Thursday, October 27, 2011

#269 - Bob Johnson

Bob Johnson stands in Candlestick which is appropriate since he pitched what was probably the best game of his career against the Giants. That game was Game Three of the 1971 NL Championships in which Bob started at the last minute due to an injury to Nelson Briles. Bob would pitch five-hit ball with seven strikeouts in eight innings and only give up one unearned run to give Pittsburgh the series lead while beating Juan Marichal. There are a couple of Pirate players in the background on the regular shot. The low butt of the guy leaning on the wall leads me to believe it's Manny Sanguillen but I have no shot on the other guy. Bob looks pretty serious in this photo. And also old. He'd have been about 30 when it was taken but I could easily add ten years to that based on this shot. We'll get into a potential reason for that below. These two cards would be the final ones in Bob's career.

Bob Johnson came out of Illinois and pitched for two years at Bradley University there before being signed by the Mets in 1964. He went 10-9 that year in A ball splitting time between the rotation and the pen. In '65 he improved to 10-2 as a starter at Single and Double A. He spent the bulk of '66 at Double A before getting in some games at the next level. Bob threw some serious heat and he was averaging nearly a strikeout an inning at this point in his career. In '67 he was off to a great start back in Double A - 3-1 with a 1.02 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 53 innings - when he was in a motorcycle accident that nearly wrecked his left leg. After missing the rest of that season he also missed all of '68 for military duty. When he returned in '69 he again put up excellent numbers at Double A Memphis - 13-4 with a 1.48 ERA that took him through Triple A and into a couple games for the Series winners up top. After the season he was traded to the Royals with Amos Otis for Joe Foy.

The Royals were a pretty exciting young club that had a pretty good expansion season but in '70 they took a step back, losing 97 games. As a result, Johnson only went 8-13 despite an ERA of 3.07 and 206 strikeouts in 214 innings. It was an excellent rookie season, and he finished second to Bert Blyleven for TSN rookie pitcher of the year. Following the season he was traded to the Pirates with Jackie Hernandez for Fred Patek,Jerry May, and Bruce Dal Canton. For Pittsburgh in '71 he would get 27 starts but disappointed with a 9-10 record and only 101 strikeouts in 174 innings. After his show in the playoffs he would not pitch terribly well in the Series. But he got a ring and in '72 when moved to the pen as the long guy and spot starter he recorded a nice season, adding three saves to his four wins and 2.96 ERA. In '73 he continued his good work, adding four saves, although his ERA moved up a bit.

When Johnson went to Cleveland in this trade he was moved into the rotation and early in the season he was 3-4 with an ERA around 4.00. They weren't spectacular numbers but his behavior was significantly worse. Bob, who'd had a severe drinking problem since his trade to Pittsburgh, got into some ugly altercations with various people while saucing it up and he was placed on waivers by the Indians before the end of June. Texas claimed him and put him in Triple A where he posted pretty good numbers in the rotation (5-3 with a 3.24 ERA). But he injured his arm late in the season and was cut during '75 spring training. Over the next two years he would be signed and dropped by both the Yankees and the Royals as he went a combined 4-8 for them in Triple A. In '77 he signed with the Braves but threw poorly for them in a few games up top and was done. Bob finished with a 28-34 record with a 3.48 ERA, 18 complete games, two shutouts, and twelve saves. He went 1-1 in five post-season games with a 3.32 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 19 innings. He cleaned himself up in '75 and since '77 has owned a construction company in Oregon. He has also coached American Legion ball. He has a detailed bio by the SABR guys linked to here.

Bob's Traded card is yet another one in an unrecognizable place. He looks much happier here but not much younger.

These star bullets invite commentary. The first one is impressive because Bob led in those two categories despite only playing about half a season at that level. He is one of very few guys to get over 200 strikeouts in his rookie season. And the third bullet is just wrong - he was the starter in that game.

The Traded card back recycles some info from the regular card. The best part about this card is the name of the guy for whom Bob was traded. Burnel Flowers would have been a great name on a card or being rolled out by stadium announcers. For a little background, Burnel was a speedy outfielder from Alabama whose best season was probably his '74 for the Pirates in Triple A: .275 with seven homes, 40 RBIs, 70 runs, and 29 stolen bases. He never made it to the majors.

In 1973 a new song hit number one on both sides of the pond. Stateside "Midnight Train to Georgia" by Gladys Knight and the Pips took over from "Angie", a slight downtick but a pretty good song. But in the UK "Daydreamer" by David Cassidy of The Partridge Family finally displaced that "Eye Level" song. Cassidy was so huge in the UK that year that his songs were banned from the "Top of the Pops" show there after there was a riot at one of his shows. In '74 on the 26th "Then Came You" by Dionne Warwick and the Spinners took over in the States and "Everything I Own" by Ken Boothe in the UK. I used to think Dionne was a classy lady until she started doing cable ads for those clairvoyant phone lines a few years ago. But The Spinners were pretty cool. The Ken Boothe song is actually pretty good - it's a reggae version of the hit by Bread from '72. A day earlier in '74 the singer Nick Drake died of an overdose in England.

Nothing like a Hall of Famer to bring people together:

1. Johnson and Gaylord Perry '74 Indians;
2. Perry and Tom Grieve '75 to '77 Rangers.

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