OBSERVATIONS: Johnstone, ‘The Prince of Pranks,’ passes away

By Hal McCoy

UNSOLICITED OBSERVATIONS from The Man Cave, sitting bleary-eyed in my La-Z-Boy at 8 a.m., wondering why I would stay up to watch the Jets-Patriots. I believe it is call acute sportsitis. Recommended treatment: Not treatable, just make certain the patient has a TV in sight and a remote in hand at all times.

—One of the joys of covering baseball is that the sport is full of characters and you never know what you might see or hear. Gags and pranks are rampant.

And a man they called ‘The Prince of Pranks,’ former Dodgers outfielder Jay Johnstone, passed away last week due to Covid-19 complications.

Walking into Tommy Lasorda’s spacious office in Dodger Stadium was like walking into a Hollywood photo gallery. All four walls were covered with signed photographs of celebrities.

Lasorda was a favorite Johnstone target. Johnstone and pitcher Jerry Reuss once sneaked into the office and replaced all the celebrity photos with pictures of themselves. They removed his desk and replaced it with a make-up table, complete with a lighted mirror and cosmetics.

He once locked Lasorda in his office during spring training and removed the receiver of the phone (no cell phones in those days) so nobody could hear him if he tried to use the phone.

He also dressed up as the portly Lasorda, wearing fake padding underneath his uniform. He waddled to the mound pretending to make a pitching change while carrying a can of Slim-Fast diet drink and Tommy’s book.

When he wasn’t taunting Lasorda, Johnstone did things like leaving the field during batting practice, climbing the steps in the stands to a concession booth and standing in line to buy a hot dog. He also dressed up in a groundskeeper’s uniform, during a game, and
helped the crew drag the field between innings.

And in between pranks, Johnstone could hit and field a little bit, too.

—QUOTE: From former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda on his eating habits: “When we win, I’m so happy I eat a lot. When we lose, I’m so depressed, I eat a lot. When we’re rained out, I’m so disappointed I eat a lot.”

There isn’t an Italian restaurant in the country that doesn’t have a signed photograph of Lasorda and former Dodgers pitcher Jerry Reuss once told me, “He would give them those photos hoping they wouldn’t charge him for the meal. If they charged him, he would pay with a check, hoping they’d keep it as a souvenir.”

—There is a web-site out there that claims former major league pitcher Dean Chance pitched on one day of rest eight times during his career. One day off.

And it says his record in those games was 6-and-1 with a 0.79 earned run average with four shutouts.

I believe it…from personal experience. I faced Dean Chance when he pitched for Northwestern High School in Wayne County. No chance. I struck out seven times all season my senior year and Chance struck me out four times in that one game.

No disgrace there. Chance was 52-and-1 in his high school career (no, we didn’t beat him) and he pitched 17 no-hitters. Somebody on our side got a hit.

QUOTE: From Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle on facing Dean Chance: “Every time I saw his name in the lineup I threw up.” (Me, too, Mick. Me, too.)

—Just wondering on the computer, which is the way most major league baseball thinking is done these days. If voting had been done after the World Series, would Tampa Bay’s Kevin Cash be American League Manager of the Year?

The voting by the Baseball Writers Association of America was before the playoffs and Cash is expected to win the award when it is announced tonight.

Lurking, though, is Cash’s decision to pull starting pitcher Blake Snell in the sixth inning of Game 6 with a 1-0 lead and Snell throwing a two-hit Mona Lisa. Cash inserted Nick Anderson and quicker than you can say, “Mel Ott,” the Dodgers had a 3-1 lead and clinched the rings.

Can we take a re-vote.

And what is Cash saying three weeks later?

“Nobody hated the result more than me. It was sickening.” Notice he said he hates the result, not he decision. He still stands by the decision.

—QUOTE: From Chicago Cubs pitcher Jon Lester on what would happen if a manager tried to remove him from a World Series game while he was pitching a two-hit shutout in the sixth inning: ” We’d have two pitchers on the mound.”

—Trevor Bauer’s market value already is at break-the-bank level and if/when he wins the Cy Young Award it will dig even deeper into some team’s vault. Which vault?

Some odds: San Diego 2-1, New York Yankees 3-1, Los Angeles Dodgers 5-1, Los Angeles Angels 8-1, Chicago Cubs 8-1, Cincinnati Reds 10-1.

—QUOTE: From former Dallas Cowboy Bob Lilly:
“Free agency takes away a lot of your heroes. They go somewhere else, take the higher offer to go somewhere else. And, it turns the fans off because they get attached to the players.” (Reds fans couldn’t agree more and it is like a line from a Social Distortion song, The Story of My life: “Good times come and good times go.”

—How about what the guy did against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday night — and we don’t mean New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees. What he did is old news. He does it all the time.

We’re referring to University of Dayton rookie tight end Adam Trautman. He caught three passes for 38 yards, including an eight-yard touchdown pass from Brees in the 38-3 victory.

The much-anticipated Drew Brees vs. Tom Brady was the biggest mismatch since Australia beat American Samoa, 31-0, in the 2002 FIFA World Cup soccer tournament.

Brady was intercepted twice and sacked three times. They didn’t even have to send Brees’ uniform out to the cleaners.

And get this. Tampa Bay ran the ball only five times the entire game as Vince Lombardi spun in his grave.

—Speaking of the University of Dayton, the basketball pollsters must figure that since Obi Toppin left for the NBA that UD dropped basketball.

The first Associated Press basketball rankings completely ignored the Flyers, 29-and-2 last season and the AP’s No. 3 team.

Gonzaga is No. 1 and seven Big Ten Schools made the Top 25: Iowa (5), Wisconsin (7), Illinois (8), Michigan State (13), Ohio State (23), Rutgers (24), Michigan (25).

—Another school getting the poll snub, this one in football, is the University of Cincinnati. The 6-and-0 Bearcats entered last week at No. 6. They hog-rassled a good Houston team by 28 points and their reward was to drop to No. 7. Say what?

They deserve to go higher, not drop a notch. Casey Kasem would not stand for it. They’ll go unbeaten this season. Bold? Yes. But check the schedule.

And they will get better if Coach Luke Fickell stays on. His 2022 recruiting class is ranked ninth best in the country and that was before he signed a four-star and a three-star recruits last week.

—The Masters (always capitalize the ’T’ and the ‘M’) tees off Thursday at Augusta National on Thursday. Two-time winner Bubba Watson, part of owner of the Class A Pensacola Blue Wahoos, won’t be wearing his green jacket, but he’ll be wearing a large smile with a fat contract in his pocket.

In an extra extraordinary deal, Watson’s equipment sponsor, Ping, gave him a lifetime contract last week. Normally, equipment contracts expire shortly after a touring pro retires.

Ping, though, is obviously a loyal benefactor. Watson has used Ping stuff since he was 8, when he used a Ping B60 putter.

“I’ve been playing Ping equipment since I was a kid,” said Watson. “So basically my whole life. I love the company and truly believe Ping is committed to making the best equipment.”

So when Watson is 80 and playing skins with his cronies, he’ll be riding a golf cart using free clubs and a free bag, wearing a free visor or hat, free shirt, free pants and free shoes. Even his tees will be free.

When I played golf, badly I might add, I had a set of left hand Ping irons and they cost me a month’s mortgage and I never could hit the 2-iron.

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