A Case for Bob Johnson

Had Bob Johnson been a cowboy, he certainly would have had the last pick among horses in the remuda.  Johnson, known as “Indian Bob” during his playing days, because he was half Cherokee, spent the bulk of his career saddled to Connie Mack’s Athletics.  Bob didn’t enjoy the glory days in Philly with the likes of Grove, Foxx, Simmons, Cochrane and Dykes–he came along after Mr. Mack’s Depression era firesale.  The Philadelphia equine wasn’t one to burst out the gate in a full sprint and keep up with the pack, but a slow, staggering steed that stammered from opening day to season’s final pitch.  If Mr. Mack had a brilliant jockey, one who could guide his team out of the basement, then it was Indian Bob.  The left fielder was one of the greatest run producers of his day and performed his exceptional feats on a team lacking any support.  The post firesale A’s were comprised of Johnson and little else.

A late arrival to the baseball scene, Johnson was a west coast boy who didn’t make his Major League debut until his 27th birthday.  Despite his late arrival, Johnson still managed to reach 2,000 hits and exceeded 1,200 runs scored as well as RBI.  Bob was one of the game’s elite run producers because he scored runs at a solid clip while also driving them in.  He wasn’t one of those middle-of-the-order hitters whose on-base percentage went wasted.  He drew walks when needed but never limited his RBI chances like many walk-drawers.  The heart-of-the-order hitter who draws walks has lesser value than the top-of-order-hitter with a discerning batting eye, because the table-setters job is to get on-base while the thumpers in the middle-of-the-order are paid to drive folks in.  Bob did both.

Johnson isn’t without Hall of Fame peers.  Corner outfielders who played in roughly the same age as Bob were Goose Goslin, Chick Hafey, Chuck Klein, Heinie Manush and Joe Medwick.  As far as the production of runs are concerned, Johnson was a better player than all his Hall of Fame contemporaries.  When you add the total number of runs scored and career RBI and divide that sum by games played, Johnson edges out his Hall of Fame peers.  He averaged 1.354 runs produced per game.  His Cooperstown peers are as follows: Goslin 1.352, Klein 1.351, Medwick 1.301, Hafey 1.255 and Manush 1.230.

Johnson, who had four 100 RBI/100 runs scored seasons was the heart and soul of Connie Mack’s Athletics.  Mr. Mack was no stranger to run producers but after his brawny hitters left, the Tall Tactician scrambled for an RBI man and found him in Johnson.  Although he was tethered to lackluster teams, Indian Bob was a sensational RBI man.  Over the course of his career, Johnson had eight 100-RBI seasons–including seven in a row.  His Hall of Fame peers could not match his enviable string of productivity.  Both Medwick and Klein had six 100-RBI seasons.  Ducky Medwick’s 100-RBI seasons came in succession while Klein’s weren’t displayed in a string.  Goslin had a string of five consecutive 100-RBI seasons while Heinie Manush only had two 100-RBI campaigns.  Chick Hafey had three 100-RBI seasons but had a better chance of driving in runs than Johnson–Hafey played for four pennant-winning teams (Indian Bob never played for a pennant-winner).

When one analyzes a player’s slash line (BA, OBP, SA and OPS) they get an overall picture of a batter’s worth.  The higher the BA the more hits, while the batter with a lofty OBP gets on-base more often.  A batter’s SA proves how adept of a slugger he is by his percentage of extra-base hits while OPS combines on-base percentage with slugging average.  Johnson was a slash line fan’s delight!  His on-base percentage exceeded his Hall of Fame peers.  Bob had a career OBP of .393, Goslin .387, Klein ,379, Manush .377, Hafey .372 and Medwick .362.  A fine slugger as well, Johnson’s OPS was a solid .899, better than all of his peers with the exception of Chuck Klein.  However, when analyzing Klein, one sees that his years with the Phillies, hitting in that little dump dubbed The Baker Bowl, were far more productive than the years he played after his trade to the Cubs (and Wrigley Field is a hitter’s delight too).  If you adjust Klein’s numbers, taking into account the Baker Bowl factor, his OPS isn’t as impressive as Johnson’s.  Klein was a beast when he had a home field defined as advantageous to hitters but just a decent hitter when playing elsewhere.

Named to seven All-Star teams over the course of his career, Johnson was a yearly threat to lead the league in homeruns and RBI.  The great all-round player had eleven Top Ten finishes in dingers and seven in RBI despite playing for a team perennially in the second division.  His Hall of Fame peer Chuck Klein had just eight Top Ten finishes in homers and six in RBI.  In fact, Indian Bob’s WAR (wins above replacement) is well ahead of Klein’s.  Johnson has a career WAR of 53.2 while Chuck’s is a modest 39.2.  Johnson’s career WAR also exceeds Hall of Fame peers Heinie Manush (44.1) and Chick Hafey (29.3).

Johnson was the complete package as a player.  He hit for authority while also posting amazing on-base percentages.  As a left fielder, he goes against type.  Most people think that clubs hide their worst player in left field, but Johnson was a fine defender with great range.  He racked up over 200 outfield assists and led left fielders in fielding percentage twice.  But it was with the bat where Bob excelled.  His slash lines were always terrific.  His high on-base percentage coupled with his fine slugging average enabled him to post some rather impressive OPS numbers throughout his career.  His lifetime OPS of .899 exceeds a roster of legendary Hall of Famers, to include Jim Bottomley, Roy Campanella, Larry Doby, Charlie Gehringer, Harmon Killebrew, Eddie Mathews, Willie McCovey and Willie Stargell, to name a few.  Despite his credentials, Johnson never received one percent of the vote for Cooperstown.

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