Tag Archives: York White Roses

“The one man in Baseball who did not Want to Rise”

15 Apr

William Malcolm Bingay of The Detroit News found a player he could not figure out:

“Somewhere in the big state of Pennsylvania there is a lean, wiry lad with a big under jaw and a crop of wire hair, who is eking out an existence tinning roofs. He escaped an awful fate, so he is happy. He might have been a major league ball player. His name is Johnson and he is on the Tiger reserve list, but he will not be taken South this spring.”

Charlie “Home Run” Johnson was an enigma—he was said to have a huge ego; The Trenton Times once said of him:

“If Home-Run Johnson gets his chest out much further he will crack his wish bone or else curve his spine so that it will never regain its normal shape.”

But Johnson refused to play far from Pennsylvania—he lived just outside Philadelphia in Chester. When he spent the spring of 1907 with the Tigers, but when he was assigned to the Montreal Royals, The News said:

“The heavy hitting outfielder…is averse to playing in Montreal.”

homerunjohnson.jpg

Home Run Johnson

Johnson instead played for the Johnstown Johnnies in the Tri-State League.

Bingay said:

“Johnson was the one man in baseball who did not want to rise.”

Johnson told Bingay

“’I don’t want to ply in the American League. I don’t want to play in any big league. I want to play around home.”

When he joined the Tigers on the trip south, Bingay said Johnson “had a strange idea of the power of baseball law,” thinking he had to come.

“’What did you come South for, then?’ ‘I was drafted.’ He said that in the voice of some Russian prisoner explaining why he was sent to Siberia.”

According to Bingay, Johnson, who picked up the additional nickname,“Little Ban” after American League President Ban Johnson, not only wanted nothing to do with major league baseball, he barely had anything to do with his teammates:

“Johnson never spoke to anybody on the team unless spoken to. He spent his nights in his rooms with a massive book about the size of a family dictionary. It was entitled ‘Tales of the Seven Murderers” and described life in the ‘Wild and wicked West.’ He was often so deeply interested in the doings of his bloodthirsty heroes that he would take the book to the dinner table with him.”

On his way the his “forced” spring service with the Tigers, Johnson’s trunk apparently went missing, forcing him, according to Bingay to use borrowed clothes on and off the field:

“Johnson on the ball field was a sight never to be forgotten. If you had never seen Little Ban in his makeup, (vaudeville actor) Eddie Foy would appear as an imitation. He had a pair of Sam Crawford’s pants, once white; George Mullin’s shirt and (Germany) Schaefer’s cap; which completely covered his ears.”

Bingay said Johnson played that spring with a pair of congress gaiters in the place of his lost baseball shoes, and:

“Once, during a heated scrub game he lost his shoe running from first to second, and they tagged him out because he stopped to sweat at (first baseman Claude) Rossman, who had kicked it into right field.”

Johnson apparently managed to annoy his manager as well:

“He used to keep Jennings up night after night until almost dawn, knocking at his door to find out ‘just how he could get his trunk.’”

Johnson went home to Chester and stayed there. Throughout May it was rumored he was joining the York White Roses in the Tri-State League; that fell through and he played for a semi-pro team in Atlantic City, New Jersey. At the end of July, he joined the Johnstown Johnnies in the Tri-State.

He hit .262 in 1907 and returned to Johnstown the following season; hitting, hitting .296 and leading the Tri-State with nine home runs.

On September 1, Johnson was drafted by a major league team agreeable to him—one 18 miles away from his home in Chester–the Philadelphia Phillies.

Johnson made his major league debut on September 21, pinch hitting in the first game of a double header; he started the second game in left field. The local boy’s arrival to the big leagues was barely noticed by the local press, The Philadelphia Inquirer said:

“(Sherry) Magee started the first game in left field but gave way to young Johnson in the second battle…Johnson failed to get a hit during five times up but managed to take care of everything which came his way in the field.”

Johnson appeared in six games for the Phillies, he was 4 for 16 with two RBI,

By the end of the season, The Philadelphia Press predicted:

“Johnson, the Johnstown pickup, undoubtedly will get a thorough trial with the Phillies next spring. He is a natural batsman and hits the ball with terrible force.”

After the 1908 season, the Detroit Tigers filed a claim against the $750 draft price paid by the Phillies for Johnson’s contract, claiming they still held his rights. The Tigers were eventually awarded half.

The prediction that Johnson would return to the Phillies was wrong, shortly before the team when South in the spring of 1909, The Press reported that 31-year-old journeyman Pep Deininger and minor leaguer Charlie Hanford would instead be given the opportunity to be the Phillies extra outfielder; Deininger made the club. Johnson returned to Johnstown.

Johnson never went to camp with another major league club, but stayed a star, near home, with the New York State and Tri-State League clubs. The biggest highlight of his career was his league-leading .403 average for the Trenton Tigers in 1912—he also hit 14 home runs.

Johnson hit better than .300 for two more seasons in the Tri-State League but battled injuries and returned home to Chester after the 1914 season. He worked for the rest of his life in a clothing factory—for the American Viscose Company—in Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania. He and his wife had eight children.

He died of a heart attack at the factory at age 55. His obituary in The Delaware County Daily Times mentioned that he was a local baseball legend but said he had only had a “try-out with the Phillies,” and did mention his two weeks as a major leaguer.