Ernie Johnson Jr.

This article was written by Curt Smith

Ernie Johnson Jr. (ATLANTA BRAVES)In 1957 the Milwaukee Braves seized that city’s sole major-league baseball title, beating the New York Yankees in a memorable seven-game fall classic. It capped an odyssey begun when the National League franchise moved from Boston shortly before the 1953 season — the first big-league club to change sites since 1903.1 The Braves’ stunning success ensured that other clubs would one day pick up stakes and leave.

Through 1958, baseball’s smallest market yearly led its league in attendance, peaking at 2,215,404 in 1957. “Rush for tickets,” read Sports Illustrated, “rivaled only by [Broadway’s then-runaway hit] My Fair Lady.2 The team’s river of handclapping ran through the Upper Midwest — and beyond. “We’d go into Crosley Field — the Reds were crummy — and there’d be 30,000,” said 1950 and 1952-58 Braves starting and relief pitcher Ernie Johnson.3 For a few years — so brief they seem almost fictive — the Braves seemed baseball’s Brigadoon.

Raised in rural Vermont, Johnson had spent most of his youth throwing baseballs at a blanket hanging from a tree limb or swatting apples with a broom. Similarly, son Ernie Johnson Jr. spent his childhood in Milwaukee during the Braves 1950s bonanza “hitting and catching a plastic baseball,” John Hays wrote in the Atlanta Constitution 4 “By himself. Announcing every play to an imaginary audience.” Jr.’s sole regret was that “I could’ve been older so I could’ve gone to the [1957] World Series,” known he was there, “and watched my father pitch. That would have been great.”5 Sadly, he was one year old when Dad pitched brilliantly, the Braves edging the mighty Bombers.

Through 1959, Milwaukee won two pennants, barely missed two more, and became baseball’s capital. “Dad liked to self-deprecatingly joke about his career,” Jr. said, “but Ernie Johnson was a pretty darn good relief pitcher.”6 Senior was a 1957 regular-season 7-3, then had a 1.29 World Series ERA: “Dad’s [Series] line score … in the scrapbook my mom, Lois, put together — three games, seven innings, one run, two hits, one walk, eight K’s,” still recalled with pride.7 From Milwaukee to Atlanta, from Jr. “hang[ing] around the batting cage” as a boy to later hailing Dad by keeping next to his scorebook a 1954 plastic-encased baseball card that he had bought one day at a card store — one Johnson absorbed the other.8

Junior’s only memory of Sr. as a big-league player is of him walking out the door in 1960 spring training in Tucson, Arizona, and telling wife Lois, “I’ve gotta go get a Sporting News.” The son thought he said Sporty News.9 By then, Ernie Sr. had already been put on waivers by the Braves in late 1958, joined Baltimore, been released after the 1959 season, and signed by the Indians, only to brook arm trouble. Luckily, Jr. was old enough to see Sr. return to Milwaukee in 1960 and host a post-retirement TV show called Play Ball, “where I’d talk baseball and drink our sponsor, milk,”10 said Ernie Sr., to become Jr.’s role model: as a man and, ultimately, a Voice.

Then and looking back, the child of the late 1950s and early ’60s sensed the “world’s greatest childhood. I used to … have Hank Aaron ask me how my Little League team was doing,” Jr. said.11 As Sr. became WJMJ-TV analyst and postgame host, Jr. sat in the back of the booth watching him “do his job. And not just watching how he did his job, but how he interacted with” and regarded people. “He felt very blessed, very lucky to be doing this. And he always told me, ‘Ernie, this game’s not about me. It’s about the people on the field. Don’t ever let the game be about you.’” The same creed applied to “not yapping over pictures that are conveying the [park’s] electricity … I don’t have to say, ‘Boy, listen to this crowd.’ You’re listening to it.12

Increasingly, the main sound at Milwaukee County Stadium was foul balls banging off empty seats. By 1963, tepid clubs and absentee owners plunged attendance to 773,018.13 In 1964 the franchise disclosed it would move to Atlanta, a judicial fiat delaying the shift. In that strange interregnum of 1965 — the Braves still Wisconsin’s, but one foot out the door — Sr. aired “a tease for next year,” he said, “when the ballclub came south,”14 calling 17 TV and 53 radio games on Atlanta station WSB. A year later he, Milo Hamilton, and Larry Munson did each game on WSB’s 36-outlet radio network and 18 TV road games on its baseball-largest 19-affiliate TV arrangement in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina, and Tennessee.15

A decade later Johnson replaced Hamilton as lead Voice, invoking pops “that bring rain” and “give that one a blue star.”16 His new stage, WTBS Atlanta, became a superstation, bulging baseball’s and cable’s clientele, Ernie almost universally beloved. From the start his son wanted to be like the son of Swedish immigrants who served in World War II, and had already begun to sire for the Braves the same kind of oneness with the South that they had once forged in Wisconsin, and from whom he would learn lessons to meet challenges greater than any to be found on the field.

At 18, Dad had signed with NL Boston, then entered the Marines, his immediate future clear. At that age Ernie Jr. made the 1974 University of Georgia team as a freshman without a scholarship — but was cut by a new coach in fall 1975:17 Like untold players before and since, a fine fielder (here, infielder) but unable in any way to secure first base. “I walked on as a freshman,” he later joked, “but I was told to walk off as a sophomore.”18 Talking to Dad by phone, Jr. said, “Well, I’ve got to do something else with my life.”19 The English major promptly set upon being a teacher and a baseball coach until one day Braves announcer Skip Caray told Ernie Sr., “Your boy has a better voice than you and I put together.”20

Hoping that Skip was right, Johnson decided to follow his father into the big leagues of radio/TV, knowing that he would need a different kind of résumé. In 1977 the still-student joined campus radio station WAGQ-FM as news and sports director. Next year he graduated from Georgia with a BA in journalism, summa cum laude, to become a late-night TV news anchor at WMAZ-TV in Macon, Georgia. One evening proud Papa drove just close enough to viewing scrutiny to watch his newscast at a hotel. “I told them I needed a room for just a half-hour,” Sr. later said.21 It is possible that the hotel operator had heard that request before.

In 1981 the young man who was easy even then to like in an often callous field moved to Spartanburg, South Carolina, as WSPA-TV news reporter. Next, Jr. went where Dad had gone before — WSB, the Atlanta institution founded in 1922, call letters denoting “Welcome South, Brother,” the first radio station to broadcast in the South.22 Johnson joined it as general-assignment news reporter. In 1983 he aired news coverage of a Braves-Dodgers series. Seeing him, the news director urged Jr. to audition for weekend sports anchor/reporter. Junior did, staying till 1989. In 1984, nominated for a state Emmy award in sports reporting, he said he would like to win for his Dad and Mom “for all the support they’ve given me and the time they’ve spent talking to me.”23 He got the chance again.

For some time, Ernie Jr. himself had begun to fashion a distinctive niche as husband and future dad. In 1979, anchoring news in Macon, the 23-year-old spotted a drive-in teller at the bank where he took his checks. Able to behold Cheryl DeLuca only from the waist up, Jr., in his burgundy Chevrolet Monza, was still smitten, saying, “She says we met through seven inches of bulletproof glass.”24 Ernie and Cheryl married in 1981. The depth of Jr.’s love for his dad lit the wedding rehearsal — the elder Johnson’s first absence from a Braves game in his 15 years behind their mic. The rehearsal mug was engraved: My Best Man. My Best Friend.25 The younger man was would soon be OK on his own.

In 1989 Johnson Jr. left WSB for Sr.’s Turner Sports to host and call a slew of gigs, including play-by-play, a pregame, halftime, and noted post-twin-bill studio show, Inside the NBA, on TNT, pro basketball and the popular Fan Night on NBA-TV. Junior bolstered Turner’s and CBS’s joint NCAA postseason hoops, voiced PGA tour shot-by-shot coverage, co-hosted college football in studio — and also did TNT’s FIF World Cup, the Championships, Wimbledon, the NFL, and sports at the Goodwill Games and Olympics.26 Such success at an early age — Ernie’s 30s and early 40s — has caused others to lose their compass. By contrast, Johnson fixed the familial and familiar: first, building a family; and second, unexpectedly, working with his father. His core rested on faith, the kindly light that led — and example, absorbing Dad’s stability in a field where disorder is often the order of the day.

A licensed professional counselor, Cheryl gave birth to two biological children, son Eric and daughter Maggie, in the 1980s.27 By 1991, moved by the plight of Romanian orphans as Eastern Europe came undone in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse, she told her husband she felt compelled to travel there to try to act. While Johnson attended to his work, Cheryl, Eric, and Maggie traveled to Bucharest on an adoption trip “in search of a girl under a year in age with no permanent handicap.” She was introduced “instead to a three-year-old boy with special needs, including a clubfoot and inability to speak.”28

The boy “was the first child they brought out of the orphanage,” Ernie Jr. said. “It was obvious he … had a lot of developmental delays and he couldn’t walk. My wife’s a gem and called … and said, ‘I saw a child today, and he’s so much more than we can handle. But I can’t go through the rest of my life wondering whatever happened to that kid.’”29 Straightaway he told her to bring the boy, Michael, home to their house in Braselton, Georgia, just outside Atlanta — where a year later, he was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, confined to a wheelchair and artificial respirator then, but whose survival Johnson would call “a blessing”30 — a miracle of life.

“It’s not all seashells and balloons and everyone’s happy,” Cheryl said two decades later. “It’s not. You’re dealing with a lot of baggage that you’re trying to unpack.”31 Care was extensive, expensive. Daughter Maggie had become a special-education teacher. The Johnsons had adopted three more children: daughter Carmen, an infant girl from Paraguay, and, more recently, daughters Ashley and Allison, adopted domestically through foster care in Cleveland. “Most of us will be tested at some point by ailing children or aging parents,” Tim Sullivan wrote in the Courier-Journal. “Fewer of us seek out strenuous situations beyond our immediate family. Fewer still have gone as many extra miles as have Cheryl and Ernie Johnson.” To Jr., such goodwill was “rooted in our … Christian faith. We’re instructed to care for orphans and widows. … We’re getting a heck of a lot more out of it than they are” — caring for the ill and vulnerable, not seeking klieg lights or applause.32 Tested, he would continue to pass.    

Even as the Johnsons increasingly did good, “America’s Team,” as owner Ted Turner termed it, increasingly did well, forging popularity akin to the 1950s Braves — and a dynasty to exceed them. Senior often warmly recalled the club’s 1953 arrival in Milwaukee. “They had a huge downtown parade ending at the Schroeder Hotel, where they’d put up a huge Christmas tree, saying that since we’d missed Christmas let’s celebrate it now in April! — and we did!” Burghers gave players free beer and milk. Hundreds of presents circled the tree — “radios, appliances, shaving kits, gaga from day one.” Yearly the Braves got cars from dealers rent-free. “Warren] Spahn already had a car. So, fans gave him another — for his family.”33

Each year seemed to eclipse the next. Boston’s 1952 Braves played to 281,278. The second-place ’53ers drew a National League record 1,826,397. 1954: The Braves became the first NL club to draw 2 million. 1955: Milwaukee hosted the All-Star Game. 1956: It staged a manic pennant race with Brooklyn and Cincinnati, ending in second place, a game behind Brooklyn. Johnson relieved in 36 games, was 4-3, and had a 3.71 ERA. On August 7, Jr.’s date of birth, 26,049 at Milwaukee County Stadium saw the Braves beat the Cubs, 6-1, to remain in first place by 1½ games. “Who would have thought,” Ernie Sr. said, “that years later Ernie [Jr.] would join me on air in Atlanta” to retrieve the age’s magic?34

After the 1991 season, Senior retired as the Braves superstation presence. In the 1992 Series, Skip Caray asked him to call three innings on Braves radio. “Nothing like completing the résumé,” Johnson said then and later, wryly turning humor on himself.35 During the first half of the 1990s, with no Series title, the Braves sought to finally complete their postseason résumé. 1991: Trading worst for first, they took the NL West on the next to last day and the LCS in Game Seven — Atlanta’s first pennant. In 1992 Francisco Cabrera’s pinch-hit single capped a Game Seven rally to give the Braves an NL-winning LCS victory.36 Few will forget Jimmy Carter leaving his seat as Sid Bream scored the decisive run, then sprinting to clear the rail, dodge police, reach the plate, and hug skipper Bobby Cox, the players, and Cabrera like a teammate — memorable, indelible.37

1993: The Braves drew a franchise-best 3,884,720, then lost the LCS. 1995: Good things come to those. The club finally took a World Series, their first since 1957 — the first franchise south of the Mason-Dixon Line. The 1996 season became a postscript: The Braves closed Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. The Braves made the postseason every year from 1991 to 2005 — a player lockout canceled 1994’s — 14 straight times. They won their division a sublime 11 straight years from 1995 to 2005, and in 2013 becoming a region’s cult. “We rarely miss a game [watching] mostly on television,” President Carter wrote in 2004 of his family from Plains, Georgia, “and my general well-being is strangely affected by the latest performance of the Braves.”38

Paul Simon sang, “Mother and Child Reunion.”39 From 1993 to 1996, the South’s leading father-and-son reunion watched and described much of the Braves dynasty, Atlanta regional cable outlet SportsSouth (a.k.a. Sports Net South or FSN South) having sagely asked Jr. to work with a man, his father, who was a legend and who had already allegedly called it quits. The Atlanta Constitution’s Carroll Rogers was among those to whom the younger Ernie confessed that “no matter what happens in his broadcasting career, the highlight will always be the time he spent broadcasting Braves games with his father on Wednesday nights on SportsSouth in the 1990s” — something, he added, that Dad had long known.40

Until then, Chip Caray, Skip’s son, aired the middle three innings and Ernie Sr. the first and last three. Each Johnson followed roughly the same road, to their and viewers’ pleasure. Ernie’s lack of prior play-by-play experience didn’t trouble the junior partner: “If you can do rowing, you can do baseball because in rowing there’s not much to do when all you’ve got are eight guys sitting in a shell for seven minutes.”41 He felt able to convey baseball for having followed it, spun baseball cards, sensed the game since youth, known what A. Bartlett Giamatti caught in his lyric essay The Green Fields of the Mind.42 In 2010, when Ernie Jr. began TBS TV play-by-play, the New York Times’s Stuart Miller wrote incisively, “[He] may be best known as a basketball guy … but he has always held baseball closest to his heart.”43 Doing 1990s baseball with Sr. “rekindled that love in me,” Jr. said, “indescribable having him as my partner.”44

For four years, father and son announced a sport they loved with a person they cherished. Then, in 1999, Ernie Sr., 75, finally did his last game, his voice still falling lightly on the ear. Senior kept it casual, as always focusing on the Braves, ending with a farewell from the three-time Georgia Broadcaster of the Year, Emmy honoree, and future 2001 inductee into the Braves Hall of Fame. He then retired for good to his Crabapple, Georgia, farm, near Atlanta, where a US Marine Corps’ flag — “Next to family, there’s nothing I’m prouder of” — flew proudly from a pole in the front yard.45 Thereafter, Ernie Jr., a.k.a. “E.J” “Mr. Smooth,” and “Elevator Ernie,” “would picture him and my mom in front of their [TV] set” when doing a telecast.46 For a time when the Braves won a local telecast he used his signoff — “and on this winning night, so long everybody” — borrowed without Dad’s permission, said Ernie Jr., “but with,” Johnson added, “his blessing and my love.”47

Increasingly, the younger Johnson seemed to buoy, if not bless, any sport he did. In 2002 the TNTer was nominated for the first time for an Emmy for “Outstanding Sports Personality, Studio Host,” sharing the award with NBC and HBO’s Bob Costas. In 2006 Johnson took the award by himself. (In 2015, he won again, giving the award to the daughters of the late ESPN sportscaster Stuart Scott, who died that January.) Studio basketball and shot-by-shot golf largely defined him, Inside The NBA winning an additional two Emmys. Ernie Jr. called his NBA studio work a “free-for-all” and hosting the PGA Championship “caption writing.”48

When in February 2006 Johnson disclosed that he had cancer, he told TNT Inside the NBA co-hosts Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith that it was still all right for them to call him a nerd. Ray Glier of the Atlanta Constitution then rightly noted that the “nerd” was also a “traffic cop” who had “kept the show running smoothly,”49 balancing Smith’s insight and Charles Barkley’s otherworldly bluster. Cancer made Johnson miss TNT’s British Open and PGA Championships in 2006, the patient returning to Inside the NBA that year while chemotherapy treatment continued. In October it ended, putting cancer in remission, Johnson, 50, relying on “faith and family.”50    

Then, in 2007, TBS, citing “national ambitions,” traded its three-decade-long daily Braves identity for a national regular-season Sunday afternoon Game of the Week — actually, 13 games a year after NBA playoffs ended — plus postseason baseball. Suddenly, the network became a different country, like neutral Belgium. As part of the pact, Johnson also began airing 40 Braves games locally on sister channel Peachtree TV. “When I did games with Dad, and when I did them with Smoltzie [John Smoltz] on Peachtree TV [in 2010], we knew it was the Braves network, and we’d cater the broadcasts that way,” he said.51 National partners have included Smoltz, Ron Darling, Buck Martinez, and David Wells. Always present: Johnson’s 1954 baseball card of his Dad. Cost: $7.50, Jr. said.52 Value: Priceless.

Under TBS’s new big-league pact, Junior at first filled the same niche that he did on the network’s pro basketball coverage: studio host. In July, hoops season over, Johnson traded one born-in-America sport for another,53 kibitzing into October about a lifetime love. For a time Ernie worked with Cal Ripken, Jr, play-by-play reverting to Chip Caray, who became “an object of ridicule, fired after [the 2009 playoffs],” wrote the Dallas Morning News’s Barry Horn. In early 2010, Horn added: “Ladies and gentlemen, meet Ernie Johnson, a relatively soft-spoken broadcaster in a business of … decades of cable’s Turner Sports has made him the signature voice of TBS and TNT.”54 Jr. became head ball and striker,” leaping at the chance because “baseball has been in my blood for a long, long time.”55

In 2010 Ernie did play-by-play of all seven national Sunday sets and the postseason Division Series (here, Yankees-Twins). Many had seen Ernie gild other sports before the pinstriped DS sweep. Still, that did not ensure a sure transition to the high-wire world of prime-time hits, runs, and (broadcast) errors. It did suggest that he learned quickly — and like Dad, in a radio/TV world of cosmic egos, worked well with others. Reviews were boffo. Bayed the Denver Post: “Ernie Johnson Jr. makes slick transition to baseball.”56 Jr.’s “easygoing but animated play-by-play translated well,” said the Baltimore Sun’s David Zurawik, “never … forcing himself on the action. Instead … the game c[a]me to him at its own speed, especially in a playoff game.”57

His approach was intentional, said Ernie: “Less is always more in a playoff game.”58 On, say, a June afternoon, “well, you lay out [say nothing at the mic] and you can hear a popcorn vendor. But … in a playoff game, it lends itself to saying less.” It was also personal. “I’ve done this as a baseball fan all my life watching a game on TV, and I’m saying [to a Voice], ‘Hey, take a breath. You don’t need to talk all game. I don’t need to hear you.”59 If Johnson needed to draw a picture or explain stratagem, he never fantasized about getting paid by the word. Above all, he respected the game’s past and pace, inherited from Pop. According to writer John Hays, the largest baseball picture on the den wall at Ernie Sr.’s farm had showed a “small boy pulling on the pants leg of a large man.”60 Both were wearing baseball uniforms. “The man, a onetime major leaguer, is not showing a boy how to hold a bat or how to throw a curveball. Instead, he is simply close by, a companion whom the boy can reach for if he chooses.”61 It seemed a metaphor for each’s life.

As Shakespeare writes in Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 5, however: “When sorrows come, they come not single spies. But in battalions.”62 The first came soon after Ernie regularly adopted his Dad’s farewell, in 2010 using it on WPCH, Peachtree TV, with Joe Simpson and Smoltz, saying, “‘So for Joe and John, this is Ernie Johnson and on this winning night, so long everybody.’”63 On August 12, 2011, Senior died of congestive heart failure worsened at 87. Junior had just finished a broadcast at the PGA Championship when he learned of his father’s passing. He and Cheryl had sat by his bedside to read online passages posted by Braves fans, many of whom “consider Johnson Sr. the original voice of the Braves, even if he shirked that kind of adulation,” wrote the Constitution’s Carroll Rogers.64

His son loved reading them. “Some of these things just hit you so strongly. It was stories about having dad sign something for a six-year-old or just sneaking transistor radios into your shirt to listen to Braves games.” He read a passage shortly after his father’s death “that puts it so simply that that it just buckled my knees. It said, ‘When you heard Ernie Johnson do a game, it was like …’” Jr. paused, overcome with emotion, then “… summertime would never end.”65

“Life is a blink,” said the son. “It really is, it zips right past you” — perhaps Dad’s favorite verb. Inevitably, he would say a game was “zipping along,” no matter how slow or fast its rhythm.

“We treasure having him for 87 years or as old as we are. He had a great life. He impacted a lot of people and just taught us all a lot — not by preaching, but just by watching him on a daily basis,” how he acted with players, with “fans, how he took time for everybody.”

“My dad would always say, ‘Well, Ernie only had one problem with the game of baseball and that was the pitched ball,’” Johnson said, laughing. “I couldn’t hit a lick.”66

Ernie’s Everest will always be the symmetry of his airing Braves games with Dad on Wednesday nights on SportsSouth in the 1990s — just as Shakespeare would have appreciated the irony of the location of his first game after Dad’s death. By coincidence, Jr. was assigned to a September 11 Brewers-Phillies set in Milwaukee, place of his birth and youth. He “went to his neighborhood when his father worked for the Braves,” wrote USA Today’s Mike Lopresti. “He parked at his grammar school and jogged through the memories.”67

The next month Jr. would have aired the NLCS, also in Milwaukee, Ernie looking forward to the postseason. That day the phone rang. Wife Cheryl called from an Atlanta hospital, giving the phone to a doctor asking permission to put a tube down the throat of their 23-year-old special-needs son Michael, fighting to breathe with pneumonia and muscular dystrophy. It was, the doctor said, a matter of life and death. Johnson’s baseball season ended that night.

Instead of airing the postseason, Jr. adopted a routine. Arrive at the hospital by 2 P.M., relieve Cheryl, and stay till next morning in a seat next to Michael. “It’s very important for him when he wakes up in the middle of the night that he sees me or my wife or one of our kids,” Johnson said.68 He followed, like clockwork, day after day.

“Sometimes, it’s all you can do,” he said. “Those nights where you’re in the hospital and you’re sitting bedside. Michael really doesn’t really care about baseball. He’s not a big sports fan,” loving cars and asking people what they drive. He would fall asleep. Johnson would “sit there and watch the games and eventually get some sleep in those very comfortable folding chairs that always provide restful nights.”69 Occasionally, Michael would awake and whisper. Dad was there in the dark to respond. That,” he said, “is why you’re here.”

“Looking back, 2011 had “really been a trust-God year”70 — Ernie Jr.’s faith tested as it had not been since 2006, when, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma having been diagnosed in 2003, Ernie began chemotherapy treatment. As it continued, the Christian since 1997 worked regularly with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Samaritan’s Feet, a nonprofit organization dedicated to putting 10 million pairs of shoes on children’s feet in the next 10 years. One step after another seemed a sane way to live, as Jr. found a decade later. In 2018 he missed the NLCS because doctors forbade flying after finding blood clots in each leg. “They gave me blood thinners,” Ernie said, “and told me to stay grounded.”71 In 2019 Milwaukee declared May 17 “Ernie Johnson Jr. Day,” the well-grounded honoree revisiting the home in suburban Brookfield where the Johnsons had left in 1964.72

When the Braves won the 1957 Series, Ernie Sr. got a ring that Jr. now wears. In 1958, losing the Series, they “got National League champion cufflinks.” After Sr. died, Lois gave their son “these [links] for Christmas [2011],” said Ernie, wearing them each time he called a game, baseball or not.73 His Dad having aired more than four thousand Braves games, many on TBS as “America’s Team,” Ernie Jr. did the 2013 Braves-Dodgers Division Series, then the NLCS. For him, Turner Field meant meeting the points of his past. “I got here early just so I could go out to the Braves Hall of Fame. I heard his [recorded] voice on the train car out here.”74

“Braves games,” wrote Atlanta columnist Jeff Tucker, “have not been shown regularly on TBS since 2007,” when, as noted, “the Atlanta-based network ended the team’s three-decade run as national programming.”75 For many, finding the club on the network of their youth again meant a wistful trip back to a Braves old world. A Midwesterner tweeted: “I used to watch Braves games on TBS when I was a kid. Loved Dale Murphy and the old stadium cause the Royals were not on here.” Losing, 6-1, to LA, a Braviac wrote, “Well, at least it’s nice to see the #Braves back on Superstation WTBS, where they belong.”76

Ernie Johnson Sr., like TBS, was a tough act to follow, but the son has never minded being Ernie Jr. “I’d introduce him and some people would call him Ernie Sr.,” Johnson said. “I just say, ‘This is classic Ernie and I’m just Ernie.’” 77

Self-deprecatory and easy-listening, Senior loved a story that is evocative of the son. Prior to 1953 the Braves and Red Sox staged a preseason Boston City Series. In 1950 Ernie, a rookie, faced Red Sox legend Ted Williams.

Johnson began by curving the future Hall of Famer. “Great decision,” Ernie said. “In seconds it’s rolling to the Hotel Kenmore.” Braves manager Billy Southworth consoled the young pitcher: “Don’t worry,” he told Sr. “He’s hit them off better pitchers than you.”

In 1952 veteran Vern Bickford faced Ted at the Braves’ training camp in Bradenton. Bickford retired Williams his first at-bat. “Ted’s up this inning,” Vern told mates later. “Let’s see how far that donkey can hit one.”

“What are you gonna do?” said Johnson. “Lay it in there three-quarter speed and see what happens,” Vern said. Williams promptly hit the right-center-field light tower.

“We’re roaring as the inning ends,” said Ernie. Bickford comes back, shakes his head, and says, “Well, at least I got my answer.’”78

Each time Ernie Jr. does a game, a baseball viewer gets his answer. This Johnson calls the hardest sport to broadcast as well as did — his Dad.

Last revised: March 1, 2020



Grateful appreciation is made to reprint all play-by-play and color radio text courtesy of John Miley’s The Miley Collection. In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, most especially the Society for American Baseball Research, the author also consulted the and websites’ box scores, player, season, and team pages, batting, and pitching logs, and other relevant material. provided statistical information. In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also consulted:


Koppett, Leonard. Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball (Philadelphia: Temple University, 2015).

Smith, Curt. A Talk in the Park: Nine Decades of Baseball Tales from the Broadcast Booth. (Washington: Potomac Books, 2012).

__. Voices of The Game: The Acclaimed History of Baseball Radio and Television Broadcasting (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992).

Van Wieren, Pete, with Jack Wilkinson. Of Mikes and Men: A Lifetime of Braves Baseball (New York: Random House, 2010).

Whitaker, Lang. In the Time of Bobby Cox: The Atlanta Braves, Their Manager, My Couch, Two Decades, and Me. (New York: Scribner, 2011). 


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has been a primary source of information about Ernie Johnson Jr.’s career. The Kansas City Intelligencer, Miami Herald, The Sporting News, and USA Today also were extremely helpful. Other contemporary sources include Associated Press and Yahoo Sports.

 Social Media

YouTube has been a source of information about several recent events in Ernie Johnson Jr.’s life.


Ernie Johnson Jr. with author, May 2010

Ernie Johnson Sr. with author, May 1986 and August 2001.

Ronald Reagan with author, March 1980.        

Pete Van Wieren with author, March 2008.



1 Jason Reed/Fansided via Call to the Pen, “MLB History: Looking Back at MLB Teams That Relocated,”, June 30, 2017.

2 “Analysis of This Year’s Braves: Spectator’s Guide,” Sports Illustrated, April 15, 1957: 71.

3 Ernie Johnson Sr. interview with author, May 1986.

4 John Hays, “The Johnsons: Two of the Boys of Summer,” Atlanta Constitution, June 15, 1984: 31.

5 Hays, 31.

6 Ernie Johnson Jr. interview, with author, May 2010.

7 Johnson Jr. interview.

8 Johnson Jr. interview.

9 Hays, 31.      

10 Johnson Sr. interview with author, August 2001.

11 David Zurawik, “Ernie Johnson on Sportscasting: ‘Don’t Call It Work,’” Baltimore Sun, October 12, 2014.

12 Zurawik.


14 Johnson Sr. August 2001 interview.

15 “Log of Play-by-Play Broadcasts and Telecasts,” The Sporting News, April 16, 1966: 29.

16 Johnson Sr. May 1986 interview.

17 Hays, 38.

18 Stuart Miller, “30 Seconds With Ernie Johnson: From Hardwood to the Diamond,” New York Times, May 2, 2010: SP10.

19 Hays, 38.

20 Hays, 38.                                                                                              

21 Hays, 38.


23 Hays, 38.

24 Tim Sullivan, “TNT’s Ernie Johnson Mixes Talk, Action,” Louisville Courier-Journal, August 7, 2014: K3.

25 Hays, 38.

26 Premiere Speakers Bureau, Ernie Johnson bio.

27 Mike Lopresti, “TBS’ Ernie Johnson Spends October Bedside, Not in the South,” USA Updated October 10, 2011.

28 Sullivan.

29 Lopresti.

30 Lopresti.

31 Sullivan.

32 Sullivan.

33 Johnson Sr. May 1986 interview.

34 Johnson Sr. August 2001 interview.

35 Johnson Sr. August 2001 interview.

36 Baseball Almanac Francisco Cabrera stats.

37 Richard Justice, “These Are the Best 25 Postseason Hits,”, September 27, 2018.  

38 Jimmy Carter, Sharing Good Times (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004), 11.


40 Carroll Rogers, “A Lifetime of Admiration,” Atlanta Constitution, August 14, 2011: C3.

41 Prentis Rogers, “Johnson Father-Son Team Starts Braves Work Today,” Atlanta Constitution, March 6, 1993: 46.

42 A. Bartlett Giamatti, “The Green Fields of the Mind,” Yale Alumni Magazine.

43 Miller.

44 Miller.

45 Johnson Sr. August 2001 interview.

46 Miller.

47 Johnson Jr. May 2010 interview.    

48 Sullivan.

49 Ray Glier, ‘Traffic Cop’ Ernie Johnson Jr. Keeps the Show Running Smoothly at TNT,” Atlanta Constitution, February 11, 2007: T5.

50 Glier.

51 Tim Tucker, “Ernie Jr. Honors His Dad,” Atlanta Constitution, October 5, 2013: C8.

52 Johnson Jr. May 2010 interview.


54 Barry Horn, “TBS Baseball Voice Ernie Johnson Knows He Won’t Be Loved by Rangers Fans,” Dallas Morning News, October 15, 2010.

55 Horn.

56 Dusty Saunders, “Ernie Johnson Jr. Makes Slick Transition to Baseball,” Denver Post, October 11, 2010.

57 Zurawik.

58 Zurawik.

59 Zurawik.

60 Hays, 31.

61 Hays, 31.

62 Act 4, Scene 5, Hamlet.

63 Carroll Rogers, “A Lifetime of Admiration,” Atlanta Constitution, August 14, 2011: C3.

64 Carroll Rogers.

65 Carroll Rogers.

66 Carroll Rogers.

67 Lopresti.

68 Lopresti.

69 Lopresti.

70 Lopresti.



73 Tucker.

74 Tucker.

75 Tucker.

76 Tucker.

77 Carroll Rogers.

78 Johnson Sr. May 1986 interview.

Full Name

Ernest Thorwald Johnson


August 7, 1956 at Milwaukee, WI (US)

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