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A Conversation...with Bart Johnson

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  • A Conversation...with Bart Johnson

    Click image for larger version  Name:	Bart.jpg Views:	42 Size:	12.3 KB ID:	34914

    By Mark Liptak
    White Sox Historian

    Time and circumstances often make one forget about certain players, they tend to fall through the cracks as it were. Bart Johnson, White Sox pitcher was one of those guys. Possibly the greatest athlete to ever play for the franchise he along with teammates Terry Forster and "Goose" Gossage were the "kiddie relief corps" for the Sox in the late 60's and early 70's and those guys literally put fear in opposing hitters because of how hard they threw and because sometimes even they didn't know where the ball was going to go.

    I had the pleasure of meeting Bart twice in person. The first time was when I returned to Chicago and spoke with him as part of my historical story on the White Sox relationship with the media through the years. The second time was when I co-hosted the 40th anniversary celebration, with Richard Roeper for the 1972 club, Dick Allen's M.V.P. year. They were the club that in Roland Hemond's words, 'saved' the franchise.

    I knew Bart had back issues from his injury when playing for the Sox, he told me he couldn't stand for more than a few minutes at a time but I had no idea, as it was disclosed, when he passed away in April 2020, that he also suffered from complications from Parkinson's Disease. Bart was 70 when he died.

    His career had numerous twists and turns, triumphs and tragedy's most of them because of Bart's decisions and who he was...but one thing's for sure...it was never boring.

    One quick story on him that wasn't included in the interview I did with him in 2006, at the end of the three day celebration for the 1972 club everyone went back to the Drake Hotel in Chicago where all the out-of-town participants stayed. I was in the corner having a beer with Gossage and fellow Sox pitcher Tom Bradley. We were talking pitching and I asked them who threw the hardest among that staff. (And keep in mind Bradley was no slouch himself having struck out over 200 hitters both in 1971 and 1972) Gossage immediately said Terry Forster threw the hardest and had the best arm he ever saw on a pitcher in his big league career. Bradley said Bart Johnson.

    -------------------------

    He was one of the most impressive talents to ever don a White Sox uniform. He was in the Major Leagues at the age of 19. He had back-to-back games of 12 strikeouts in September 1971. The first time he pitched in Yankee Stadium he tossed a complete game 5-1 win and had three hits.

    Bart Johnson was a tall, lanky, right-handed pitcher who threw blazing fastballs. Johnson could also hit, run and had athletic ability far beyond many of his peers. But in his own words, Johnson “underachieved” in his years on the South Side.

    Injuries and controversy surrounded him. Not all of it was his own doing. Johnson had a strong sense of right and wrong and he was of the generation that learned to question authority. It wasn’t enough to be told to do something...Bart’s generation needed to know why they were being asked to do it. His generation also tended to not put limits on themselves. If you had the talent, the will, you could do anything... even change the world. To Bart Johnson there was absolutely no reason why he couldn’t pitch for the Sox, when he wasn’t playing the outfield and then in the ‘off season’ he’d play for the Seattle Supersonics of the NBA. Yes... he was that talented.

    After leaving the field in the late 70's, Johnson became a scout and spent 17 years working with the White Sox organization evaluating talent. One of his finds is now sitting in the General Manager’s chair. Then he worked for the Devil Rays for another 10 years in their scouting department. He’s been a baseball lifer.

    I spoke with Bart from his home in Oak Lawn in early October. The 2006 regular season had just ended, “Dusty” Baker has just been fired and he and I were counting down the days until spring training began. Some of the things Johnson remembered and spoke about he said, were things he hadn’t remembered in years. His honesty, his humor and his love of the game came through clearly in the two hours we spent conversing.

    ML: Bart you were a terrific amateur athlete in a number of sports, why did you decide to concentrate on baseball and sign with the Sox? (Author’s Note: At Torrance High School Johnson went 20-2, in American Legion ball he went 23-2, he was named to several high school basketball All-America teams and averaged 28 points per game as a member of the BYU freshman basketball team.)

    BJ: “I decided on baseball because I honestly thought I had the talent to become a Cy Young award winner, in basketball though I wasn’t going to dominate, I’d just be a piece of the puzzle on a team in the NBA.”

    ML: So, you sign with the Sox and start in Appleton, Wisconsin. In 1969 you dominate the Midwest League going 16-4, 200 strikeouts in 170 innings with an ERA of 2.17. The Sox call you up and on September 8 you make your big-league debut in Seattle against the Pilots. Talk to me about that evening and what it was like for you to be in the Major Leagues roughly 15 months after you sign with the Sox at the age of 19! (Author’s Note: Johnson went six innings allowing two runs on four hits. He walked four and struck out five in losing 2-1. He’d get his first Major League win on September 16 in Chicago going 8.1 innings in a 7-4 win over the Angels.)

    BJ: “It was an incredible thrill just to put that White Sox uniform on. I remember thinking before the game that I belonged here and was pretty confident. Then when I went out to the mound, I realized it was like I was on an island and everyone was watching me. The first guy I faced I think was Tommy Harper and I got him out. The next guy was Steve Whitaker and he hit a home run off me to center field. As he was rounding the bases my catcher Eddie Herrmann came out to talk to me and told me that Whitaker was a fastball hitter. I remember thinking ‘Why didn’t you tell me that before he came to bat?’(laughing). The other thing I remember was that Luis Aparicio made an error and he didn’t do that often. He was the best shortstop I ever played with.”

    “In my first win I remember a couple of things. In that game I had a hit, scored a run, drove in a run, got a walk and stole a base. So, I filled up the stat column pretty good. The other thing I remember was that Steve Kealey came in to pitch for the Angels. He grew up about 100 yards away from me in Torrance and we played together on the same high school team. Fred Kendall, Jason’s dad, was also on that same squad. So, we had three guys make the big leagues from it. (Author’s Note: Kealey would be traded to the Sox and would be a teammate of Johnson’s again in 1971, 1972 and 1973.)

    ML: After that showing in 1969 the hopes were high that you’d crack the rotation and be with the club from the start in 1970 but that didn’t happen. You were sent back down and didn’t rejoin the team until mid-May. Was there an injury?

    BJ: “Not an injury but I had thrown a lot of innings in 1969. If you count the minor league and winter league records, I won something like 30 games. That off season Luis Aparicio asked if I’d play for him in Venezuela. The pay was great and I loved playing baseball so I did. I went something like 12-3. When I got back to spring training, I just couldn’t get my arm loose. The Sox thought the warm weather would help so they sent me to Mobile and then Tucson to get it loose and back in shape.”

    ML: I know Bart you were still a kid literally and only spent parts of the 1969 and 1970 seasons with the Sox but those were pretty bleak years for the franchise. Did all that losing bother you like it did the veterans or was it still a question of being happy just to be in the majors even with a bad team? (Author’s Note: In 1969 the Sox went 68-94, in 1970 they went a franchise worst 56-106.)

    BJ: “I had a blast. I was just trying to win. I didn’t realize all that other stuff that went on in the Major Leagues, especially for the veterans...playing out the string, things like that. Those guys were so much older than I was.”

    ML: Opening Day 1971 and the Sox are in Oakland. Charlie Finley of the A’s schedules the first opening day twin bill in history figuring his club can make short work of the ‘Sad Sox’ and get off to a good start. But this isn’t the same team under manager Chuck Tanner. You guys win the first game 6-5, then blow the A’s apart 12-4 in the nightcap. You started game #2 striking out nine with a complete game. Talk to me a little about Chuck. How was he able to change the attitude and perception of the club almost overnight?

    BJ: “Chuck did it because he was so positive. He wouldn’t tolerate negativity. The other thing was that he took the best guys north every year; he didn’t care how old they were. Remember Chuck could intimidate guys too. He was I think, 42 or so and he was a big guy. If you did something wrong or got him angry, he’d take you into the clubhouse and just kick your ass.”

    “And it wasn’t just the players. I remember one time one of the writers wrote something about us quoting guys anonymously and Chuck wanted to know who it was who said the comments. He called us together in the locker room and asked us about it. No one admitted that they said anything so he got the writer into his office. We’re sitting there and we hear things getting thrown around, ‘bang, ‘boom,’ ‘crash.’ The writer came out crying like a little boy. Chuck was trying to find out if one of the players said something or if the writer was making things up. I think he slapped the crap out of him.”

    ML: Now about that game itself, any specific recollections about it?

    BJ: “Well I immediately remember Carlos May missing home plate! (Author’s Note: In the first inning of that second game, May hit what appeared to be a three run home run to right field only in the celebration at home plate, Carlos missed touching it! The A’s somehow picked up on it, appealed the play and May was ruled out. It went as a triple and two RBI’s.)

    ML: Opening Day is special to me and to a lot of baseball fans but it is as special to you guys who actually played the game? Or is it just the start of a long 162 game season?

    BJ: “No, it is special. I especially liked opening day at home. The crowd is out there and it’s so early in the season there’s not a lot of pressure on you, the fans don’t get on you and you never know what’s going to happen.”

    ML: That season Bart you won 12 games, saved 14, with153 strikeouts in 178 innings. Your ERA was 2.93. So, were you a starter or a relief pitcher? And did the switching around bother you?

    BJ: “We didn’t have roles back then and I just couldn’t see myself going up to Chuck and asking, ‘What’s my role..?’ If I did that my head would be rolling! (laughing). I started out that season as a starter and then as Wilbur (Wood) began starting I was moved into the bullpen. I remember one game where I got a save for Wilbur and threw, I think four innings. (Author’s Note: On August 22, 1971 Johnson saved a game for Wood by throwing 3.2 innings of relief in Cleveland. That season Bart also had three other saves where he threw at least three innings.)

    ML: I asked about the switching roles because a lot of Sox fans point out how perhaps Brandon McCarthy was affected by him having been a starter all his life, then having to pitch out of the bullpen in 2006.
    Is there a different mindset in starting a game as opposed to coming into it after it’s begun? I recall a comment by Jack McDowell where he said, ‘It doesn’t matter if you’re a starter or a reliever, your job when you’re on the mound is to get people out.’

    BJ: “Well I can’t speak for Brandon and I agree with Jack’s statement, you have to prove yourself on the mound. But I think it depends on your make up. If a guy is an everyday player, it can be hard if you’re not in the game a lot. When I was playing as a starter, I found baseball boring. I couldn’t get used to the idea of only playing every four or five days. I enjoyed the bullpen more. (Author’s Note: Wilbur Wood made basically the same comments in his interview with me which is why he wasn’t opposed to starting every three and sometimes every two days.)

    ML: Something else happened that 1971 season that was unusual. On May 31, Memorial Day, in the eighth inning of the second game with Baltimore at Comiskey Park, you hit Don Buford with a pitch. Buford charged the mound still holding his bat. Can you take us through what was going on? (Author’s Note: Then in the ninth inning with Buford standing in the on-deck circle he was jumped by a fan, after having words with another fan along the box seat railing. The Orioles then came out of the dugout and beat the second fan to, in the words of Sox second baseman Mike Andrews, “A bloody pulp.”)

    BJ: “He hit a home run off me earlier in the game and I was going to knock him down. I wound up hitting him right in the backside and he comes charging out waving his bat. Now I watched the game when Juan Marichal hit Johnny Roseboro in the head with a bat, so I started backing away. Frank Robinson came out of the dugout and grabbed him trying to keep him from doing something that would result in a big suspension. While all this was going on I took a swing at Buford which didn’t endear me to the Orioles.”

    “I was out of the game when that fan went after Don so I really didn’t see what went on. I’ve heard over the years though that the guy was a big Blackhawks fan and was a fighter. I may have even met him at one time but I really don’t remember clearly.”

    ML: In 1972 the strike shortened season, you started in the bullpen. That first weekend in Kansas City you got charged with two extra inning losses in back-to-back days and you didn’t seem yourself that year. Did that just screw with your head, was there an injury, because by June 3 you were shipped back to the minors and never got called back up. (Author’s Note: Johnson’s short season was punctuated in a game on June 3. In relief against the Yankees, Bart gave up eight runs (three earned), with five walks in two innings of an 18-10 loss at home.)

    BJ: “I was supposed to be what’s now termed the ‘closer’ for the Sox that year and I got two losses in about 18 hours. I was hurt. I hurt my right knee the off-season playing basketball. I immediately told the Sox about it and they examined me and said the knee was basically OK but I did tear some cartilage. I rehabbed it hard, I gave it an honest attempt but when I went out to pitch, I just couldn’t push off it. When they told me, I was going to be sent back down I didn’t want to go because they were the ones who told me that the knee was OK. They said if I didn’t go that I’d be suspended so I went back to Appleton. They wound up operating on my knee that September.”

    ML: It was about this time that you told the Sox maybe it would be better if you switched to becoming an outfielder. I know you liked to hit and were pretty good at it (Author’s Note: On August 12, 1970, Johnson had three hits in a 5-1 win at New York.) But did you honestly think that at 22 you could make the change and get back to the Major Leagues?

    BJ: “Sure. I always thought I could hit. I had that confidence. I had no doubt I could hit well enough to get back to the majors as an outfielder. But the Sox were dead set on me staying a pitcher. They told me that I’d never hit with enough power to be more then maybe a fourth outfielder. I remember that night after I was told that I hit a ball in Appleton that went out of the park and was found in a church parking lot. That ball had to go around 450 feet. I had enough power; I also knew when I wasn’t being told the truth.”

    ML: You came up for a little while in 1973 and then pitched in spring training 1974. The Sox though said they were going to ship you back to the minor leagues. You didn’t take that information very well and said that you were going to retire instead. You talked about doing publicity work for the Chicago Fire of the WFL (Author’s Note: The short-lived World Football League that lasted two years) and then in July trying out for the Seattle Supersonics of the NBA. The retirement didn’t last long but I’m wondering if you could tell me your mind-set at the time?

    BJ: “You can sense the negativity around you when it’s going bad. That spring I only pitched about five innings or so. I wasn’t being used. Later in the spring I’m told ‘We want you to start, this is your chance to make the team.’ So I’m not going to say ‘No... I haven’t pitched enough.’

    “I go out there and throw five or six shutout innings. And they keep me out there. Remember I haven’t thrown a lot that spring...I’m convinced if the game went 13 innings, they would have kept me out there. Anyway, I finally give up five runs and after the games over I’m told I’m being sent back to the minor leagues. That did it; I knew when I was being hung out to dry. I said I wasn’t going and went home. After a month, money and reality set in and I reported back to the minor leagues.”

    “I don’t know if working for the Fire was really an option but I wanted to do something until July came along and I was going to try out for the Supersonics. That previous year I went to one of their camps. Bill Russell was the head coach and I did well enough that I was asked back to attend the full training camp. So, I knew I had a chance to make their final roster.”

    ML: To your credit Bart, you did report to the minors and got called back up in the second half of 1974 where you were outstanding, 10-4 in 18 games with a 2.74 ERA. It looked like maybe you turned a corner. What were you doing differently?

    BJ: “I think it was the fact that I was more mature. I also had a more positive approach on the mound. I had gotten into doing what I could to help my chances; I started reading books on the power of positive thinking and taking a positive mental approach.”

    ML: Yet despite that great second half you didn’t throw an inning for the Sox in 1975, were you hurt?

    BJ: “In spring training I was slated to be the #2 starter behind Wilbur (Wood). We played the Reds in a game where it poured all day but they wanted to play the game because there were about 8,000 fans still in the stands. We finally started around four o’clock. (Author’s Note: Spring training afternoon games usually start at 1PM local time.) The field was a mud bath. I was pitching to Joe Morgan when my left leg slipped as I was throwing a pitch, my back jerked and I herniated a disk. It was the same injury that happened to Bill Melton in 1972.”

    “It got worse because the Sox flew out to the coast where they were going to play the A’s and the flight stopped everywhere. Places like Yuma (Arizona,) San Diego, Los Angeles then up to San Francisco. By the time that happened I couldn’t get out of the plane my back was so bad. I was in the hospital for about 10 days in traction only they found out afterwards it didn’t do me a bit of good. The hospital bed I was on was too small, I’m 6-5 and my heels were hitting the footboard contracting my spine so the traction was useless.”

    ML: In 1976 you were back with the club and made the most starts in your career 32. The 1976 Sox were a pretty bad team and under the circumstances the 9-16 record you put up wasn’t that bad. (Author’s Note: The 1976 Sox were so in a bind for starting pitching that they made “Goose” Gossage, the 1975 Fireman of the Year, a starter for the season. He went 9-17...and made the All-Star team!!) What was it like playing for a Bill Veeck owned team?

    BJ: “Bill was alright although I got tired of the gimmicks. I guess I believe in the purity of the game and it was hard to take at times. I’d be warming up for example before the game on the sidelines when you had to stop what you were doing so all the Little Leaguers could pass on parade. On you’d be trying to get loose and a bunch of motorcycles would be on the warning track kicking up dust and throwing rocks around. I still remember that game we played wearing shorts against the Orioles!”

    “I loved Mike Veeck; thought he was a great guy.”

    ML: 1977 your final year in the majors, you were a part of one of the most beloved White Sox teams of all time, the “South Side Hitmen.” I’ll ask you, like I did some of the guys who you played with that season, was there any indication in the spring this club would be as good as it became? (Author’s Note: The 1977 White Sox were picked no higher than fourth place in the division yet shocked baseball by winning 90 games, leading the West through the end of July and slugging a then team record 192 home runs.)

    BJ: “No. But that’s because at the time we didn’t know how good of a hitter Oscar Gamble was. We didn’t know about the determination Eric Soderholm had to try to comeback from his injuries. I began the season as a starter but went to the bullpen as the year went on. One thing I remember from that year was I gave up a big hit to Dave May. (Author’s Note: On August 2 at Comiskey Park, Johnson gave up a three-run home run to May of the Rangers. The home run came after a Jack Brohamer error kept the inning alive. Texas scored six runs in the eighth inning and wound up winning 9-8 after the Sox led 7-0.)

    ML: Looking back on that year do you remember a play or a game or something that made everyone stop and think, ‘You know we’re not a bad team...’

    BJ: “Not that I can remember but I do think Oscar (Gamble) was a big part of the reason we did so well. He was a professional hitter who had tremendous confidence in himself. I remember a spring game where Oscar came up and got a single. When the inning was over, he’s back in the dugout talking, ‘Lousy single...I’m a home run hitter!’

    “I also remember a time that spring when we were just hammering a pitcher; we were just beating him around. Oscar’s in the dugout telling everyone, ‘Easy, easy we want this guy to make the team remember!’ (laughing) Oscar couldn’t wait to face this guy when the season started.”

    ML: One of the things that defined the love affair between the fans and the team was the outpouring of support for you guys. The ‘curtain calls,’ Nancy Faust with the ‘Na-Na-Hey-Hey’ song. Pretty tame stuff today but back then it was controversial, wasn’t it?

    BJ: “Yes it was. I thought it was more controversial to the pitchers though then the hitters.”

    ML: What were the guys reactions to all the hoopla? I’ve been told that some of the guys on the team didn’t care for that stuff, going out after a home run to acknowledge the fans and so on. Was that true?

    BJ: “I was in the bullpen by that time so I didn’t feel bad about it. For the hitters though it was just asking to be thrown at.”

    ML: By late July, the Sox were playing extremely well, you opened up a 6 ½ game lead on the Royals and Twins when you came from behind to win a third straight game against Kansas City. But the Royals blew the Sox apart in the second game of that Sunday twin bill and they started playing psychological games as well. Hal McRae slowly trotting around the bases and then tipping his hat to the Sox fans when he touched home plate. Amos Otis and Jim Colborn talking trash about how you guys were rubbing it in and you hadn’t won squat. Yet you guys hadn’t done a thing. I mean the fans were the ones demanding that the players come out and so forth, right? I was at some of those games where the crowd was so loud and so boisterous the game couldn’t go on until Richie Zisk or Oscar Gamble or Eric Soderholm acknowledged the fans. Why did the Royals basically say you guys were instigating all this?

    BJ: “They used it as motivation; they knew it wasn’t us personally. I knew Hal (McRae) well because he and I worked for the Devil Rays and we talked about it at times. We didn’t play that badly but the Royals just took off and beat everybody. (Author’s Note: Starting August 1 the Royals went 46-17 to close out the season. They also had a 16-game win streak and an eight game one in that time period.) Besides I don’t think Sox fans started the idea of the ‘curtain call.’ I remember seeing it in Minnesota from their fans towards Rod Carew. Remember that was the season he almost hit .400 and after he’d get on base or have an at bat, their fans were calling him out. And yes, the Royals were pissed off about that too!”

    ML: The next week the Sox opened a pivotal series in Kansas City. That series was emotionally charged and you were in the middle of it. On August 5 in a game the Royals would win 12-2, you came in to relieve Chris Knapp. On a ground ball in the fourth inning off the bat from the late Darrell Porter, you went to cover first and Porter plowed right into your back as you touched the bag. Dick Howser had to jump out of his coaching box to separate you two. Then in the sixth inning after John Mayberry grounded out ending the inning, you and Porter got into it at home plate. What happened? And is it true that you said to him as he was getting ready to start catching the warm-up throws, ‘Do you want it now?’

    BJ: “Yes that’s true. I said something to him like, ‘We can do it now or later.’ What happened was that earlier in the game Jim Spencer knocked into him so when he hit that ground ball, he hit me. I just had that back surgery and didn’t appreciate him throwing his elbow right into the middle of it. After Mayberry grounded out, Porter was headed to home plate and I just went up to him and made my comment. He raised his mask, which I appreciated, so I hit him. One thing I really remember was that his eyes were as big as saucers. He was wired on something that’s for sure.”

    “After the game both he and George Brett came into our locker room and apologized to me for what happened.”

    ML: The Sox were swept in that series and were never the same afterwards. It was almost like the Royals comments about Sox fans and ‘not winning anything’ hit home. Did the team play tight after all the controversy started?

    BJ: “I think it was a combination of things. We weren’t as good as we played earlier in the season and we weren’t as bad as we played down the stretch. It’s not like we played under .500 or miserably, it’s just that the Royals were amazing. They won 16 in a row and something like 31 of 36. You’re not going to beat that; I don’t care who you are.”

    ML: Your relationship with the fans was an interesting one. Perhaps because of your struggles or the publicity you sometimes generated; I don’t think they knew what to make of you. I remember when the “Sox Supporters” fan club in left field would unfurl that banner reading, ‘Oh No! Not Bart!’ You had to have seen that...how did that make you feel?

    BJ: “I was booed before and was made a target so I was used to it. I never actually saw that sign in person, although I did see pictures of it later on. The fans that I met and talked to were never vicious or malicious so I took the sign with a grain of salt. The fans always were good to me when I’d sign autographs and stuff before a game. I also think part of the reason some fans did that was because I was a California kid, cocky and I went to college.”

    ML: 1977 was the last year you played with the Sox; they released you in April 1978. Why did you decide to retire?

    BJ: “Well I actually signed with Oakland after the Sox released me and played for their minor league team in Vancouver. Then when Chuck (Tanner) became the Pirates manager in 1979, I tried out with them. They optioned me to the Mexican League and I pitched there until a strike came. I remember getting paid and put money in each of my shoes and left. I never went back.”

    ML: How about life after baseball Bart. I know you’ve been a scout / talent evaluator for at least part of that time.

    BJ: “I got a call from Roland Hemond and he offered me a position with the scouting department so I took it. I think Roland did that because he was the G.M. when I was hung out to dry in that spring training game back in 1974. Roland may have felt that I was shortchanged so he gave me a chance and I appreciated it. I worked with the Sox from 1980 through 1997.”

    “The biggest guy that I scouted and signed would be Kenny Williams. Kenny was a football player at Stanford and everyone was saying to forget him because he was going to the NFL. But when I saw him play, I got really excited about his abilities and stayed on him to try to get him to play baseball.”

    “I then went to work for the Devil Rays and was with them until this past September when they let me and a bunch of other scouts go. They decided to go to a computerized scouting system instead. After I was let go, Kenny called me to let me know that he was sorry to hear what happened. That was nice of him. He was the highest-ranking guy in baseball who contacted me after that happened.”

    ML: You still live in Oak Lawn so you are right in the middle of White Sox country. What was it like being in the city during 2005's run for the championship?

    BJ: “It was awesome. I was so happy for some of the people who were in the organization. I was proud and happy for Kenny and was happy that I had an association with him getting to this point. There was a tingle of jealousy too. When the Sox got their World Series rings, I thought how nice it would have been to also get one.”

    “Watching the playoffs, I’m reminded there was a game where Fox had a graphic about when was the last time the Sox had four starters throw consecutive complete games. Joe Buck was talking about it and it happened in August 1974. I felt very proud to be a part of that. (Author’s Note: It happened from August 21 through Game #1 of the twin bill on August 25, 1974. The complete game pitchers were Wilbur Wood (L), Jim Katt (W), Bart Johnson (W) and Wood again (W).)

    ML: One thing I’ve always wondered about. As a fan I know how I get when I meet Sox players or speak with them even over the phone. I basically become a kid again. But how about the players themselves? Did you ever have a situation where you met one of your heroes or a player you admired and how did you handle it?

    BJ: “I actually did. We played in the Game of the Week one time and I was named player of the game. I’m in the locker room when a guy tells me that I’ve got to get back on the field because (Sandy) Koufax wants to interview me. I’m thinking ‘Wow Sandy Koufax!’ I grew up watching him pitch with the Dodgers. So, I get out there expecting Sandy to speak with me for a few minutes. Instead because of time constraints all he can do is say ‘And now here’s the player of the game, Bart Johnson... congratulations! Back up to you!’ (laughing)

    So, I turn to go back to the locker room and he’s leaving the field when I hear him call out to me, ‘Bart...use your fastball more!”

    ML: You also were telling me a basketball story about playing against “Dusty” Baker. Care to repeat it?

    BJ: “Sure. We were playing the Braves in the Hall of Fame exhibition game in Cooperstown (Author’s Note: August 12, 1974. Braves-12, Sox-9). If you’ve ever been there, you know the place has everything...baseball fields, basketball courts, swimming pool, the works. So, I started the game and after a few innings was removed. I go over to the basketball courts along with Terry (Forster) and “Goose” (Gossage) and we start shooting around. “Dusty” comes over with a couple of the Braves guys and he says, ‘Hey you wanna play?’

    “So, we do and beat them pretty good. I think “Dusty” was kind of shocked that we could beat them like that. Maybe he underestimated us. I played ball in college and tried out with the pros so I knew I could play.”

    ML: How were “Goose” and Terry as players?

    BJ: “Goose” was OK and Terry was pretty good. He played ball in high school in Southern California. In fact, he played against Bill Walton since both were from the same area. Terry told me the story of the game he played against Bill.”

    “Terry was pretty good and had a pretty good team when they went up against Walton’s team. Terry’s club gets the opening tap and Terry, I think he told me, scores the first two points of the game. So as Terry’s telling it, he’s saying to himself, ‘Hey Walton’s team isn’t that tough. We can play with these guys...’ Walton’s club misses a shot; Terry gets the rebound and he’s bringing it back down the court. So, he decides to take a jump shot from about 20 feet away. He puts the shot up, and Walton catches the basketball. Just grabs it out of the air! (laughing). Game over! The refs were stunned like everyone else and never called goal tending. Walton’s club just ran away with the game.”

    ML: Sum up for me your time on the South Side will you, through the good times and the bad?

    BJ: “When I signed with the Sox remember they were the enemy to me, growing up I watched the 1959 series when the Sox came to Los Angeles. It’s now a fact that I have lived far more of my life in Chicago then I did in California. I’m a South Side guy now more than a California guy. I always respected Sox fans and their knowledge of the game.”
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    • A Conversation With Ed Herrmann...
      by Lipman 1

      By Mark Liptak
      White Sox Historian

      I had the chance to get to know Ed before he passed away from cancer in 2013 right before Christmas. And I was glad I did. Ed had a great sense of humor and a great sense of timing being called up to the Sox in 1967, the greatest pennant race in baseball history then being a part of the “Outhouse to Penthouse” White Sox of 1972.

      Today it’s still hard to imagine a player of Ed’s caliber, playing one of the toughest positions in baseball being traded, because he wanted a 2,000 (thousand) dollar raise but that was the financial situation with the Sox at the time. In fact in the recently released book, “Chili Dog M.V.P.” the author’s wrote that the money the Sox got from the Yankees in the deal was used to help pay off the White Sox spring training hotel expenses!!

      This interview with Ed took place in 2003. Again I really enjoyed getting to know him and I hope you’ll enjoy his memories.

      --------------------

      His nickname was "Fort" as in "Fort Herrmann."

      True, Ed Herrmann wasn’t a Johnny Bench, a Carlton Fisk or a Thurman Munson... but then none of those highly regarded catchers was as good at blocking the plate as Herrmann who used a football player’s mentality when it came to the art of knocking down and blocking off runners at home plate.

      While Ed overall wasn’t on par with those three contemporaries of his, he still was better than 75 per cent of the catchers in the Major Leagues and reversed the White Sox trend of having great fielding, no-hit catchers. Ed averaged in double figures in home runs for the Sox between 1970 and 1974 while providing stellar defense. He was good enough to make the 1974 All-Star team although he couldn’t play because of an injury. Herrmann was a small part of the 1967 club that almost won the pennant and then played a major part in the South Side revival that took place in 1971...
      04-07-2022, 04:17 PM
    • A Conversation With Donn Pall...
      by Lipman 1

      By Mark Liptak
      White Sox Historian

      He’s the ultimate headline “Local kid makes good…plays for hometown team”

      Yes, sometimes dreams DO come true as it did for Evergreen Park native Donn Pall who came from the South Side went to the University of Illinois and then somehow beat the odds to play for and pitch for the White Sox, a team he followed growing up.

      Cinderella? Maybe not quite… after all he did have to have the talent to actually get into that position in the first place but it is a remarkable story. I first spoke with Donn about that story and his career in 2003. We’ve stayed friends ever since.

      ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

      You wonder how many Sox fans dreamed "the dream." The dream being the chance that someday, somehow you could wind up on that field. Not only on that field, but wearing a White Sox uniform... playing for the team that you grew up rooting for.

      The odds have to be a million to one to get to the Major Leagues and perhaps a billion to one of growing up in Chicago and playing for the White Sox when you do.

      Any wonder Donn Pall always seems to have a smile on his face? This is a guy who beat those impossible odds. Pall grew up in Evergreen Park and when he wasn’t playing baseball, he was watching it. Often in a seat at the original Comiskey Park.

      Like the song says, "And the seasons, they go round and round..." and before you knew it, young Donn Pall was now 26 and on the same pitching mound where he watched Wilbur Wood, "Goose" Gossage, Steve Stone, LaMarr Hoyt and Britt Burns do their thing.

      Pall played 10 years in the Major Leagues, six with the Sox and was there for the 1990 and 1993 seasons that grow sweeter with time. Donn still lives and works in the Chicago area as a financial consultant for Morgan Stanley, which is where I...
      02-03-2022, 02:13 PM
    • Roland Hemond R.I.P...
      by Lipman 1

      By Mark Liptak
      White Sox Historian

      Word came to me on Monday afternoon that Roland Hemond, a friend and former executive with the White Sox had passed away at the age of 92. I knew Roland had been ill for the past few years but still to actually find out that he had passed was jarring and sad.

      Roland and I had spoken a lot over the years and as I explain later in this tribute to him, he was always a man of his word.

      The role of a general manager cannot be understated. He is the person directly responsible for acquiring and evaluating talent needed to win games at the big-league level. He also has to balance in his head the roles of economics, baseball rules, the player’s union, dealing with the media and thousands of other things on a daily basis. It is not a job for the faint of heart or for those who don’t have the experience of upper management.

      In my opinion Roland was the best G.M. in the history of the organization and I mean no disrespect to others who also deserve consideration for that title…men like Frank “Trader” Lane, Ed Short, Ron Schueler or Kenny Williams.
      When Hemond took over the organization the franchise was literally in shambles. He faced challenges no other individual who held the position of player personnel director/G.M. ever faced.

      The Sox were on their way to a franchise record 106 loss season in 1970. Comiskey Park was falling apart from disrepair. Fans were staying away in droves because the area was supposedly in a bad neighborhood. In 1969 for example the team drew, for the season, only 589,000... even that would fall to a paltry 495,000 in 1970. In 1968 and 1969, owner Art Allyn was playing a portion of his home games in Milwaukee trying the market to see if it would accept a move of the franchise from the South Side. The Sox would even lose their radio station and have to broadcast games starting in 1971 on two small outlets in LaGrange and Evanston, Illinois....
      12-13-2021, 09:21 PM
    • LaMarr Hoyt R.I.P...
      by Lipman 1

      By Mark Liptak
      White Sox Historian

      Former White Sox front office executive Dan Evans broke the news Tuesday morning that LaMarr Hoyt, the 1983 American League Cy Young Award winner and White Sox pitcher from 1979-1984 had died at the age of 66.

      Hoyt came to the White Sox as part of a four-player deal with the Yankees literally right before the club headed north to open the season on April 5, 1977. “Bucky” Dent was the player sent to the Bronx because then Sox owner Bill Veeck couldn’t get him to agree to a new contract.

      Hoyt came to the Sox along with Oscar Gamble, Bob Polinsky and 200,000 dollars. It isn’t known if Hoyt was considered a throw-in to the deal or not because Bill Veeck and Roland Hemond originally wanted left hander Ron Guidry included in the trade and Yankee owner George Steinbrenner was prepared to do it until then manager Billy Martin intervened and got him to change his mind.

      Hoyt made his White Sox debut on September 14, 1979 at home where he pitched a one-two-three inning against the Athletics.

      In 1980 he opened the season in the White Sox bullpen but by late July he moved into the starting rotation. When the year was done, he pitched over 112 innings, with 13 starts, three complete games and a record of nine and three.

      1981 though was the season when things began to come together for the big man from South Carolina.

      It started that opening day in Boston (the return of Carlton Fisk game) as he pitched two innings in relief to pick up the win after Fisk’ dramatic three run home run in the top of the eighth inning gave the White Sox the lead in the game.

      Another highlight came towards the end of that year in Oakland on September 27 in the first game of a double header. Starter Ross Baumgarten got knocked out in the first inning giving up five runs and not retiring anyone. Hoyt came on to try to stop the bleeding. He did more than ...
      11-30-2021, 02:25 PM
    • A Conversation with Cory Snyder...
      by Lipman 1

      By Mark Liptak
      White Sox Historian

      White Sox fans may think the right field situation and the team’s inability to figure it out is a recent problem but history shows it isn’t.

      The hole in right field has been around off and on for years. For example, the Sox thought they had it solved when they made a trade with Cleveland for power hitter Cory Snyder before the start of the 1991 season.

      Alas it didn’t work out and shockingly Snyder was traded even before that season ended.

      Sometimes though the reason something didn’t work isn’t obvious and there was far more than met the eye in this one as I found out when I interviewed Cory in 2002.

      It showed the power of then White Sox hitting coach Walt Hriniak.

      ----------

      His stay in Chicago wasn’t a long one. It wasn’t by his choice, and to this day, Cory Snyder wonders "what if?" What if his opportunity with the White Sox had been longer? What if he had been able to play on the 1993 Western Division Champion and the team leading the division at the time of the strike in 1994?

      Snyder played nine years in the Major Leagues with Cleveland, the White Sox, Toronto, San Francisco and Los Angeles. He was a tremendous athlete with an arm that enabled him to tie for the lead in outfield assists in the American League from 1987 through 1990 with 61. He was an exceptional defensive outfielder only making one error in 310 chances in 1989. He had pop in his bat as well, stroking 115 home runs in his four and a half years with the Tribe. When the Sox got him in the off season after 1990, for pitchers Eric King and Shawn Hillegas, Sox fans thought the ‘black hole’ in right field was finally figured out.

      Unfortunately, Snyder’s stay on the South Side lasted only three and a half months when he was dealt to Toronto for outfielder Shawn Jeter. It’s a sad story of a good player being forced to do things...
      11-15-2021, 08:50 PM
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