I read this morning that ex-Red Alex Johnson had passed away of prostate cancer at the age of 72.
Unless you’re of a certain age, you probably don’t remember Alex Johnson as a Cincinnati Red. He only played with the Reds for two seasons, 1968 and 1969. He came over to the Reds from the Cards for Outfielder Dick Simpson in January of 1968. Simpson had had two close to average seasons with the Reds (OPS+ of 97 and 94), but would forever be known as one of the players the Reds received in the trade for Frank Robinson. That’s a tough thing to live down and a lot of pressure to play under.
The Reds were Johnson’s 3rd major league team already, by the age of 25. After putting up promising numbers in Philadelphia in part-time play in ’64 and ’65, he was traded to the Cards. He struggled in ’66 and was sent back to the minors and in ’67, he was mostly a PH and backup for Roger Maris before being traded to the Reds shortly before spring training in 1968.
Johnson came to the Reds with a bad reputation in the clubhouse, but soon after coming over, won the Reds LF job, shifting Pete Rose to RF. In ’68, he put up a .312/.342/.395 slash line with a 116 OPS+. His average was 4th in the NL behind Pete, and two of the Alou brothers. He played even better for the Reds in that wild NL West pennant race in ’69, putting up a .315/.350/.463 slash line and an OPS+ of 122, matching his career total in homers (17) in one season. His defense was never stellar, leading the league in errors by an OF both of his years with the Reds.
With the Reds badly needing pitching and prospects, Hal McRae and Bernie Carbo waiting in the wings, the Reds traded Johnson (and Chico “Bench me or Trade me” Ruiz”) to the California Angels in November ’69 for future Reds HOFer, Pedro Borbon, Jim McGlothlin, and Vern Geishert.
Borbon’s long Reds legacy doesn’t need to be recapped here for any real Reds fan. McGlothlin won 14 games for the Reds in ’70 and started a World Series game in the ’70 and ’72 World Series (McGlothlin was diagnosed with leukemia in ’74 and died in ’75 at the age of 32). Geishert had pitched 11 games for the Angels in ’69, but never pitched in the bigs again. Nevertheless, he was one of the two players (along with Frank Duffy) that brought George Foster to the Reds in 1971.
Johnson won the AL Batting Title while playing for the Angels in 1970, putting up a line of .329/.370/.459, being named to the All Star Team and finishing 8th in the MVP balloting.
Through the rest career he played in Cleveland, Texas, for the Yankees, before finishing with the Tigers in 1976 at the age of 33.
I remember Johnson as a guy that could really hit, but that made Kevin Mitchell or Adam Dunn look good as an OFer. But a bigger part of his legacy as a Reds is that moving him allowed the Reds to play McRae and Carbo. Carbo won the ROY in ’70. But most important is that his trade brought HUGE future pieces of the BRM to Cincinnati (Borbon and Foster).
Redleg Nation sends its condolences to Mr. Johnson’s family.