Left Behind 3: Ken Johnson

Bledsoe again…

Ken Johnson.jpgRighthanded Pitcher
Seasons with Braves: 1965-69
Career Stats with Braves: 45-34, 769 IP, 3.22 ERA, .570 WP, 1.17 WHIP

A journeyman pitcher with excellent control, Ken Johnson was one of the Braves’ stalwarts in the first years in Atlanta. He went 14-8, 3.30 in the inaugural season, followed by 15-9, 2.74. Those ERAs sound better than they were, because everybody had sub-4 ERAs back then, if not sub-3. Nonetheless, his ERA+ for those years are 110 and 121, so he was clearly among the league’s best starters: probably top ten in the league in ‘67, particularly considering he had to pitch half his games at AFCS. And the wins were real. He also posted a 13-8, 3.21 record in the club’s last year in Milwaukee. He averaged right at 2 BB/9 for the Braves.

1965-1967 were also probably his best years as a pitcher, period. He got hurt in 1968, and was traded midseason in 1969 to the Yankees for greenbacks.

Ken’s real claim to baseball immortality was pitching a no-hitter, for the Astros (then the Colt .45s) and losing 1-0 on two errors in the ninth, one of them his.

Does he belong in the Elect 44? I would say he squeaks in. He was an absolutely dependable top of the rotation guy for the Braves’ early years. I would definitely give him the nod over Ron Reed, and pretty dead even with Leibrandt, and a little below guys like Mahler, Jarvis, and Mercker: Johnson was as good or better, but for a shorter period, than those three. I don’t know if his injury in 1968 disqualified him under Mac’s three-full-season rule, but he threw 135 innings that year, with 13 decisions, so that’s good enough for me.

Extra commentary by Mac: The reason is simply that I ran my stat lists from 1966-2005, and without his 1965 2/3 season with Milwaukee Johnson doesn’t have enough innings or starts to stand out. For example, from 1965-2005 he is 13th in wins; from 1966-2005 he is tied for 20th with Mike Hampton. I don’t know that I would have listed him, but without it he fell well behind Jarvis, etc.

Ken Johnson Statistics – Baseball-Reference.com

7 thoughts on “Left Behind 3: Ken Johnson”

  1. I like having players from the Milanta Braves years. It brings back memories–not necessarily good ones but memories. I remember getting the first Atlanta Braves year book in 1966 and I still remember a lot of these guys, primarily holdovers from Milwaukee–Frank Bolling, Chi Chi Olivo, Denny LeMaster, Wade Blasingame, etc. And my favorite player, even though he only played one year in Atlanta and was over the hill by then-Eddie Mathews. But he hit a home run in 1996 off Sandy Koufax to win a game in extra innings in Atlanta. I read Mathews bio, written in the days when all the bios presented the players as milk drinkers that were polite to women. That changed with Ball Four.

  2. Thank you, Bledsoe, for recalling these names from Atlanta’s Braves beginnings. Ken Johnson was my first favorite Atlanta Braves pitcher. Choices were slim some years.

  3. You’re welcome, Bill. I try to give my kids some historical perspective as Braves fans that it was not always thus. My eldest daughter was born during spring training 1991. She’s never seen a Braves-less postseason til this year. And I spent forty years in the wilderness before she got to see the promised land.

    Johnson was definitely a guy you wanted to see on the mound for us in those days.

  4. No, I don’t think Eddie Mathews was much of a milk drinker.

    I remember about 15 years ago, I heard a radio interview with Eddie Mathews on WFAN in New York. I’ve never heard anyone so completely sozzled on the air. He was slurring his words, rambling, all over the place. The thing lasted about 3 minutes because, I believe, the radio producer realized that he might say anything—and he definitely didn’t want that.

  5. But here’s a quote about Eddie Mathews from none other than Ty Cobb:

    “I’ve only known three or four perfect swings in my time. This lad has one of them.”

  6. I’m old enough to remember Johnson losing his no-hitter, and that is his lasting career memory. I had forgotten what a nice performance he had in Atlanta, extremely good numbers, nice job!

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