When Whitey Herzog wrote his memoir You’re Missin’ a Great Game, he included remarks about Alex Johnson that must have dropped every jaw in southern California who remembered Johnson’s tempestuous tenure (to put it politely) in an Angel uniform. To hear the White Rat say it, Johnson—who died 28 February at 72, after a battle with cancer—was anything but a handful, once you played things straight with him.
Baseball and the professoriat have never been strangers, and never will be. When they have met, the net results have offered delight and instruction at once. Most of the time. They have also produced intriguing consequences among the professoriat, not the least of which involved one (A. Bartlett Giamatti, Yale scholar—of Dante—and president in due course) becoming baseball’s commissioner, albeit too ill-fated, too soon.
How strange and sad it is, now and over a lifetime of watching and loving the game, that as often as not the players who are the most fun to watch become the players whose careers derail soon enough after they get their first tastes of success. Dontrelle Willis is the latest such casualty. The sad part is that the D-Train won’t be the last, even if he might take comfort in knowing he wasn’t even close to the first.