Archive for the ‘Dave Johnson’ Category

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Dave Johnson

March 30, 2007

The Hall of Anonymity: An Introduction and First Nomination

I.
From the transactions section on Dave Johnson’s page on Baseball-Reference.com:

October 1, 1976: Purchased by the Seattle Mariners from the Baltimore Orioles. 

This may not seem like a significant piece of information (and it turns out it really isn’t), but according to the 1976 transactions listed at Retrosheet.org, it is the very first mention of the Seattle Mariners in any major league transaction. It predates the November 5, 1976, expansion draft that provided most of the players (such as Pete Broberg) making up the primordial Seattle Mariner ooze that directly preceded the team’s first season, and also predates the piecemeal acquisition of a handful of players (among them Kurt Bevacqua) who became property of the Mariners on October 22.

In other words, Dave Johnson was the first Seattle Mariner.

Or he would have been.

He would have had this claim to historical significance if he hadn’t found a fate similar to Broberg and Bevacqua. All three of these Cardboard Gods ended up never actually wearing a Seattle Mariner uniform in an official major league game. Bevacqua was released in March, Broberg was traded for a player to be named later in April, and Dave Johnson was sold in May before ever cracking a Seattle Mariner box score. He pitched a few games for the Twins that year, posed for this picture, went 0 and 2 in 1978, and was released at the end of the year, his major league won-loss record fixed forever after at 4 wins and 10 losses.

II.
Yesterday I started copying comments attached to the older Cardboard God profiles that originated on my old site and pasting them as a block into one comment on each of the identical versions of those profiles here at Baseball Toaster. I wanted to do this because the old profiles felt bare to me without the memories and observations supplied by readers in the comments. I haven’t really gotten very far yet (still not on Baseball Toaster, for example, is the moving Seattle Pilots elegy posted by Ramblin’ Pete Millerman in a comment attached to a Gorman Thomas profile), but, working backward, I was able to at least reach a February 19 post about Alex Johnson. My claim that Johnson stands as one of the more anonymous of all batting champions and my imagining him now (because of his inability to stay in one place long enough to form a bond with fans of any particular team) as an unclaimed item in the baggage claim carousel of baseball nostalgia, prompted a whisper of mild disagreement in the comments over whether or not Alex Johnson was, in fact, anonymous. This innocuous debate ended up making me giddy with pleasure even as it was petering out from lack of momentum and interest. I gushed my appreciation:

There’s not really enough chatter here to actually call it a discussion, but I just have to say that even to have a fraction of a discussion develop regarding the relative anonymity of baseball players of the mid- to late-1970s (e.g., Cecil Upshaw vs. Alex Johnson) is very, very pleasing to me. Even the fact that there’s not that much chatter, that it’s not really a discussion, is pleasing. It suggests a near-empty stadium, a few lone figures scattered throughout the stands, a game of no import, players few if any will remember.

It feels like home to me.
I am inspired by this feeling, and am now considering the establishment of the negative image of the Hall of Fame (cue the heraldic kazoos)…
The Hall of Anonymity.
III.
Dave Johnson broke in with the Baltimore Orioles in 1974, a couple years after the departure from the Orioles of Davey Johnson, a three-time all-star. In 1990, a little over a decade after Dave Johnson’s soundless exit from baseball, a pitcher named Dave Johnson led the Orioles in victories with the modest sum of 13, the highlight of a brief and generally unremarkable career. 

In other words, when the name Dave Johnson is mentioned in the context of baseball, it seems likely to draw three responses:

1. Who?
2. You mean Davey Johnson?
3. You don’t mean Davey Johnson? Oh. Hm. Let’s see. Dave Johnson. Dave Johnson. Did he pitch for the Orioles for a couple years in the early ’90s, maybe? Or am I thinking of Jeff Ballard?

In other words, the Dave Johnson pictured here is by virtue of his generic moniker and short, highlight-bereft tenure in the majors obscured on both sides of history by two other players with nearly identical given names. 

IV.
I picture the Hall of Anonymity as being located somewhere in the suburban sprawl surrounding the central metropolitan area of a medium-sized city with a nickname that refers either to somewhere else ("The Paris of the Iron Belt!") or to a historical significance that no longer applies ("We Make. The World Takes."). It does not have its own ivied building but has a suite in a corporate center. If you do not own a car you have to take a commuter train to a bus to get there, and from the closest bus stop you will have to walk along the highway briefly before cutting across the kind of corporate lawn that one almost never sees a human figure on unless they are weilding the implements of lawn care. Once you arrive with lawn-dampened sneakers at the low, nondescript building that houses the Hall of Anonymity, you will have to sign in at a security desk before going up to the suite. Your time viewing the exhibition will be rushed slightly by the uncomfortable feeling of being the only person there besides an aging male attendent who oozes loneliness from beneath a thin veneer of desperate cheer. Trying to lessen the uncomfortable feeling, you will attempt to engage the attendent in conversation about baseball. You will point to one of the Etch-A-Sketch renderings that serve as plaques for each of the inductees.

"Boy," you’ll say, "I thought I knew baseball, but I never heard of this guy!"

"Oh, well, I might as well tell you," the attendent will say. "I never much cared for baseball."

"Oh," you’ll say.

"My wife, Etty," the attendent will go on. "Why, she said once to me . . . rest her soul . . . she said . . . "

And he won’t be able to finish, overcome with thoughts of his deceased wife. He’ll weep quietly into his hands. You’ll leave a few minutes later, grabbing one of the cheaply-made Hall of Anonymity brochures for a souvenir on your hurried way out, mumbling "thanks" to the devastated attendent, who by now has resumed displaying his desperate smile. Later you will eat a Twix bar from a candy machine you come upon while trying to find the building’s exit. It will take you a long time to find a gap in the traffic on the four-lane road suitable for you to cross over to catch the bus going back in the direction you came. While waiting for that gap, wondering if it will ever come, your stomach will start to hurt. 

V.
But the question remains: who is worthy of induction into this majestic Hall of Anonymity? There are no fixed criteria, no benchmark numbers, no award-winner lists to consult. I suspect this lack of concrete details (along with a lack of interest) will curtail debate on the relative merits of prospective nominees. Yet still I feel compelled to offer my first nominee, while offering little else by way of support for his candidacy than the notes I have included above (his short indistinct career, his never having played for the Mariners undercutting his possible distinction as the first Mariner, his generic name among similar names like a muffled echo among echoes) and an undefined feeling that Dave Johnson just seems right for the Hall of Anonymity. I want to see the photo from this card rendered in Etch-a-Sketch lines and shadings, everything from the word "BRUT" over his left shoulder to the look of slightly mournful but not despairing resignation on his face. It is the face of a man who is neither placidly accepting his fate in the world nor railing angrily against it. I want that face to be on display at the "HOA" for years and years to come.

Or at least until a daydreaming night janitor inadvertently bumps against the plaque and shakes the Etch-A-Sketch screen blank, thus releasing Dave Johnson from the paradoxical celebration of anonymity and back to the pure anonymity from whence he came.

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