Morris: RBI champion Ralph ‘Spud’ Johnson died in obscurity

From SABR member Peter Morris at Our Game on April 28, 2020:

When a seventyish Chicagoan died of pneumonia at the West Chestnut Street home where he lived alone in February of 1928, it proved no easy matter to find someone capable of providing the information required for his death certificate. Eventually, a man named John McInerney offered to help, but the resulting document makes clear that their acquaintanceship was not particularly close. McInerney reported that the dead man’s name was James R. Johnson and that he had been an actor, but that pretty much exhausted his store of knowledge. He estimated Johnson’s age to have been “about 65” and was able to provide no information at all about his wife or parents. McInerney did report that Chicago was Johnson’s place of birth, but in light of the gaping holes in what he knew, this too was likely little more than a guess.

The result of those gaps is a conundrum that endures to this day. Was the man who died in obscurity in 1928 the enigmatic slugger with a sweet left-handed swing who had once been a major league RBI champion? And if not, what did become of one of baseball’s most implausible stars?

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Originally published: April 29, 2020. Last Updated: April 29, 2020.