A great RBI man for some lowly teams, Bob Johnson, dubbed “Indian Bob” on account of his heritage – and commonplace name – drove in runs for Connie Mack’s Athletics in the years after Foxx, Cochrane and Grove. From 1935 to 1941, Johnson drove in 100+ a season for a team that finished out of the cellar in two of those years. Put Indian Bob on the Yankees and he would have challenged Hack Wilson’s single season RBI record.
Johnson was that rare finished product when he made his Major League debut. More often than not, players are called up well before their time and flounder for a couple seasons before finding their groove. Johnson was in his groove from day one on the Major League circuit. That has a lot to do with his late start in baseball – he didn’t make his debut until he was 27 years old.
In Johnson’s debut season, he led all left fielders with 21 homeruns and 85 walks. His 44 doubles were good for second place in the American League and his .505 slugging percentage topped all left fielders in 1933 as well. Johnson avoided the Sophomre Jinx in ’34, pacing all left fielders with 34 homeruns, 111 runs scored, 12 stolen bases and a .563 slugging percentage. The following year, 1935, Indian Bob began his string of seven straight 100 RBI seasons.
Indian Bob drove in plenty of runs for a terrible ballclub. He did this by performing exceptionally well in the clutch and tagging long balls. His 28 homeruns bested all left fielders in ’35 as did his 103 runs scored. Following up his brilliant ’35 campaign, Johnson drove home 121 runs for the last place Athletics. Given the fact that Johnson was the sole driving force in the Philadelphia lineup, it shouldn’t come as much of a shock that he also led all left fielders with 88 free passes. Why pitch to Johnson when you can throw to a scrub, right?
Johnson walked 98 times in 1937: second among all major league outfielders – trailing only Hall of Famer Mel Ott. His 25 homeruns in ’37 bested all left fielders. He showed his overall greatness in 1938, accounting for 227 runs for the last place Athletics: only Joe DiMaggio accounted for more runs by an outfielder that year. His highest batting average came in 1939 when he led all left fielders with a .338 mark. His ’39 season was typical Johnson: many runs scored and driven in while he cast the shadow for his position peers. Johnson led all left fielders with 115 runs scored, while also leading the position in the hits, RBI, homeruns and slugging departments. He was the only 20+ homerun hitter in baseball that year with 15 or more stolen bases.
With the last place Athletics in 1940, Johnson socked 31 homeruns and drove in 103 runs. 1942 signaled the end of his consecutive 100 RBI seasons when he drove in 80 runs for the basement dwelling A’s. Feeling sorry for his run producing ace, manager Connie Mack decided to sell Johnson to a contender in 1943 so Indian Bob could finally experience the thrill of a pennant race. Sold to the Senators, Johnson helped guide the Washington boys to a second place finish in the war torn American League.
The Red Sox, needing some sock in their lineup due to the departures of Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky and Dom DiMaggio to military service, bought Johnson from the Senators and he promptly led the AL in on-base percentage. The Red Sox got the typical Bob Johnson: an RBI machine who got on base courtesy of walks. He had his final 100 RBI season for the 1944 Red Sox: driving in 106 runs while scoring an identical 106 runs.
After a respectable .280/12 HR/74 RBI season in ’45, Johnson retired – he was 39 years old. Indian Bob was an extraordinary talent. Capable of socking 30 homeruns and stealing a dozen bases, he also possessed an exceptional batting eye, usually drawing 80 to 90 walks a season. Six times he scored 100 or more runs and eight times he drove in 100 or more runs. He performed these feats for an abysmal Athletics team. An eight time All-Star, Johnson would be a worthy addition to the halls of Cooperstown.
Bob Johnson’s career stats: G 1,863/R 1,239/H 2,051/2B 396/3B 95/HR 288/RBI 1,283/BB 1,075/SO 851/BA .296/SA .506