Glancing Back, and Remembering Lou Johnson
“Sweet Lou” Johnson was the centerpiece of the Los Angeles Dodgers‘ offense in the mid-1960s. In those seasons, the Dodgers were winning pennants, but they were doing it primarily with the best pitching in the major leagues … with arms like those of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Johnny Podres, Claude Osteen and Ron Perranoski.
The Dodgers of 1965 and 1966 generally didn’t score a lot of runs, but they scored enough to win. Those teams manufactured runs with their legs as well as their bats. And Lou Johnson was an integral part of that “just enough” offense.
Johnson was an all-around star athlete, who excelled particularly on the basketball court. He was signed by the New York Yankees in 1953.
He spent the next 13 years working his way into a full-time major league gig. His first opportunity came in 1962 with the Milwaukee Braves after brief appearances the two previous seasons with the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Angels. He appeared in 61 games with the Braves, batting .282.
In May of 1963, Johnson was traded by the Braves to the Detroit Tigers for shortstop Chico Fernandez. It meant another two seasons in the minors, but the turning point in Johnson’s career came just before the start of the 1964 season when Johnson was traded to the Dodgers for pitcher Larry Sherry.
Johnson spent 1964 in the minors and started the 1965 season as a reserve outfielder for the Dodgers. In early May the team’s hitting star and two-time batting champion, Tommy Davis, suffered a season-ending broken ankle. Johnson took over in left field and hit .259 in 131 games, with 24 doubles, 12 home runs, 58 RBIs and 15 stolen bases. In the 1965 World Series against the Minnesota Twins, Johnson hit .296 with two home runs and four RBIs.
He was the Dodgers’ starting left fielder for the duration of the team’s 1966 pennant-winning season. He hit .272 with 17 home runs and 73 RBIs. He followed up in 1967 by hitting .270 with 11 home runs and 41 RBIs.
Johnson would play for only two more major league seasons. Following the 1967 campaign, the Dodgers sent Johnson to the Cubs, who traded him in June of 1968 to the Cleveland Indians for outfielder Willie Smith. Johnson hit .257 in 65 games with the Tribe, and just before Opening Day of 1969 he was traded to the California Angels for outfielder Chuck Hinton. Johnson hit .203 for the Angels, playing in only 61 games that season, and retired at the end of the season at age 34.
Johnson finished his eight-season major league career with a .258 batting average.