Tag Archives: Frank LaPorte

“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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“The Longest Hit in the World”

10 Oct

Walter “Judge” McCredie, longtime Portland Beavers player, manager and president said the longest home run he ever saw was hit by Otis L. “Ote” Johnson when Johnson played for him:

“The drive of Ote Johnson’s at Los Angeles (in 1909) was the longest clout I have ever witnessed.  Out in center field they had a pavilion 150 feet long.  Hits at Chutes Park in Los Angeles had never come within fifty feet of the pavilion…Johnson put the ball clean over the pavilion and the ball bounced into the bandstand for what I call the longest hit in the world.”

By the time he hit that ball in Portland he had already been called “Home run” Johnson for at least five years, a name earned in the Texas League when he hit 22 home runs in two seasons for the Dallas Giants—he finished third with 12 in 1903 and led the league with 10 in 1904.

Otis "Ote" Johnson

Otis “Ote” Johnson

Johnson was born in Fowler, Indiana in 1882, and grew up in Muncie.  The Dallas Morning News said fellow Indianan Claude Berry recommended Johnson to Dallas.  Primarily a shortstop, Johnson also played first, third and outfield, and appeared in more than 30 games as a pitcher during his professional career.

Johnson was sold to the Little Rock Travelers near the end of the 1904 season; he remained with Little Rock through 1906 but hit just .210 against “A” class Southern Association pitching.  He was sold to the Charleston Sea Gulls in the class “C” South Atlantic League before the 1907 season and hit .263, leading the team in doubles (27), triples (13) and home runs (10).

His performance in Charleston earned him another shot in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) when his contract was sold to Portland.  After a slow start at the tail-end of the 1907 season, Johnson regained his form, hitting .280 with 10 home runs in 1908 and .293 with 13 home runs (including his “longest hit in the world”) in 1909.

McCredie said the day Johnson hit his home run against Los Angeles scouts from the New York Highlanders was in the stands:

“(A)fter the battle they asked me to put a price on Ote.  I did, and a few days later the deal was consummated.”

The price was $4,000.

As Johnson prepared to join the Highlanders and manager George Stallings for spring training in Georgia, the New York press was excited about the team’s new prospect who was spending the winter in Muncie working and playing goalie Muncie’s professional roller polo team.  The New York Globe said:

“There is a ‘terrible Swede’ coming to New York next season.  He is a glass blower and makes from $6 to $7 a day in a factory at Muncie, Ind., and in the summertime he makes his living at swinging a large club and gathering bad and good bounders on the baseball field…The boy we’re harping about is Ote Johnson, who will be a member of the New York Americans. (In the PCL) he is known as ‘Home Run’ Johnson.  They say he has driven many a pitcher to the bench.”

George Stallings

George Stallings

Phil Cooney, a New Yorker, who played with Johnson in Portland, told The Globe:

“They seem to think that this boy Johnson can’t hit a curve ball, but Stallings will find out that he can hit any kind.”

On March 23 Stallings told The New York American that Johnson, who was playing third base and shortstop, “couldn’t hit.” Two days later The American said:

“Ote Johnson this afternoon gave an apt illustration of a home run and for the first time since he reported to Stallings the Portland demon found his batting eye.  But for the most daring burglaries on the part of (William) Birdie Cree, the big third sacker would have hit for 1.000 during the afternoon.  As it was he had a single and a homer in three times at bat.  His single might have been a homer had not (2nd baseman) Earle Gardner sprang into the air and retarded its progress by a blind stab.  But the four-base smash was beyond reach.

“Johnson got to one of (Dick) Carroll’s choicest curves and knocked the ball further than any had ever before traveled in Georgia.  Birdie Cree was playing deep for the big fellow.  The ball went so far that Cree had not gotten to it by the time Johnson crossed the home plate, and he only jogged from second.  The ball rolled to the fence, which is fully 300 yards from the plate.”

As late as April 1 it looked like Johnson might stick with New York.  The Trenton Evening Times said:

“The latest ‘phenom’ to be discovered is Otis Johnson, the New York Americans’ third sacker.  This recruit has been playing sensational games around the last station since he joined the club…Johnson is also quite a slugologist.  In the last few games the youngster has been batting like a Tyrus Cobb.  In a recent game at Athens, Ga., he made four hits in as many times at bat.  Among them was a home run.  Manager Stallings says he thinks Johnson will make a great name for himself this season.”

Despite the build up, and the reports of his prowess at the plate, Johnson did make Stallings’ club.  His contract was sold to the Jersey City Skeeters in the Eastern League.

The (Portland) Oregonian said New York “farmed out” the former Beaver star despite the fact that:

“New York critics credit Ote, nevertheless, with having more promise than some of the players retained by Stallings.”

Johnson hit just .223 with 9 home runs (second in the league) with Jersey City, but would benefit from unrest in the New York clubhouse.  Manager George Stallings accused his star first baseman, Hal Chase, of trying to throw a game in St. Louis (the first of what would become many accusations against Chase). Stallings said he would resign if Chase wasn’t let go; Highlander owner Frank Farrell sided with Chase and forced Stallings out in September; Chase was named manager.

Hal Chase

Hal Chase

After the season ended the New York papers said Johnson would on Chase’s club the following season, either at third base in place of Jimmy Austin (who was rumored to be on the market, and eventually traded to the St. Louis Browns), or to play shortstop in place of John Knight  who would be moved to second base to replace Frank LaPorte (also on the market, and also eventually traded to St. Louis with Austin).

More Otis Johnson on Monday.