It is the stuff of dreams. Coming to bat with the bases loaded, representing the lead run. Stan Johnson, in just his ninth major-league at-bat, was in that position. Little did he know that it would be his last major-league at-bat. Perhaps had he not hit into a rally-killing double play, he would have had more opportunities. We will never know.
In his very first season as a professional, he had a similar opportunity while playing for the Davenport White Sox of the Three-I league. On July 15, 1957, against Keokuk, Johnson came up in the sixth inning with the bases loaded and his team clinging to a 3-1 lead. He “picked out a fast pitch delivered by (Harold) Dodeward, and when the ball finished traveling, it was somewhere in the Mississippi River.”1 Davenport won the game, 7-3.
Stanley Lucius Johnson was born on February 12, 1937, in Dallas, Texas. He was the second child of Lucius and Versey Johnson. His sister, Barbara, had been born a year earlier. At the time of the 1940 census, Lucius Johnson worked as a waiter in an athletic club. The family lived in the Dallas home of William M. Lyton, Versey Johnson’s father and a church pastor. Ten family members and two lodgers lived in the home.
The family moved to San Francisco when Stan was young, and he first attended the High School of Commerce, where he was named to the second-team All-City squad in his sophomore year. Commerce was closed after his sophomore year and he transferred to Galileo High School. He played American Legion ball in 1952 for the A.H. Wahl Post.
Before the 1953 high-school baseball season, Johnson, while a junior at Galileo High School, worked out with the San Francisco Seals. This was in violation of California Interscholastic Federation rules and Johnson and four other players received suspensions. No sooner had the suspensions been announced than the city’s superintendent of schools, Herbert C. Clish, pursued an investigation as to whether the boys involved had received appropriate notification that they were in violation of a rule.2 After a week’s investigation, the clash was resolved, and Johnson was reinstated. In his first appearance of the season, on April 17, he pitched his team to a 7-5 win and had three hits.
In the summer of 1953, Johnson played American Legion ball for Galileo Post 236. He was selected to play for the San Francisco team in the annual Examiner game. The game was a 12-inning, 12-12 tie. Of those who played that day, five players, including Johnson, made it to the major leagues. The others were Gene “Lefty” Hayden, Jim Small, Joe Gaines, and Earl Robinson.
In 1954 Johnson, a pitcher-outfielder, batted .407 and was named to the All-City team. He was selected to play in the annual Lions Club East-West game at Seals Stadium. He was also selected, for the second year, to play in the Examinergame. Playing left field, he went 1-for-5 with an RBI as his City team lost to the Northern California team, 5-4.
In the fall of 1954, Johnson entered City College of San Francisco. After the 1955 season he was the only unanimous choice for the All-Conference team in the Big Eight Junior College Baseball Conference.3 He transferred to the University of San Francisco in the fall of 1955 and was at the school at the same time as basketball players Bill Russell and K.C. Jones were completing their college careers. Although Johnson played with the USF baseball team in a couple of exhibitions in 1956, he did not play in any regular-season games.
During the summer of 1956, Johnson batted .392 playing for the semipro Klamath Falls (Oregon) Lakers of the Northwest League, a league made up of collegiate players. Klamath Falls, managed by former big-leaguer Dino Restelli, went 30-5 and on August 25 Johnson went 6-for-6 with a triple and a homer. In the seven-run first inning of a 16-8 win, he singled and tripled. The next day, in the season finale, he went a more pedestrian 3-for-5 with a triple.4 The first-inning triple led to his team’s first run in a 7-0 win.5 The performances did not go unnoticed.
Johnson was signed by Chicago White Sox scout Dario Lodigiani on February 2, 1957. He signed for a bonus of $4,000, the maximum amount to avoid being subject to the Bonus-Baby Rule, which would have had him sit on the White Sox bench for two years. He was thus allowed time to develop in the minor leagues.6 Johnson’s numbers in the minors were formidable. He broke in with Davenport, Iowa, in the Three-I League in 1957. His hope for a hit in his first game was thwarted by a great play by Cedar Rapids right fielder Bob Norris. The first hit came in the fifth inning the next day, but when Johnson was thrown out trying to steal, a skirmish developed at second base and he was ejected.
After a slow start, Johnson’s bat caught fire on May 6 and 7. In two games he went 7-for-9 with seven RBIs and his first two extra-base hits of the season, a triple in a 4-3 win over Cedar Rapids on May 6 and a two-run homer in an 18-9 drubbing of Keokuk on May 7. He put together a nine-game hitting streak in June and batted safely in 13 of 14 games at one point.
For the season, Johnson batted .282 with 8 homers and 69 RBIs. He finished fifth in the league with 138 hits and tied for sixth with 22 stolen bases.
In 1958 Johnson batted .364 with 58 extra-base hits and 110 RBIs at Colorado Springs in the Class-A Western League. His average was the third best in the league, and he led his team with 35 doubles, 11 triples, and 15 stolen bases. George Redden in the August 9 Chicago Defender said, “Stan Johnson, the Skysox’s fleet outfielder, is currently atop of the heap in the batting department as he has an average well above the .300 mark.”7 Colorado Springs was the class of the Western League that season, winning the pennant by three games and placing its entire outfield, including Johnson, on the league’s All-Star team.
In 1959 Johnson was promoted to the Indianapolis Indians of the Triple-A American Association and began the season with 11 hits in his first 23 at-bats.8 On May 8 and 9, his bat keyed wins over St. Paul that brought his team’s first-place record to 19-7. His seventh-inning grand slam off St. Paul’s Bob Darnell highlighted a 6-1 win on May 8, and his seventh-inning homer the next night provided insurance in a 7-4 win. The Indians, after 35 games, were 26-9 and held a four-game lead over Minneapolis. However, Indianapolis, after its great start, lost momentum, slumped seriously, losing six of seven games after the American Association All-Star Game in mid-July, and slipped to third place.
Johnson’s average was standing at .286 after a superlative performance on June 19. In his team’s 5-3 win over Charleston, he had driven in a run with a double, homered, and made a game-saving catch in the seventh inning, leaping to corral a high liner with two runners on base. However, he pulled a leg muscle while making the catch and his availability was limited for much of the next month. He missed 13 games and pinch-hit in 11 others.
Nine consecutive losses at the beginning of August, the last seven by one run, dropped Indianapolis to fourth place. The Indians finished the season in third place in the league’s Eastern Division and missed the playoffs. For the season, Johnson batted .281 and drove in 61 runs. He led his team with 16 stolen bases, only five of which came after his injury in June.
“A ballplayer who feels the juices running strongly in his veins once the bell rings.”9
In 1960, Johnson was with the San Diego Padres of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. On Opening Day, his team played a day-night doubleheader and he started off his season with a very productive day. He singled in a run in the opener and his three-run homer keyed a come-from-behind rally as the Padres won the nightcap, 7-6. He also excelled in the field, leaping to rob Seattle’s Bud Podbielan of a homer in the first game.10 Johnson began the month of May with a 13-game hitting streak, and hit safely in 16 of his first 17 games to raise his average from .246 to .325. He stayed hot for the balance of the PCL season. After batting .333 (third best in the league) with 50 extra-base hits, he was called up to the White Sox at the end of the PCL season. He was chosen the Padres’ most valuable player and was named to the postseason all-star team. His manager at San Diego, Jimmie Reese, said, “They’d be wise to give him an opportunity to play, the way he has been going with the Padres.”11
Johnson got into five games with Chicago and had his only major-league hit. He made his first appearance on September 18 in the second game of a doubleheader. He pinch-hit for pitcher Russ Kemmerer and struck out against Bob Bruce of the Tigers. His second chance came on September 23, at Cleveland. The White Sox were ahead 6-0 in the ninth inning. After Ted Kluszewski homered off Frank Funk, the Cleveland pitcher knocked down Chicago’s Minnie Miñoso. In anger, Miñoso threw his bat toward the mound and was ejected from the game by umpire Bob Stewart. Chicago manager Al Lopez replaced Miñoso with Johnson, and Stan homered on Funk’s first pitch to him.12 In the bottom of the inning, Johnson played left field. He went hitless in his remaining four at-bats with the White Sox. He was put in the pool of eligible players for the expansion draft after the season but was not selected by either the Washington Senators or Los Angeles Angels.
Johnson went to spring training with the White Sox in 1961 and hit a two-run triple in the first spring-training game. On April 5 he was sent outright to San Diego. After batting .321 in his first 26 games, Johnson went into a slump. Through June 9, he had played in 43 of 54 games with the San Diego. His average was only .276 with no homers and only 12 RBIs.
On June 10 Johnson was part of an eight-player trade and went to the Kansas City Athletics along with Wes Covington, Bob Shaw, and Gerry Staley. In return, Chicago got Don Larsen, Ray Herbert, Andy Carey, and Al Pilarcik. Johnson was hitless in three games with Kansas City. He made his last major-league appearance on June 13. In the top of the eighth inning, the bases were loaded with one out and the A’s trailed 7-4. Pedro Ramos had been summoned from the bullpen by Twins manager Cookie Lavagetto to face Hank Bauer. The lefty-swinging Johnson was sent up to pinch-hit for the right-handed Bauer. Johnson pulled a groundball to second base that was converted into a 4-6-3 double play. Johnson stayed in the game and played in right field.
At the trading deadline, the A’s acquired Deron Johnson and Art Ditmar from the Yankees and Stan Johnson was sent to Honolulu. Johnson’s major-league career was over after eight games and 11 plate appearances. His homer in 1960 was his only hit in nine at-bats.
Johnson finished the 1961 season at Hawaii in the PCL, playing in 86 games and batting .275 with 6 home runs and 53 RBIs. Although he never returned to the majors, he continued to play professionally through 1969.
In the offseason between the 1961 and 1962 seasons, Johnson was traded to the Dodgers organization and spent 1962 at Spokane in the PCL. He got off to a great start with Spokane and was leading the PCL in batting with a .352 average on June 17. The team did not fare well in the standings, finishing in last place with a 58-96 record. Johnson finished the year with a .286 batting average.
After the season Johnson was dealt to Seattle of the PCL for pitcher Bill Thom. He was with Seattle, then a Triple-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, for two years. In 1963 he led his team in batting (.297), homers (13), and RBIs (55) and tied for the lead in runs scored (78). The Red Sox did not bring him back to the majors. The next season, 1964, he batted .289 and led the team in hits (134) and doubles (33). Once again the call did not come. Johnson remained in the Red Sox organization in 1965 when they switched their Triple-A affiliation to Toronto.
With Toronto, playing for manager Dick Williams, Johnson batted .268 with only 4 homers and 42 RBIs in 1965. He was no longer a prospect. The team finished in third place and, in the postseason playoffs, swept Atlanta and defeated Columbus four games to one to win the International League championship. In the final series, Johnson, batting leadoff in the first two games, went 3-for-8 with an RBI as the Maple Leafs took a 2-0 lead in the series. Game Three was a pitchers’ duel between Billy Rohr of Toronto and Steve Blass of Columbus. The game was scoreless going into the bottom of the ninth inning at Toronto. Johnson reached first on an error by Gene Michael and, with two out, scored the winning run on a single by Russ Gibson, only the second hit allowed by Blass. Columbus averted the sweep in Game Four, but Toronto closed up the series in Game Five.
In 1966 Johnson was back with Toronto and batted .274 with 24 extra-base hits. He had 6 homers and 25 RBIs. The team contended all year and finished in a tie for second place, one game behind Rochester. Once again Toronto excelled in the playoffs, defeating Columbus 3-2 in a best-of-five series. In the decisive fifth game, Johnson singled in his team’s first run in the second inning as the Maple Leafs won, 6-1. They defeated Richmond in five games in the best-of-seven Governor’s Cup Series. In Toronto’s Game Three 7-6 win, Johnson had two hits, including a double that brought home two runs when his team took a 3-0 lead in the second inning.
The next season with Toronto, 1967, Johnson played in 105 games, as he had in 1966, and batted .293. His suffered three on-field injuries during the season. He fouled a ball off his foot in early June, missing 10 games, and twice he was hit by pitches. He was platooned on occasion by manager Eddie Kasko. Speaking toward the end of July, Johnson said, “Sure, I’m older than most of these kids [he was 30], but I’m not exactly an old man. I don’t mind resting once in a while, but I can still play every day – in fact, I’d like to.”13 A torrid stretch during June and July raised Johnson’s batting average to .336, and he was named to the North team in the International League All-Star Game. For the season, he had 19 extra-base hits, including two homers. He had 29 RBIs, four more than in 1966. There was no return visit to the playoffs for the team, which finished sixth.
The summer of 1967 was notable for a number of reasons – in and out of baseball. It was a time of high racial tension and in the predawn hours on Sunday, July 23, rioting began in Detroit and lasted five days. Those tensions spread 57 miles south to Toledo, Ohio, where two nights of rioting resulted in the postponement of scheduled doubleheaders between Toronto and Toledo on July 25 and 26.14
In the majors, the Red Sox were en route to their first World Series appearance in more than two decades and one of their leaders was Reggie Smith, who finished second in that season’s Rookie of the Year balloting. In 1966 at Toronto, Smith had roomed with Johnson, and he credited Johnson’s tutelage with having been a key to his.320 batting average with the Maple Leafs.
With major-league expansion pending and attendance at the Toronto minor-league games woefully low, the Red Sox switched their Triple-A affiliation to Louisville in 1968 and Johnson batted only .206 in 84 games with the fifth-place Colonels. The 31-year-old Johnson was cut loose during the offseason and traveled to Japan for the 1969 season. Playing for the Taiyo Whales of the Japanese Central League, he batted .242 with 5 homers and 29 RBIs. He retired from professional baseball at the end of the season.
In 1970 and 1971 Johnson was a scout for the Red Sox.
Johnson married Jacqueline C. Miles on February 12, 1961. They had two children, Stacey Clair Johnson-Randolph, born in 1962, and Stan Jr., born in 1964. Stan’s father, Lucius, died on May 13, 1972, from injuries suffered in a traffic accident.
Stan contracted Parkinson’s disease in 2007. In his final days, he was also being treated for Alzheimer’s disease. He died on April 17, 2012, and is buried in Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery at Colma, California.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author used Ancestry.com, Baseball-Reference.com, and The Sporting News, the Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa), the Indianapolis Star, and the following:
Hayward, Harry M. “5 S.F. Preps Ineligible for Attending Camps,” San Francisco Examiner, April 7, 1953: 27.
MacCarl, Neil. “Rest Cure Helps Johnson Become Leafs’ Bat Terror,” The Sporting News, August 12, 1967: 31.
Prell, Edward. “Sox Farm Clubs Start to Produce,” Chicago Tribune, November 13, 1958: D4.
Reich, Carl. “S.F. Legion Nines Bow in Openers,” San Francisco Examiner, July 20, 1952: 28.
1 John O’Donnell, “Dav-Sox Take Keokuk Series, 7-3,” Davenport (Iowa) Morning Democrat, July 16, 1957: 11.
2 Harry M. Hayward, “Clish Orders Probe of Ban on 5 Preps,” San Francisco Examiner, April 8, 1953: 30.
3 “CCSF’s Johnson Tops Big Eight All-Star Nine,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 12, 1955: 2-H.
4 “Lakers Sweep Series Against Cheney Studs,” Medford (Oregon) Mail Tribune, August 27, 1956: 6.
5 “Leopold Shuts Out Studs with Three-Hitter,” Herald and News (Klamath Falls, Oregon), August 27, 1956: 11.
6 “White Sox Sign Former Galileo Star Stan Johnson,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 3, 1957: 4-H; “Chisox Sign Star USF Outfielder,” San Francisco Examiner, February 3, 1957: II-15.
7 George Redden, “Colorado Springs,” Chicago Defender, August 9, 1958: 20.
8 The Sporting News, April 29, 1959: 30.
9 Jack Murphy, “Mayor’s First Pitch Goes Astray, but Padres Sparkle,” San Diego Union, April 16, 1960: A-17
10 Murphy, “Mayor’s First Pitch Goes Astray, but Padres Sparkle,” San Diego Union, April 16, 1960: A-17
11 Keller, Earl, “Jolter Johnson Rated Dazzler by Padre Pilot,” The Sporting News, August 17, 1960: 31.
12 Richard Dozer, “2 Home Runs Help Wynn Beat Indians,” Chicago Tribune, September 24, 1960: 2-1.
13 Neil MacCarl, “Rest Cure Helps Johnson Become Leafs’ Bat Terror,” The Sporting News, August 12, 1967: 31.
14 John Hannen, “Mud Hens Postpone Tonight’s Doubleheader,” Toledo Blade, July 26, 1967: 49.