Some of the best and brightest blog contributors have recently commemorated the unfortunate passing of Tom Seaver, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson and Joe Morgan with card retrospectives. Befitting my status, I decided to memorialize the death of a beloved but less famous player. Here is a look at the limited and rather mundane cards of “Sweet” Lou Johnson.
My first card encounter with Lou came in 1968. I must have pulled his card in one the first packs I opened. The odd “whistling” photo intrigued me as an eight-year old. Even at that age, I wondered what was the backstory? We may never know the answer, but Topps gave us another year to contemplate the artistic and existential meaning of Lou’s pursed lips.
The players’ boycott of Topps resulted in the use of the same photo in 1969. Lou was now on the Indians but continued to “whistle while he worked.” This repeat photo card would be last of his career.
Nine years before, “Sweet” Lou received his first Topps card. Though originally signed by the Yankees, he made his major league debut with the Cubs. The 1960 card highlights the fact that Lou had one oddly shaped ear. This fact will forever be remembered by those who are Ball Four “freaks.” The author, Jim Bouton, recalls an interaction between Seattle Pilots manager Joe Schultz and Lou. Upon seeing Lou Joe says: “Hey, what’s new, Half-Ear?”
Lou spent most of the early 1960s in the minors, bouncing between organization. He does not turn up again in a Topps set until 1963. By now Lou is part of the Braves organization, but the photo shows him in a Cubs uniform. The bare head shot appears to be from the same photo session as the 1960 card. This time his “good” ear side is used.
Despite filling in ably for the injured Tommy Davis in 1965 and hitting two home runs in the World Series, Lou did not receive a card in the 1965 set but did in 1966. However, his World Series exploits are not detailed on the back of his card nor did he receive a World Series highlight card. Unfortunately, Topps did not issue cards commemorating the 1965 World Series.
1967 marks the final Dodger card for Lou. Topps is back with another head pose, but at least they finally recognized his 1965 World Series heroics. Also, in 1967, Lou received a nice Dexter Press postcard. This is the best photo of all.
Lou is featured in another “odd ball” set besides Dexter Press. In 1969, he shows up in the “Jack-in-the-Box” California Angels set.
Most of you know that Mr. Johnson’s life spiraled out of control due to substance abuse. He received treatment and went on to a long and fruitful career with the Dodgers community relations department. Additionally, he appeared at card shows and MLB sponsored events, such as the 2001 All-Star game Fanfest in Seattle.
At this Fanfest, my wife obtained two autographs on the same ball. One was from “Sweet” Lou and the other from Lou Brock. Ironically, they died 21 days apart.
RIP, “Sweet” Lou.
2 thoughts on “Sweet Lou’s cardboard”
Unheralded supporting player on the ’65 and ’66 Dodgers. Not a star, but the type of player who made a good team better. Thanks Tim for taking the time to memorialize the original Sweet Lou. RIP
Among Lou Johnson’s other distinctions was that he was among the last of more than 100 alumni of the Quebec Provincial League to appear in the major leagues, albeit behind Ed Charles, Don Nottebart, Dan Osinski, Gary Bell, and the very last two, Norm Angelini and Pepe Frias, who played in the Provincial League after it left Organized Baseball following the 1955 season. Johnson hit .300 in four games for St. Jean in 1955, but his records, on baseball cards, the Baseball Register, and BaseballReference.com don’t show it because in those days the official references often didn’t list players who appeared in less than 10 games. Incidentally, Johnson’s BaseballReference.com records are also screwed up in other ways, for example showing that he hit just .130 in 135 games in 1963. Actually, Johnson hit .130 in 12 games for the Braves, and .296 with 90 runs scored in just 123 games in AAA.