May 21st, 2013
This right-hander was just 19 years old when he made his big league debut for Miller Huggins’ Yankees in April of 1925. The legendary New York skipper was impressed enough with the youngster’s stuff that he got him into 24 ballgames that season, mostly as a reliever. But the native of Bradenton, Florida wasn’t quite ready for prime time and he spent the next two years back in the minors.
Huggins brought Johnson back up to begin the 1928 season and inserted him into a Yankee starting rotation that included two Hall of Famers in Waite Hoyt and Herb Pennock, plus 20-game winner George Pipgras. The kid was able to hold his own with that impressive group, finishing the year with a very good 14-9 record. That mark was no doubt boosted by the powerful 1928 Yankee lineup because Johnson’s 4.30 ERA and his league-leading 104 walks that season indicated he did not dominate opposing lineups. He then sat in the Yankee dugout watching his teammates sweep the Cardinals in the ’28 World Series. In fact, New York used just three pitchers during that entire Fall Classic as Hoyt won two complete game starts and Pipgras and Tom Zachary each got one.
He went just 3-3 in 1929 and then bounced back with a 14-11 record in 1930 and a 13-8 mark in ’31. But his control problems continued as he walked over 100 hitters in each of those seasons. Meanwhile, Huggins had tragically died from an eye infection in 1929 and after his successor, Bob Shawkey led New York to a third place finish in 1930, Joe McCarthy had taken over the team. He had stuck with Johnson in his rotation through the 1931 season but he was impressed by a 27-year-old rookie named Johnny Allen during the Yanks’ 1932 spring training camp. When Johnson got off to just a so-so start that year Marse Joe had seen enough. He was traded to the Red Sox on June 5, 1932 and Johnny Allen went on to win 17 games for New York in his rookie season. When Hank Johnson left the Bronx, his career ERA for New York of 4.79 was the highest of any Yankee pitcher with more than 500 innings pitched. It still is today.
Johnson spent the next three years starting and relieving for the Red Sox and continuing to walk too many hitters and allow too many runs. After a horrible three game tenure with the A’s he went back down to the minors to try and find the strike zone. He never did.
When Johnson was a kid, he used to pick oranges out of the groves near his home and try to throw them across Florida’s Braden River. He always credited that activity with giving him the arm strength necessary to pitch in the big leagues.
|NYY (7 yrs)||47||36||.566||4.84||157||76||51||31||3||7||712.2||702||439||383||56||403||407||1.551|
|BOS (3 yrs)||16||15||.516||4.72||69||37||15||14||1||3||310.2||359||200||163||28||141||145||1.609|
|PHA (1 yr)||0||2||.000||7.71||3||3||0||0||0||0||11.2||16||16||10||4||10||6||2.229|
|CIN (1 yr)||0||3||.000||2.01||20||0||15||0||0||1||31.1||30||10||7||1||13||10||1.372|