Tom Johnson

St. Paul native Tom Johnson had a stellar season out of the Twins bullpen in 1977, earning 16 wins (all in relief) and 15 saves. Those 16 wins were ninth-most in the American League, and 15 saves were seventh-most. I wonder how many guys have finished top-10 in both wins and saves in the same season. His 71 appearances were second in the AL only to the Yankees’ Sparky Lyle. Johnson even received MVP votes.

Johnson was born in St. Paul in 1951, and graduated from St. Paul’s Murray High School (now a middle school) in 1969, the same year Dave Winfield graduated from St. Paul Central. Both players accepted scholarships to play for coaches Dick Siebert and Jerry Kindall at the University of Minnesota, but Johnson backed out at the last minute and signed a professional contract with the Twins.

Johnson’s MLB debut is an interesting story. It came at Met Stadium on September 10, 1974 (age 23), starting the top of the 14th in relief of 1961 St. Cloud Cathedral graduate Tom Burgmeier. The Twins had a 4-1 lead entering the ninth when White Sox catcher Brian Downing hit a three-run homer off Bill Campbell to tie it up. Each team scored in the 11th and 13th innings for a 6-6 tie going into the top of the 14th.

Johnson struck out the first batter he faced, Eddie Leon. He gave up a single to the second batter, Jorge Orta. During the next at-bat, Johnson had Orta picked off first but made a throwing error, allowing Orta to advance to second. Orta later came around to score, with the run being unearned, despite the error being on Johnson himself.

Trailing 7-6 in the bottom of the inning, Eric Soderholm reached on a two-out single, and scored the tying run on a Tony Oliva double. Johnson came back out to pitch a 1-2-3 top of the 15th.

With one out in the bottom of the inning, Goose Gossage walked Rod Carew, who stole second, and scored on a Larry Hisle walk-off single, giving Johnson the win over future Hall of Famer Goose Gossage in his major league debut.

Johnson also earned the win in his second appearance three days later (September 13), again with Carew scoring the walk-off run, this time with a home run leading off the 10th.

He pitched in both halves of a doubleheader on September 14, earning a save in Game 1. That was it for Johnson in 1974. In four major league appearances he earned two wins and a save. He pitched seven innings, giving up four hits and a walk for a 0.571 WHIP.

In 1975 and ’76, he split time between triple-A Tacoma and the Twins.

1977 was his lone standout season (as noted above).

He struggled during 18 appearances in 1978, his final major league season. Perhaps he been too much of a workhorse the previous season.

Read Jim McKernon‘s SABR BioProject essay on Johnson.



Back to Top