Johnnie LeMaster

July 31, 2008

Below are a couple sketches of the obscurely infamous alter ego of the slight, scraggly, plainly obvious baseball imposter pictured here, from the classic but extremely difficult-to-find book I have excerpted from before here on Cardboard Gods, Dead on Arrival: The Oral History of Giant Prospects, the Greatest Punk Band No One Ever Heard Of:

From page 134-5:

Greg Johnston [bass]: Yeah, I guess because of that whole fake baseball card flyer thing, we started seeing people in ripped-up baseball shirts at our shows. It was right around when The Warriors came out, so maybe that helped add a kind of violent edge to it. You’d see these sketchy speed freak characters in their old little league jerseys and eyeblack, just itching to break a pool cue over somebody’s head.

John Tamargo [aka Johnny Tomorrow, drums]: Joe [Strain, legendary frontman of Giant Prospects] hated those baseball fucks. He was starting to crack around then anyway, but that whole thing didn’t help. He’d stop songs in the middle to scream at them.

Ned Alvin (club owner): It got ugly. He stopped right in the middle of the set and started lecturing them. He thought they were violent fascists. I don’t know about the fascist part but they were pretty violent—they’d pretty much cleared the floor of anyone not willing to have their head caved in by one of the souvenir mini bats they held in their fists as they flailed around to the music. Anyway, Strain kept calling them stormtroopers. They didn’t get the reference. I clearly remember one of them screaming back, “Fuck Star Wars!”

Johnston: Finally one of them walks toward the stage, toward Joe. This skinny unshaven derelict in a jersey just like the ones we posed in for the flyer. He’s staring at Joe so insanely that Joe stops haranguing them and stares back. It’s a showdown! The guy grabs a bottle off a table. Joe grabs a bottle from the edge of the little stage and steps down. These two skinny nutjobs just stare at each other, both of them smiling, then finally the guy smacks the bottle against his own head, not breaking it. Joe does the same to his head. They both look kind of woozy but they do it again, whack! Whack! They’re trying to break the thing but they’re [laughs] they’re fucking complete weaklings! Even with all the speed coursing through them! Eventually the bouncer breaks it up, everyone in the place looking like they don’t know whether to laugh or puke. Weirdest fight I’ve ever seen. Anyway, that was how Joe Strain met Johnny Disaster.     

From page 137:

Eddie Toth (band manager): Errors. That’s how I would characterize the Johnny Disaster era of Giant Prospects. Things probably wouldn’t have lasted much longer anyway. When Greg Johnston left the band [to take a job as a sous chef] he did so because he was the first to see that the ship was sinking. But Johnny Disaster didn’t exactly help slow that process. He just could not play bass. I mean, his whole thing was that he was bad at everything, that he was a failure. I’m sure that’s why Joe paired up with him. Joe was always going on and on about the “Redemption of Failing,” even before he met Johnny Disaster. Sometimes I wondered if Joe Strain had created Johnny Disaster. You know, like Frankenstein. His perfectly awful creation. Anyway, it made the shows into a comedy of errors. Make that a tragedy of errors.

Tamargo: Thing I remember about Johnny Disaster is he had the word “BOO” tattooed on his chest in big block letters. He’d show it off when people started throwing things at the stage because we sucked so bad.  

From page 238:

Johnston: Whatever happened to Johnny Disaster? Funny you ask. I ran into him not too long ago in an airport. I didn’t recognize him, but I guess he recognized me. He said he was on his way to San Francisco to take part in some Giants’ reunion. He’d completely lost it and thought that he’d actually been a baseball player! I was looking at this crazy glint in his eyes as he was telling me all the great teammates he’d had and I was wondering to myself, “How the hell did this guy get through security?” It has made me a little nervous about riding on airplanes, actually.

(Love versus Hate update: Johnnie LeMaster’s back-of-the-card “Play Ball” result has been added to the ongoing contest.)


  1. 1.  Always nice to revisit this musical era, especially since I no longer have my own memories of it. Too many blows to the head from those souvenir bats.

    Through the haze, though, I seem to recall that John Tamargo was known as “Johnny TOMORROW,” wasn’t he?

  2. 2.  Am I crazy or does LeMaster look a whole hell of a lot like Jeff Kent?

  3. 3.  1 : Yes, Johnny Tomorrow. Thanks for pointing that out. I fixed that error in transcription.

    2 : To me, unlike Kent, LeMaster doesn’t quite give me that feeling like he’s about to arrest me.

    FYI: Some recent comments on older posts: Stan Bahnsen (Expos), Carmen Fanzone (Cubs), plus a nice story about D. Boon at the end of Stan Thomas (Mariners).

  4. 4.  2 : LeMaster does bear an alarming resemblance to my friend Akim, a historian interviewed on this site during last year’s playoffs:


  5. 5.  He kind of looks like John Holmes to me. Actually, I think he IS John Holmes. The coked out gaze, porn stache, 100 lb frame, spending part of his time in Frisco, yeah, might be him. I’ll be tactful and leave out any comments about the “bat” he’s wielding….

  6. 6.  I was thinking he looked like David Spade.

  7. 7.  Was one of his nicknames “Johnny Disaster”? I seem to recall this, or at least I think I do.

  8. 8.  I only scanned the story before my last post. I should have waited. I now see that Josh did indeed include the Johnny Disaster alias.

  9. 9.  The book is fantastic! I scanned a copy of the cover for fans of the band.

  10. 10.  9 : Beautiful. Thank you. That made my day.

  11. 11.  #9 –

    Thanks for posting the cover of DOA. I’ve always been fascinated by that cover, because it shows the band wearing (as they often did) Phllies caps from the 1960s, which Greg’s mom had found while cleaning out her sister-in-law’s attic in Upper Darby, PA. The band loved the retro, anti-fashion symbolism of flaunting a logo that the club had discarded earlier in the decade, on its move to the Vet, in favor of a modernist, faux-psychedelic fat-P logo. The band’s caps were thus a subtle but unmistakeable “disco sucks” statement, something their fans recognized and appreciated.

    Of course, in 1992 the team went back to the old P, bowing to the unhinged baseball nostalgia craze of that era. So, to a contemporary eye, the caps on the cover of DOA look bland, corporate, and unremarkable, completely negating their original anti-fashion, anti-conformist symbolism. As always, history had the last laugh on the Giant Prospects.

  12. 12.  Great story, Josh. I especially liked how you incorporated the “BOO” tattoo in it. I can’t recall off-hand how much Chad Johnson was fined for the “Ocho Cinco” bit, but I’m pretty sure it was more than 500 “BONES”.

  13. 13.  LeMaster played with the Giants from 1975-1985, and compiled a career hitting record of .222/.277/.289. In May of 1985, they traded him to Cleveland, where he went 3-20 in 11 games before they shipped him off to Pittsburgh. This led cynical Giants fans to quip that it took the Giants 11 years to realize that Johnnie LeMaster wasn’t a major league player, and it only took the Indians 11 games.

  14. 14.  6 That’s exactly what I thought, too! About the same build, too.

  15. 15.  What would happen if you blended Jay Johnstone’s “Temporary Insanity” and Dee Dee Ramone’s “Lobotomy” what kind of interesting book would you have then?

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