“Johnson can Hit the Ball as far as Anybody”

14 Oct

After Hal Chase replaced George Stallings as manager of the New York Highlanders, Otis “Ote” Johnson was given another opportunity to play for the team.

Highlanders’ second baseman Frank LaPorte and third baseman Jimmy Austin were traded to the St. Louis Browns for third baseman Roy Hartzell.  Chase said he’d move shortstop John Knight to second and playing Johnson at shortstop.

The Sporting Life quoted Chase saying he planned to play Johnson at short “for his batting,” but noted that Johnson “only batted .223 in the fast Eastern League last season.”

Otis "Ote" Johnson

Otis “Ote” Johnson

New York scout Arthur Irwin agreed with Chase that the team needed Johnson’s bat in the lineup, and told The New York Globe:

“Johnson can hit the ball as far as anybody, and what is more he can hit often.”

The New York Herald said:

“Johnson is a beautiful fielder as well as a good hitter, and it is Chase’s intention to have him take the shortstop job.”

That’s where Johnson was on Opening Day, a 2 to 1 victory over the defending World Champion Philadelphia Athletics; Johnson batted seventh, went 0 for two with a walk and a sacrifice, and scored a run.

After sweeping Philadelphia in three games, New York split a four game series with the Washington Senators.

The Washington Herald said New York’s new shortstop “sure looked good, he fielded his position in fine shape,” and “keeps the infield alive with his funny remarks.”

A month after the season began The Indianapolis News said Johnson was “called home (to Muncie, Indiana) by the serious illness of his mother.”  Three days later the paper said he returned to New York “his mother’s condition having considerably improved.”  Within a week of his return the New York papers reported that Johnson had filed for divorce from his wife.

Less than two weeks later Johnson lost his starting job; Knight moved to short and Earle Gardner played second base.

Ote Johnson

Ote Johnson 1911

The San Francisco Chronicle said of the former Pacific Coast League star:

“Ote Johnson has been benched for his weak hitting.  He put up a star game in the field…but Ote did not respond with the hitting which featured his work when he was with Portland.”

Three days after he was benched Johnson left the team again to finalize his divorce.  After returning Johnson became New York’s primary utility infielder until he fell out of favor with Hal Chase.  The manager had been criticised as the team slumped for, as The Globe said “utterly lacking in the qualities for successful management.”

By August the team was fourteen games out of first place and The Herald said:

“Hal Chase, who has been very lenient with his players, is drawing the string tighter.”

The paper said Johnson “has been suspended without pay for violating the club’s rule of discipline.”  It was never revealed what rule was violated, but Johnson was suspended for about a week.  Johnson also hurt his throwing arm in August, further limiting his playing time.

Many in the New York press questioned Chase’s ability as a manager; Wilton Simpson Farnsworth of The New York Evening Journal was the exception.  Farnsworth said of Chase, when the team was 13 games back in August:

“Hal Chase, the game’s greatest first baseman, has made good as manager of the new York Yankees…Knockers claim that poor management is keeping the Yanks down, but forget it! A bad break in luck plus innumerable injuries is the cause.”

Hal Chase

Hal Chase

Regardless of the reasons, 1910’s second place team was limping to a sixth place finish. Chase resigned as manager in November.  Johnson hit just .234 and committed 31 errors in just 65 games.  He was released to the Rochester Hustlers in the International league in December.

Johnson spent just one season in Rochester; he hit .268 and got married; after the season his contract was sold to the Binghamton Bingoes in the New York State League (NYSL).  Johnson protested the pay cut his Binghamton contract called for, and initially threatened to jump to the PCL, he eventually signed a contract and became popular with fans.  He hit the Bingoes first home run of the 1913 season and was awarded with a free daily shave from a local barber and fan named Billy McCann.

He played most of the next three seasons in the NYSL—with the exception of 45-games with the St. Paul Apostles in the American Association at the beginning of the 1914 season.

After playing for the Elmira Colonels in 1915 Johnson recommended two players to his friend Walter “Judge” McCredie on the Portland Beavers—his teammate, pitcher Frank Caporal, and Syracuse Stars first baseman Owen Quinn—and it appeared the 31-year-old Johnson might be heading back to Portland where he remained very popular.

On November 9 Johnson went hunting with friend in Binghamton.  The (Portland) Oregonian said:

“Ote Johnson, famous ‘Home Run’ Ote of the Portland Pacific Coast team of 1907, 1908 and 1909, is dead…It seems Johnson, in company with a party of friends, went forth in search of game and while chasing a wounded fox stumbled and fell, both barrels of the shotgun he was carrying discharged into his abdomen.

“To the older generation of Portland fans Johnson will be remembered for his prowess in poling out long bingles.  He was one of the longest hitters that ever wore the livery of a Coast League club.  Some are prone to argue that he eclipsed the performances of (Frank) Ping Bodie and Harry Heilman, who are now the long-swat stars of the circuit.  Johnson also had a peculiar throw from third that will be remembered–He had a perfect underhand throw and was a wonder at handling bunts.”

He was buried in Johnson City, New York–his pallbearers included several players: Mike Roach, Charles Hartman, Mike Konnick, and William Fischer,

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2 Responses to ““Johnson can Hit the Ball as far as Anybody””

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