February 23 – Happy Birthday Roy Johnson
Through the years, there have been several members of the Yankees’ all-time roster who have had brothers playing in the big leagues at the same time. The most current example would be Yankee catcher Austin Romine, who’s brother Andrew has thus far had three cup-of-coffee trials as a middle infielder for the Los Angeles Angels. The first ever New York Highlander team had a starting pitcher named Jesse Tannehill, who’s brother Lee was a starting third baseman for the White Sox.
Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant also had a brother in the big leagues when he became a Yankee in 1936. At the time, Roy Johnson was just coming off three straight seasons as the starting left fielder for the Boston Red Sox during which he averaged .313, .320 and .315. He had also driven in a career high 119 runs during the 1934 season. But when that RBI number fell to 66 the following year, Boston GM Eddie Collins took $75,000 of Tom Yawkey’s money and went out and got Doc Cramer from the A’s to play right field and traded Johnson to the Yankees.
Roy’s younger brother Bob was one of the best-hitting outfielders in the American League for most of the 1930′s. He had his best seasons for Connie Mack’s terrible Philadelphia A’s teams during that decade. Bob had much more power than his older sibling and put together seven straight 20 home run-100 RBI seasons. He also made seven AL All Star teams, an honor his brother never received.
The Yankee outfield picture Roy Johnson joined was one in transition. Babe Ruth had left New York two seasons earlier. The team’s 1935 starting left fielder, Jess Hill had been traded and the starting center fielder, the temperamental Ben Chapman would get dealt to the Senators three months into the 1936 regular season. It therefore looked like Johnson would have a pretty good shot at earning a starting berth with his new team until he got to spring training and ran into a rookie from the Pacific Coast League named Joe DiMaggio.
Johnson’s poor timing relegated him to the fourth outfielder’s spot on that ’36 Yankee team. He played in 63 games that year and hit .265, but he also got to appear in his one and only World Series (2 games and 1 hitless at-bat) and won a ring. He again made the team in spring training the following year but was placed on waivers by New York in early May and claimed by the Boston Braves. This part Cherokee Indian from Oklahoma retired with a .296 lifetime batting average. His younger brother would later leave the big leagues with the same exact lifetime average.
Here’s my all-time team of Yankees who had brothers playing in the big leagues while they wore the pinstripes:
1b Jason Giambi (brother of Jeremy)
2b Steve Sax (brother of Dave)
3b Clete Boyer (brother of Ken)
ss Jerry Hairston (brother of Scott)
of Joe DiMaggio (brother of Vince & Dom)
of Bob Meusel (brother of Irish)
of Matty Alou (brother of Felipe & Jesus)
c Bill Dickey (brother of George)
dh Carlos May (brother of Lee)
p Phil Niekro (brother of Joe)