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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 Chet Lemon...
      by Lipman 1

      By Mark Liptak
      White Sox Historian

      A few weeks ago, I brought you my interview with former Sox outfielder Carlos May, a guy who overcame a potential career ending injury to have a very good career on the South Side.

      Now I bring you the story of another terrific outfielder, Chet Lemon. Lemon also overcame an illness that almost cost him his life after leaving the White Sox.

      Some teams are known for certain positions. The White Sox historically have been known for pitchers, shortstops and center fielders. Lemon was among the best center fielders to ever play in Comiskey Park ranking right up there with players like Gold Glove winners Jim Landis and Ken Berry along with other very good outfielders in Mike Hershberger and Lance Johnson.

      I’ve lost touch with Chet since my interview with him in 2004. I wish I could get back in contact with him because, as I think you’ll see in the interview, there aren’t many guys as open and honest about life and baseball as he is. He was just a great guy to talk with.

      ----------

      It’s amazing what you forget. Take this example. In the 2004 White Sox media guide on page 294 under the heading of ‘Career Batting Leaders,’ you find this in the top right-hand corner. Under the listing for ‘Top Career OPB + Slugging Leaders’, sitting in the 5th position all time is Chet Lemon at .814. Ahead of him is Frank Thomas at #1, Magglio Ordonez, "Minnie" Minoso and Eddie Collins. Not bad company.

      Lemon is another one of those very good White Sox players that few knew about, primarily because for most of his career in Chicago, Chet played on some bad, nondescript clubs. He had to go to Detroit before getting national recognition and getting a World Series ring with the 1984 Tigers.

      But make no mistake... Lemon was pretty damn good.

      He was with the Sox from September 1975 through the 1981 season, playing in two All-Star
      ...
      10-16-2021, 06:15 PM
    • South side blackout
      by voodoochile




      SOUTH SIDE BLACKOUT

      by


      Matthew Cianchetti AKA Foulke You

      On a drizzly night in September of 2008, the White Sox finished the 162 game gauntlet with a makeup game win against the Tigers and found themselves in a dead heat with their biggest division rivals, the Minnesota Twins. By virtue of a coin flip, the White Sox had won the right to host the tiebreaker game 163 to decide the AL Central crown. Having the home field advantage for the winner take all affair was huge in that particular season as both teams were dominant at home and both teams were designed to take advantage of their own ballparks. At the time, the Sox were heavily built around home runs while the Twins were built around speed and contact hitting. The bouncy turf at the old HHH Metrodome wreaked havoc on opponents as Twins hitters practically swung down on the baseball to initiate bouncing bleeders through the infield. Any Sox fan no doubt has nightmares at the thought of Nick Punto at the dome going 4 for 5 with nary a hit cracking 80 mph exit velocity. There would be no dome or fake turf on tap that September night. The Twins were about to have their season blacked out.

      When it was clear the Sox had won the makeup game 162 against Detroit to force the tiebreaker scenario, the Sox immediately put tickets on sale that same night. One of the benefits of this particular affair being unplanned and last minute scheduling was the fact that it was essentially a playoff game without the league red tape. Any true fan knows that the playoffs can often squeeze out the little guy with high secondary pricing and sponsor reserved tickets. This game 163 was not going to have many corporate fans or celebrities in the house. It was 40,000 rabid White Sox supporters that were coming out to see the South Side 9 win a division title. The team marketing department put out a call to arms: “BLACKOUT”. Taking a page out of “white
      ...
      10-05-2021, 08:52 PM
    • A Conversation With Carlos May...
      by Lipman 1

      By Mark Liptak
      White Sox Historian

      He was a very good player for the White Sox during the first half of the 1970’s. Carlos May was overshadowed at times by guys like Dick Allen, Bill Melton and Wilbur Wood but he could play the game, combining surprising speed for a man of his size with good power. He made the All-Star team in 1969 and 1972 which was probably his finest season.

      But to know the story of Carlos you have to know what he went through to even get back to the Major Leagues after a horrible accident while with the Marine Reserves cost him his thumb and put his playing future in grave danger.

      When I talked with Carlos in 2004 he went into detail about the accident, how it impacted him and how White Sox fans responded to his situation. This is the interview with him for your enjoyment.


      Also, May is the only player in MLB history (that I know of) that has his uniform reflect not only his last name “May” but also his actual birthday, “May 17!”

      ----------

      When you think about it, the career of Carlos May and the history of the White Sox franchise seem to coincide quite a bit. May was a tremendous prospect and when he came up for good to the Sox in 1969 he was one of the better players on a team that didn’t have many of them, a lot like the career of Luke Appling in the 40's, Chet Lemon in the late 70's, Ozzie Guillen in the late 80's and Frank Thomas in the late 90's. May suffered what could have been a potentially career ending injury, like ill-fated Sox players “Monty” Stratton, Paul Edmondson and Johnny Mostil, only to come back and have a solid career. He finally got his chance at post season play but naturally, it had to come with a team other than the White Sox, like countless others.

      While May was on the South Side, he showed he could pound a baseball, hit for average and surprisingly to some, steal bases... a lot of them, for a man his size.

      ...
      09-25-2021, 04:07 PM
    • History!
      by voodoochile

      Let it be written. Let it be known. On September 23rd, 2021 at approximately 4:00 PM local time in Cleveland, the Chicago White Sox won the American League Central Division title and ensured themselves a playoff spot for the second consecutive year. This marks the first time in their history the Sox have managed to make the playoffs two years in a row. It's been a LONG time coming but for those of us who witnessed today it was worth the wait.

      It hasn't been an easy slog, though the division title has been a foregone conclusion for several weeks now. Cleveland traded Cesar Hernandez to the Sox at the trade deadline pretty much surrendering and admitting they weren't going to catch our Boyz this year. However the Sox promptly took that surrender and sat on it, playing .500 ball over the remainder of the year while fighting niggling injuries and roller coaster offensive output while trying their best to walk the fine line between resting players and locking up the division. Mission accomplished at last. Well at least in part. There's still another week+ to go and then come the playoffs themselves. Right now that's a big mountain, but at least the team appears to be finally getting healthy with only Ryan Tepera currently still unavailable from the expected playoff roster.

      The game itself was never in doubt. Tim Anderson led things off with a solo shot and then tacked on another 3-run blast in the second after both Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez added solo shots of their own. By the time the smoke had cleared the Sox were up 7-0 after 1.5. The offense didn't add anymore, but the pitching was solid and Tony LaRussa wasn't playing games. He yanked starting pitcher, Reynaldo Lopez in the 4th when he started struggling with control and gave up his second solo shot to close the lead to 5. The Sox brought in Garret Crochet who gave up a single but then got a double play grounder to end the inning. After that, it was bring in the late inning...
      09-23-2021, 08:25 PM
    • A Conversation with Brooks Boyer...
      by Lipman 1


      By Mark Liptak
      White Sox Historian

      In the winter of 2008, I had the chance to have a long conversation with Brooks Boyer of the White Sox front office. Brooks as many of you know, has a number of duties but most of his time is occupied with marketing and working with the White Sox broadcasters. I enjoyed this interview because I strongly sensed Brooks’ interest in my questions and he was willing to give detailed information on how the Sox look at things like promotions, ad campaigns and how broadcasters are hired. Much like Bob Grim’s interview this gives the fans a peek at how Sox decisions are made. And you may find particularly fascinating Brook’s thoughts on Sox fans in general. Much of his comments you’ll find are still relevant today.

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

      It is a challenging and often thankless part of any Major League Baseball operation. But in today’s game where so much of the “action” takes place off the field, it is of vital importance that your marketing department be first rate and increase any and all options to promote your franchise, which ultimately brings in more revenue.

      For the White Sox, that area is handled by Brooks Boyer who has the official title of Vice President/Chief Marketing Officer.

      What struck me as I spoke with him were his core characteristics. He was open, honest, candid, and funny. His passion for the White Sox organization and for his role in it came through loud and clear but what also struck me, and this surprised me, was Brooks’ desire to know as much about me as I did about him and his work. Throughout the interview he peppered me with questions like, ‘Where are you from in Chicago?’’ “What’s your honest opinion of ownership?” In addition, when I told him stories of incidents that happened to me regarding the White Sox or what some of the other interview subjects had to say about certain areas, he responded, “I love to hear those kinds...
      09-05-2021, 04:09 PM
    • A Conversation with Bob Shaw...
      by Lipman 1


      By Mark Liptak
      White Sox Historian

      Before the start of the 1959 season White Sox manager Al Lopez stepped out of character and made a predication. “The Yankees can be beaten.”

      Lopez felt that the Sox with their team speed, solid defense, ability to execute fundamentals enough to score some runs and excellent pitching would overcome the “Bronx Bombers” and their power potential.

      History showed he was right. But as sometimes happens an unexpected source, think Eric King in 1990, Jason Bere in 1993 or Esteban Loaiza in 2003 was a real difference maker.

      In 1959 that difference maker was a right-handed pitcher named Bob Shaw who came over in a deal with the Tigers in 1958 and immediately fell under the wing of Sox pitching coach Ray Berres.

      In early 1959 when Shaw got his chance, he was ready…by the time the season ended he pitched in 47 games, 26 starts, 230 innings, went 18-6 with three saves, had an ERA of 2.69 and beat Sandy Koufax in the World Series.

      Not bad for a guy who wasn’t expected to make that much of a difference.

      After he left the Sox he continued to be successful making the All-Star game in 1962 with Milwaukee as he went 15-9, going 16-9 for the Giants in 1965 and even winning in double figures with a sub four ERA for the 1966 Mets who lost 95 games.

      After he retired Bob became a very successful businessman in Florida. He died in 2010. This is my interview with him from 2006.

      ----------

      The 2005 season for the Chicago White Sox organization, players, coaches and fans will long be remembered in the annals of this charter American League franchise. Winning the World Series and roaring through the playoffs in a way more associated with such historic teams as the 1927 New York Yankees and the 1975 Cincinnati Reds tends to do that.

      But the 2005 season also did one other thing. The season created...
      08-22-2021, 05:20 PM
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