This Week in 1960s Baseball
Homer Happy: Deron Johnson
Hitting the ball hard was Deron Johnson’s specialty. Pete Rose said he never saw anyone hit the ball harder.
Johnson was signed by the New York Yankees in 1956, but there was no room for him in the Yankees’ powerful lineup of the late 1950s. He managed a token appearance with New York in 1960.
Thirteen games into the 1961 season, Johnson was traded with pitcher Art Ditmar to the Kansas City Athletics for pitcher Bud Daley. In 83 games with the A’s, he hit eight home runs with 44 RBIs but batted only .216. He spent most of the next two seasons in the minors and then was purchased by the Cincinnati Reds.
In Cincinnati, Johnson matured into the power hitter and run producer that he was to become. Batting in a lineup surrounded with hitters like Rose, Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson and Tony Perez, Johnson got to see more strikes (and fastballs), and he responded with RBIs. He hit .263 in 1964 with 21 home runs and 79 RBIs. In 1965, he led the major leagues with 130 RBIs while hitting .287 with 30 doubles and 32 home runs. In 1966, in a lineup that no longer included Robinson, Johnson hit 24 home runs with 81 RBIs.
Following the 1967 season, Johnson was traded to the Atlanta Braves for Jim Beauchamp, Mack Jones and Jay Ritchie. His only season in Atlanta produced eight home runs and 33 RBIs, and he was purchased by the Philadelphia Phillies, where his power hitting revived. His best season in Philadelphia was 1971, when he hit .265 with 34 home runs and 95 RBIs.
Over the next four seasons, Johnson played for five different teams (Philadelphia, Oakland, Milwaukee, Boston and the Chicago White Sox) and averaged 13 home runs and 51 RBIs per season. His best remaining seasons were 1973, when he hit 20 home runs with 86 RBIs for the Phillies and A’s, and 1975, when he hit 19 home runs with 75 RBIs, splitting the season with the White Sox and Red Sox. Johnson retired after the 1976 season.
In 16 big league seasons with eight different teams, Johnson hit 245 home runs and collected 923 RBIs.
Glancing Back, and Remembering Tony Perez
In the prime of his career, first baseman Tony Perez was an RBI monster for the Cincinnati Reds. He was so productive for so long and so consistently that he quite naturally found a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame following a 23-year major league career.
That career began in the 1960s with the Reds, the team that signed him in 1960. He was named the Most Valuable Player in the Pacific Coast League in 1964, hitting 34 home runs with 107 RBIs for the Reds’ AAA affiliate, the (then minor league) San Diego Padres.
In 1965, his first full season with the Reds, Perez hit .260 with 12 home runs and 47 RBIs. He batted .265 in 1966, and then had his breakout season in 1967, batting .290 with 28 doubles, 26 home runs and 102 RBIs. He appeared in his first All-Star game that season, hitting the game-winning home run off Catfish Hunter in the fifteenth inning and being named the game’s Most Valuable Player. At the end of the season, Perez finished eighth in the balloting for National League MVP.
Perez’s offensive number fell off slightly in 1968 (as was true for nearly all of baseball’s sluggers), but he put together another tremendous year in 1969, batting .294 with 31 doubles, 37 home runs and 122 runs batted in (third best in the National League behind Willie McCovey and Ron Santo). He improved on those numbers again in 1970, batting .317 with 40 home runs and 129 RBIs.
From 1967 through 1976, Perez averaged 26 home runs and 103 RBIs per season while batting a combined .286 over that decade. Following the 1976 season, Perez was traded with Will McEnaney to the Montreal Expos for Woodie Fryman and Dale Murray. In three seasons with the Expos, Perez averaged 15 home runs and 81 RBIs while batting .281. He spent three seasons with the Boston Red Sox, hitting 25 home runs with 105 RBIs in 1980. After a season in Philadelphia, Perez returned to the Reds in 1984 and spent three more seasons as a part-time performer, retiring after the 1986 season.
Perez retired with a .279 career batting average and 379 home runs. His 1,652 runs batted in put him twenty-eighth on the all-time list. His 1,192 RBIs with the Reds put him second to Johnny Bench in that category.
A five-time All-Star, Perez was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000.