November 12th, 2013

November 12 – Happy Birthday Don Johnson

don_johnsonToday’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant did not accomplish much as a Yankee. After getting signed by New York as a 16-year-old pitching phee-nom out of Portland Oregon in 1944, this six foot three inch right-hander’s minor league career was interrupted by two years of military service just as WWII ended. When he returned from service he was still just 20 years-old and he was able to pitch his way onto New York’s 1947 Opening Day roster with a strong spring training performance.

Bucky Harris, the Yankee skipper back then, used Johnson in fifteen games that year including 8 starts. He finished his debut season with a 4-3 record and a 3.64 ERA. He also won a World Series ring that year though he did not appear in the Yankees seven-game victory over the Dodgers. After he got off to a slow start the next year, Johnson was included in a seven-player deal New York GM George Weiss made with the St. Louis Browns. Over the next eight seasons, Johnson became a journeyman, pitching for five different big league teams as well as spending quite a bit of time with the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League. He hung up his glove for good in 1960 and returned to his hometown, where among other things, he drove a Taxi for 25 years.

While researching Brown’s background for this post, I came across a one-hour video below, which shows an 86-year-old Johnson being interviewed in June of 2013, at his old grade school in Portland. It runs for about an hour and in it, Johnson either mis-remembers or exaggerates some of his accomplishments on the ball field. For example,he claims he once faced Bob Feller when he was on a 4-game winning streak and lost a 1-0 complete-game decision, but a review of his career performances turned up no such streak or decision. He also claimed he won 27 games for Toronto during the 1957 season but Baseball-Reference.com has him winning just 17 games that year. Despite these apparent exaggerations, I found the interview delightful to listen to and hopefully you will as well.

Johnson shares his birthday with this long-ago Yankee ace and this former Yankee speedster.

Here are Johnson’s Yankee and career pitching statistics.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1947 NYY 4 3 .571 3.64 15 8 4 2 0 0 54.1 57 26 22 2 23 16 1.472
1950 NYY 1 0 1.000 10.00 8 0 4 0 0 0 18.0 35 21 20 2 12 9 2.611
7 Yrs 27 38 .415 4.78 198 70 62 17 5 12 631.0 712 371 335 55 285 262 1.580
BAL (3 yrs) 7 11 .389 6.54 62 20 19 4 1 2 179.0 242 144 130 22 108 66 1.955
WSH (2 yrs) 7 16 .304 4.11 50 26 12 8 1 2 212.2 218 108 97 13 91 89 1.453
NYY (2 yrs) 5 3 .625 5.23 23 8 8 2 0 0 72.1 92 47 42 4 35 25 1.756
SFG (1 yr) 0 1 .000 6.26 17 0 6 0 0 1 23.0 31 19 16 2 8 14 1.696
CHW (1 yr) 8 7 .533 3.13 46 16 17 3 3 7 144.0 129 53 50 14 43 68 1.194
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/12/2013.