Former big league outfielder Alex Johnson passed away on February 28th of cancer. He was 72.
A native of Detroit, Johnson signed with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1961 and would debut with the team in 1964. That was the year when the Phillies collapsed in the final two weeks of the season to be eclipsed by the St. Louis Cardinals for the NL pennant.
The Phillies traded Johnson to the Cardinals prior to the 1966 season along with Pat Corrales and Art Mahaffey for one time NL MVP Dick Groat, future NL President Bill White and future cultural icon Bob Uecker.
Johnson did not distinguish himself with either the Phillies or the Cardinals. But this would change when he was dealt to the Cincinnati Reds for Dick Simpson prior to the 1968 season. Johnson hit .312 with the Reds in 1968 and .315 with the Reds in 1969 finishing fourth and sixth in the NL batting race, respectively. His teammate Pete Rose would win two of his three career NL batting titles in both of those seasons.
In 1970, Johnson was on the move again as he was traded to the California Angels. Although Johnson missed out on the beginning of the Big Red Machine, 1970 was a banner year for Johnson when he won the AL batting title with a .329 average narrowly beating out Carl Yastrzemski by 0.004 points. Johnson was also earn his only career AL All-Star selection.
Unfortunately, Johnson would not replicate his success in 1971. He would be suspended on five different occasions throughout the season. As it turned out, Johnson was suffering from severe depression. The late MLBPA Director Marvin Miller filed a grievance on behalf of Johnson and an arbitration panel would overturn his suspension and rule that mental illness was legitimate grounds for being placed on the disabled list. Miller would devote an entire chapter to the Johnson case in his book A Whole Different Ballgame.
Although the panel ruled in Johnson’s favor, he was never the same player. The Angels traded Johnson to the Cleveland Indians prior to the 1972 season. He would have stints with the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees before returning home to Detroit to finish his career with the Tigers in 1976. Johnson collected 1,331 hits for a respectable .288 lifetime batting average in 13 big league seasons