then a first rounder by the White Sox in the June '68 draft and played some Single A ball the rest of the season, going 3-5 with a very good ERA. He remained at that level in '69 and went 16-4 with a 2.15 ERA and got a late call-up to Chicago where he put up pretty good numbers in the rotation but only went 1-3. He would then have a super IL season and also play that winter in Venezuela. Bart would split the '70 season between Double A, Triple A, and Chicago, representative of the turmoil playing for a horrible team. He went 7-4/2.40 at the lower levels and then spent all of '71 with the Sox. He began the season in the rotation. Not afraid to throw at guys, Bart got into it with Mike Epstein after he plunked him (Epstein basically kicked his butt) and Don Buford came after him with a bat after Bart threw one behind Buford's head. Later in the season Bart moved to the bullpen to open a spot in the rotation for Wilbur Wood. He would put up 14 saves in half a season of pen work. So things were looking good for Mr. Johnson. But then came a big one of those challenges.

Before the '72 season Johnson hurt his knee playing hoops. Scheduled to be the closer, he had a couple horrible early appearances and was then sent all the way down to Single A for rehab. While there he also gave playing in the field a shot and actually played more in the outfield than as a pitcher. On the hill he threw super well in very limited appearances. But he felt the Sox were being unresponsive to his needs and following the season he tried out for the Seattle Supersonics. Bart worked out a conditional deal with Seattle but was then able to iron things out with the Sox, though, and in '73 he was back in spring training. He assumed a spot in the bullpen as long reliever and grabbed some spot starts. But the knee was still bugging him and he only got in 22 games. He started the '74 season in Triple A where his numbers weren't too hot - 3-2 but with a 5.33 ERA. But he came back up in July and had probably the best run of his career as he went 10-4 in the rotation with a 2.74 ERA. Hopes were high for '75 but in a spring training game he slipped on the field and destroyed his back, missing the entire season. He came back in '76 and went 9-16 with a 4.73 ERA as a starter and in '77 went 4-5 with two saves and a 4.01 ERA as the long guy. Old problems continued to nag him and in '78 and '79 he pitched in Triple A with not a lot of success. After playing in Mexico in '79 he hung them up. Bart finished with a record of 43-51, 22 complete games, six shutouts, 17 saves, and a 3.94 ERA. He was a pretty good hitter despite having a big strike zone, posting a .215 lifetime average. In the minors he was 31-21/ 2.97 and hit at a .288 clip.

Johnson kept close to the Sox after he played and from '80 to '97 worked as a scout for the team. He also scouted for the Rays from '97 to 2007. There is a pretty in depth interview with him here.

That's a pretty tough first name so I see why he preferred Bart. Another guy on that high school team was Fred Kendall, the Padres catcher. The last bullet showcases Bart's offensive work during his Single A rehab. He also hit .277 in Double A that year.

Back to the AL for a card. No big deal:

1. Johnson and Brian Downing '73 to '77 White Sox;
2, Downing and Ron Fairly '78 Angels.

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