|Born: September 22, 1934|
|Died: October 1, 2020 (aged 86)|
Los Angeles, California
|April 17, 1960, for the Chicago Cubs|
|Last MLB appearance|
|September 6, 1969, for the California Angels|
|Runs batted in||232|
|Career highlights and awards|
Louis Brown Johnson (September 22, 1934 – October 1, 2020), nicknamed Sweet Lou, was an American Major League Baseball outfielder. Johnson's professional baseball career lasted for 17 seasons, and included 8 years in the majors: parts of 1960–1962 and 1965, and then the full seasons of 1966 through 1969. He threw and batted right-handed and was listed as 5 feet 11 inches (1.80 m) tall and 170 pounds (77 kg).
Johnson did not establish himself as a big-league regular until he was almost 33 years of age. He had trials with the Chicago Cubs (34 games played in 1960), Los Angeles Angels (only one appearance in 1961), and Milwaukee Braves (61 games in 1962). Only after he was summoned to the Los Angeles Dodgers from Triple-A Spokane, when the Dodgers lost regular outfielder Tommy Davis to a broken ankle on May 1, 1965, did Johnson earn a foothold in the major leagues. He became the Dodgers' regular left fielder during their 1965 world championship season, started over 60 games in both left and right fields in 1966 (during which the Dodgers captured their second straight National League pennant), and started another 85 games in the Dodger outfield in 1967. He remained in the majors for two more years as a reserve player, returning to the Cubs (1968) and Angels (1969) to bookend a stint with the Cleveland Indians (1968). He was employed by the Dodgers' Community Relations Department.
Johnson was born on September 22, 1934 in Lexington, Kentucky, to Sidney Bell and Shirley Johnson. He had three brothers and one sister. At Dunbar High School in Lexington, he played both basketball as well as baseball. Johnson desired to play basketball at the University of Kentucky under coach Adolph Rupp. However, at the time, not only were members of the Southeastern Conference (of which Kentucky is an affiliate) not recruiting black athletes, most of its universities were segregated.
Early baseball career
Johnson was signed by the New York Yankees as an amateur free agent in 1953. After moving around from team to team in the minor leagues for about a decade, he made his major league debut with the Chicago Cubs in 1960. The Cubs traded Johnson to the Los Angeles Angels for Jim McAnany on April 1, 1961, and he played in 61 games for the 1962 Milwaukee Braves. However, after that, the Braves traded Johnson to the Detroit Tigers system, which sent him back to the minor leagues for the 1963 and '64 seasons. They then traded him to the Los Angeles Dodgers for the pitcher Larry Sherry.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Johnson made it to the major leagues to stay for a stretch beginning in 1965 with the Dodgers when a broken ankle in early May sidelined Tommy Davis, their regular left fielder, for the remainder of the season. Johnson filled in for Davis, playing in 130 games for the Dodgers that season, recording a .260 batting average, 57 runs scored, and 58 runs batted in (RBIs). In that season, Johnson also scored the only run for the Dodgers in Sandy Koufax's perfect game victory when he walked, went to second base on a sacrifice bunt, stole third base, and then scored on a throwing error by the Chicago Cubs catcher, Chris Krug. The Dodgers made it to the 1965 World Series versus the Minnesota Twins, and in this Series, Johnson had eight hits, including two home runs, the second one being the game-winning one in the decisive seventh game.
With Tommy Davis back in left field, and Willie Davis in center field, Johnson played mostly in right field in 1966. Frequently batting third in the order, right ahead of the dangerous hitter Tommy Davis, Johnson set career highs by playing in 152 games, getting 526 at-bats, 143 hits, 17 home runs, scoring 71 runs, with 73 RBIs. Johnson's batting average that season was .272, and the Dodgers made it to the World Series once again.
This was also Koufax's last year in baseball before retiring because of his damaged and getting-worse left arm. In this World Series, against the Baltimore Orioles, the Dodgers' offence hit rock-bottom, with the team getting shut out three times, and only scoring two runs in the four games. Johnson finished the series with four hits in 15 at-bats. He also flew out to Paul Blair for the final out of the Series.
Later baseball years
From this point on, Johnson's major league career rapidly wound down, as he broke his leg sliding into Joe Torre and played in just 104 games for the Dodgers in 1967, a combined 127 for the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians in 1968, and just 67 for the California Angels in 1969, with only a .203 batting average. In 1970, at the age of 35, Johnson was out of professional baseball for good.
In his approximately eight-year-long Major League career, Johnson posted a .258 overall average with 48 home runs and 232 RBI in 677 games played. Defensively, he recorded a .981 fielding percentage playing at all three outfield positions.
Johnson and his wife, Sarah, had three children. He died on October 1, 2020.
- "Lou Johnson page at Baseball-Reference". Retrieved November 4, 2013.
- Weisman, Jon (May 8, 2015). "Remembering '65: Tommy Davis goes down, 'Sweet Lou' comes up". Dodger Insider. Retrieved August 27, 2018.
- "Front Office Directory". MLB.com.
- Mark Maloney (July 31, 1999), Baseball Team Gets Thumbs Up From Local Star, Lexington Herald-Leader, p. D1, retrieved November 5, 2013
- "Adolph Rupp: Fact and Fiction". Bigbluehistory.net. Retrieved April 13, 2012.
- "31 Mar 1960, 28 - Des Moines Tribune at". Newspapers.com. March 31, 1960. Retrieved October 2, 2020.
- "19 Apr 1961, 14 - The Montgomery Advertiser at". Newspapers.com. April 19, 1961. Retrieved October 2, 2020.
- Murray, Jim (August 27, 1965). "Lou Johnson keeps Dodgers in pennant race". Milwaukee Sentinel. p. 7. Retrieved June 4, 2010.
- "15 Oct 1965, Page 8 - The Kokomo Morning Times at". Newspapers.com. October 15, 1965. Retrieved October 2, 2020.
- "LOU JOHNSON STATS". Baseball Almanac. Retrieved October 4, 2020.
- "'Sweet' Lou Johnson Passes Away". Si.com. Retrieved October 2, 2020.