In Memory

Don Johnson - Class Of 1961

Don Johnson

Donald Lloyd Johnson, a resident of Covina, California was born October 12, 1943 in Montebello and passed away on June 3, 2009. Don was a former minor league catcher who was drafted by the Milwaukee Braves 32nd overall in the 1965 amateur entry draft (2nd round) from the University of Southern California. He was involved in a trade that sent Jim Britton to the Montreal Expos for Larry Jaster on December 2, 1969.

Johnson's career lasted from 1965 - 1971. He missed the 1968 season and spent a total of 15 games at the AAA level in 1969 - 1970. Overall, he hit .231 with 29 home runs and 223 hits in 350 games. He played Catcher, Outfielder and Third Baseman.


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07/30/15 11:04 AM #1    

Steve Ledder (1960)

I remember Donnie mostly for his outstanding exploits on the football and baseball fields. Even while attending El Centro Elementary in the 1950's, Donnie was blasting softballs over the left field playground wall onto Mission Street. He developed into a great baseballer in little league, middle league and high school. At SPHS, Donnie led the '59 football team to our first CIF championship. He was a man among boys. I also recall that Donnie never let his success in baseball and football go to his head. He was always a nice, decent and modest guy. RIP, Donnie.

Steve Ledder '60



08/01/15 02:30 PM #2    

James Tomlin (1961)

Donnie was such a good guy and so talented. Watching him run with the football was almost poetry, and watching him hit the ball beyond the lights once in Middle League was awe inspiring [even though I was the pitcher]. I never understood why we all lost track of him, and why he had been dead since 2009 and no one in our class knew. His teammates all loved the guy. 

I played on the American Legion team in the summer of 1960. In our next to last game we were ahead. On the very first pitch in the top of the ninth inning, Dave Dickson bounced a curve ball into the dirt that caromed off the plate and hit Donnie, on his unprotected right hand. It dislocated his thumb. After the coach [his Dad] looked at thumb, and then “relocated” it, he determined Donnie shouldn’t catch anymore. As the coaches looked over the field for a replacement, the following facts became apparent: the second best catcher had not come to the game. The third best catcher had been cut back in May. The only other player with any catching experience was the guy I had replaced in right field who now could not return to the game.

At the tryouts, I had offered to catch batting practice to show my versatility and willingness to do a dirty job no one else wanted. I had always wanted to catch, but my body type dictated against it. No coach thinks, “Hey, let’s put the little skinny guy at catcher.” Nevertheless, it appeared that although I had no actual game experience, I was unfortunately the only remaining option. This fact was highlighted by the difficulty I had just putting on the equipment. However, into the cumbersome gear, which was a perfect fit for Donnie, I went.

The first batter went okay. I called for fastballs, and Dave threw them like rockets. The base line for assessing opposing pitchers all summer had been “Almost as fast as Dickson,” who had been selected All CIF. The last one stung my hand so badly I actually cried out, “SHIT.” I managed to hold on to the third strike even though the batter barely tipped it, a stroke of pure luck. One out, and I was free of the jitters, but my left hand was numb. Then an amazing thing happened.

Out of the dugout came Donnie, a guy who would go on to play briefly in the major leagues for the Milwaukee Brewers. I had known him since we were nine, he was a quiet guy. His right hand was wrapped in ice inside a towel and he carried HIS catchers’ glove.

“This ought to work better,” he said as he handed me his glove and took the one I had from me. Inside his glove there was a huge kitchen sponge for additional padding.

“Are you wearing a cup,” he asked?


“A cup to protect your jewels.”

“Ah....... No.” I replied, fear rising like a huge wave in my stomach.

Donnie thought about it. “You're doin good, just don’t get hit in the balls.” He slapped me on the catchers’ mask, turned around and returned to the dugout. For some reason, I felt a whole lot better.

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