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A headline in the April 8, 1962, edition of the Minneapolis Sunday Tribune read, “Senators Count on Edina’s Johnson.”
The article, published the day before the 1962 major-league baseball season opener, mentioned that Bob Johnson, an infielder, was one of keys to the upcoming season for the Washington Senators.
The next day, the Senators opened the season against the Detroit Tigers in the first baseball game in the new District of Columbia Stadium (now called RFK Stadium).
Johnson, beginning his third season in the big leagues, provided the crowd of 44,383 — which included the president and vice president, Cabinet members and members of Congress — with the first highlights of the season.
Playing shortstop, Johnson singled in the second inning for the Senators’ first hit and then hit a two-run home run in the fourth inning for the first home run in the new stadium. Johnson finished the day with three hits as the Senators defeated the Tigers 4-1.
It was good start to what would be the best season of Johnson’s 11-year major-league career. In 135 games that season, he batted .288 with career-highs in hits (134), doubles (20), home runs (12) and RBI (43).
Johnson, who played in the major leagues until 1970, died on Nov. 9 at age 83.
“He had a great career,” said former University of Minnesota athletic director Tom Moe, who was a high school teammate of Johnson’s. “He was a great guy. Enthusiastic and he loved baseball. He was two years ahead of me at Edina. He was so good with young guys like me. As a high school baseball player, he was a can’t-miss.”
Moe and Johnson were teammates on Edina’s 1954 baseball team, which finished third at the state tournament. Shortly after the tournament, Johnson signed a contract with the Detroit Tigers.
Johnson spent six seasons in the Tigers’ minor-league system before getting the opportunity to play in the major leagues with the Kansas City Athletics in 1960. Johnson was selected by the Senators in the 1960 expansion draft.
After two seasons with the Senators, he was traded to the Baltimore Orioles. He spent four seasons with the Orioles and was a member of the 1966 Orioles team, which swept the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series.
During his time with the Orioles, Johnson became known for his versatility — he played all four infield positions and in the outfield — and his success as a pinch-hitter.
In 1964, Johnson led the American League with 15 pinch-hits. In one stretch, he had six consecutive pinch-hits to tie an American League record. Following the 1964 season, he was named the Upper Midwest Player of the Year at the annual Twin Cities Winter Baseball Dinner.
Former Baltimore Orioles pitcher Jim Palmer, a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, tweeted last week, Johnson “was there in 1965, my first year with the O’s. One of the ‘good guys.’ ”
After retiring as a player, Johnson stayed active in baseball, helping put on youth clinics for the Minnesota Twins and managing a team every winter at the Baltimore Orioles Fantasy Camp in Florida. Outside of baseball, he had a long career in sales with Spartan Promotional Group.
Johnson was born on March 4, 1936, in Omaha to Wally and Lillian Johnson. The family moved to Minneapolis in 1947.
Johnson, who had lived in St. Paul since 1964, is survived by Karen, his wife of 58 years; daughter Stephanie and sons Greg and Todd, and seven grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held on Nov. 29 at Woodbury Lutheran Church, 7380 Afton Road, at 11 a.m. A visitation will begin at 10 a.m.