Jan 29, 2020

Davey Johnson: Part One- The Playing Years (1966-1978)

David Allen Johnson was born January 30, 1943 in Orlando, Florida. The six foot one, right hand hitting infielder went to high school in San Antonio Texas. He later attended John Hopkins University & then one year at Texas A & M. 

In 1962 he was signed by the Baltimore Orioles as amateur free agent. Johnson hit over .300 at AA Elmira getting promoted to AAA Rochester later that year.  In 1965 he played two innings of the Season Opener for the Orioles, but after just twenty games he was sent back down to AAA Rochester, where he once again batted over .300.

In 1966 the Orioles traded their second baseman Jerry Adair, to make room for the Davey Johnson era, as he would be the O’s regular second baseman for the next seven seasons.

He would win three straight Gold Gloves at second base (1969-1971), make four All Star teams, play in four World Series (1966/1969/1970/1971) while winning a pair of Worlds Championships in that time.

In 1966 he came in third in the Rookie of the Year voting, mostly for his solid defense.

1966 Post Season: That season the Orioles won the AL pennant & swept the L.A. Dodgers in the World Series. Johnson goes down in history as the last batter to ever get a hit off Sandy Koufax.

That year Koufax retired from the game, due to arm issues. Johnson had a pair of hits in each of the first two games of that World series, with an RBI in the 6-0 Game #2 win.

By the late sixties Johnson became a good hitter as well as a good glove man. He hit over 20 doubles eight straight years with three seasons of 30 or more. Starting in 1969 he would bat over .280 three straight seasons. In his career had five seasons with double figures in HRs & four seasons with 60 plus RBIs. These were good numbers for a second baseman in that era.

He was part of one of the best defensive infields ever assembled with those Orioles, with him at second, Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson (who won 16 straight Gold Gloves) at third, & Mark Belanger at shortstop. First base was anchored by slugger; Boog Powell. 

Johnson led the league once in fielding % (1972) & was among the top five, on five other occasions.

Trivia: In the 1969 World Series he managed just four hits off the strong Mets pitching, batting .063 going 1-16.

He is remembered as an opponent in Mets history in a very big moment. It was Johnson who made the final out of the 1969 World Series flying out to Cleon Jones in left field.

1970 Post Season: After being shocked by the Mets in 1969, the O’s were back in the World Series in 1970.

In the 1970 ALCS he hit two HRs in the three game sweep of the Minnesota Twins. Batting .364 in the with four RBIs, while posting a .364 on base %.

In the ’70 World Series vs. the Cincinnati Reds, he hit .313 with five walks, posting a .476 on base %. He had a big Game #5 with three hits, a walk and two RBIs. In the top of the 3rd, he singled off Wayne Granger as Baltimore scoring Merv Rettmund with a run making it 6-3. In the 8th he drove in the final run of the game & series with another single, this one off Clay Carrol scoring Frank Robinson. 

Johnson's best offensive numbers while in Baltimore came in 1971, when he hit .282 with 144 hits,18 HRs 26 doubles 72 RBIs & a .350 on base%.

1971 Post Season: In the 1971 ALCS against the Oakland A’s, Johnson hit .300, going 3-10 with two doubles, three walks & a .462 on base %. It was the last year the O’s would dominate, representing the AL in the World Series.

The A’s went on to the next three World Series, winning them all, beating Baltimore twice in those years in the ALCS. 

In the 1971 World Series Johnson batted just .148 as the Pirates beat the Orioles in seven games. Johnson had two hits & two RBIs in the Orioles Game #2 win at Memorial Stadium. He would make one more post season appearance with the 1977 Philadelphia Phillies, as a reserve player as the Phils lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS.

In 1972 he dropped off to a .221 average with just five HRs, and the Orioles organization wanted some changes. Davey was traded to the Atlanta Braves, along with pitcher Pat Dobson, as well as; Roric Harrison, and Johnny Oates for the 1971 Rookie of the Year, Earl Williams. 

The story goes that the Orioles had traded Johnson, because manager Earl Weaver, felt that he had lost too much range on the field by bulking up to hit for more power. Besides Baltimore had another future star; Bobby Grich waiting in the wings, ready to replace Johnson at second base.

Braves Career:  In Atlanta Johnson had an incredible first year, finding an unusual amount of power in his bat. In the 1973 season, he hit 43 HRs (second in the NL) with 25 doubles 99 RBIs (7th in the NL) & a .270 batting average. That season, he along with his Braves team mates; Hank Aaron & Darrel Evans, made history becoming the first trio of team mates to hit 40 or more HRs. 

That year Darrell Evans blasted 41 HRs & thirty nine year old Hank Aaron hit 40 HRs. The Braves home stadium back then was Fulton County Stadium, sometimes known as "the launching pad".

All in all the Braves finished fifth that year 76-84 under Hall of Famer & Milwaukee Braves legend Eddie Mathews. That same year Johnson broke Rogers Hornsby’s HR mark for a second baseman in a single season.

Defensively he led the NL in double plays turned, was second in assists & fourth in put outs. The year before (1972) he had the A.L.’s best fielding percentage but in 1973 he would lead all second baseman in errors. 

Trivia: Johnson's 1973 Topps card was a classic. It was a great 1973 landscaped view action shot that was air brush painted.

This was something Topps did often in those early 70's years. Johnson's uniform is cleverly painted blue to look like a Braves uniform, but the fact is when the cards came out, his trade was made but he had not played in a Brave uniform yet.

In 1974 he split time at second base (73 games) with Marty Perez.

He also played some first base (71 games) hitting .251 with only 15 HRs. Johnson was in the lineup, on that historic April 1974 night when Hank Aaron broke the all time HR mark with #715. Johnson went 1-3 with a walk that night. Four games into the 1975 season, the Braves released Johnson.

Japan career: He went on to play in Japan, with the Yomiuri Giants for the next two seasons. In Japan, he was a teammate of Sadaharu Oh, who also broke Babe Ruth , as well as Hank Aarons All Time HR mark on an international level. Johnson joined the storied Giants franchise after they had won a record nine straight Japan Series titles.

He was also the first foreigner to join the club & was selected by the teams Hall of Fame Manger; Shigeo Nagashima. Nagashima had been the clubs second baseman prior to Johnsons arrival. 

 He had a disappointing season in first year with Yomiuri, batting just .197 with 13 HRs, while missing a month with a broken bone in his shoulder. The fans & the media began to call him “no good” Johnson. The Giants finished a disappointing last & Johnson took much of the blame.

The next season (1976) he injured his thumb while sling into second base. Johnson demanded to see a specialist in the USA but his manager refused to let him go. Johnson went anyway, angering his manager & the fans by going against his wishes. When he returned he hit a game winning grand slam HR 7 blasted nine HRs in12 games. On the season he improved to a .275 batting average with 26 HRs, won a gold glove & made the Best Nine team.

Drama: More controversy came during the Japan Series when despite being told he would not have to participate in batting practice, was forced to do so by his coaching staff. He went hitless in the series (0-13).

After the season he was offered a 20% pay cut & was willing to accept if Manager Nagashima publicly apologized for lying to him. He refused & even Oh said the team didn’t need any greedy foreigners.

Back to the Majors: Johnson came back to the majors in 1977, signing with the Philadelphia Phillies. He would be used as a utility man and pinch hitter, where he went 9-for-26. Overall He hit .321 with 8 HRs in just 156 at-bats for the NL Eastern Champion Phillies.

In 1978 he tied an MLB record hitting two pinch grand slam HRs. On April 5th, he hit a pinch grand slam off the San Diego Padres; Bob Shirley, in a 11-4 Phillies win.

On June 3rd, he hit his grand slam off the L.A. Dodgers Terry Foster, leading his team to a 5-4 win. In early August, he was sent to the Chicago Cubs for Larry Anderson, it was there he ended his playing career.

In his 13-year career, Johnson was a four time All Star, he batted .261 with 1252 hits 136 HRs, 242 doubles ,18 triples, 33 stolen bases, 609 RBIs & a .340 on base % in 1435 games. 

Defensively he won three Gold Gloves (1969-1970) played 1198 games at second (81st all time) with 2837 put outs (68th all time) & double plays turned (75th all time).

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