Sunday, March 05, 2006

1981 Topps #372

John William Johnstone Jr. was a not-bad role player for eight teams over twenty years but I'm sure he is perfectly content being his generation's answer to Jimmy Piersall who, not so incidentally, was Jay's first roommate in baseball when he came up with the Seattle Angels in 1966. He made life interesting for his teammates, visiting the stadium's hot dog stand during games in full uniform, assisting groundskeepers between innings, leading the league in hotfoots every year and once locked Tommy Lasorda in a hotel room. Though his numbers were far from Hall-worthy, who else in any profession has managed to stretch not one but three autobiographies out of such a career? I mean besides Abraham Lincoln. Booker T. Washington had two but Gandhi only wrote one and Benjamin Franklin never even finished his.

I have a fond memory of attending a book-signing for his then-just-released Over the Edge at my local mall when I was eight years old and I specifically remember him as nothing less than good-humored, warm, cordial and most refreshing of all, unpatronizing, an important character trait that did not escape a third-grade lad who had already begun to develop a healthy contempt for adults in general and authority figures in particular. He even personalized my book with the inscription, "Good luck and don't forget to get good grades in school," advice that I followed to the letter up through about seventh grade or so. Also, somewhere in my mother's crawlspace is a signed baseball my younger brother kept throughout his own childhood and whenever chance presented itself, he added another signature to the ball, resulting in what I'm sure is the most mediocre collection of autographs ever collected on a single ball. But what I most remember about this particular ball was that the sweet spot was graced with Mr. Johnstone's signature, as he was the first person to sign. Subsequent ballplayers would notice Jay's autograph and their reactions ranged from eyerolls to a condescending sneer, as if Greg "Not a Very Good Player" Gross contributed more to Baseball's landscape and Larry "What an Asshole" Bowa wasn't an absolute asshole.

What I never understood is whatever happened to Jay Johnstone. He spend a year as a Yankee broadcaster and another year for the Phillies but because morons like Timmy McCarver and the nepotic Joe Buck are clogging up precious air space in the booths, Jay was never able to convert that Colgate smile and brilliant sense of humor into something more than just roles as the lead-off Seattle Mariner hitter in the original "Naked Gun" or Booth Announcer #2 in the seminal Rowdy Roddy Piper classic "Body Slam." Why all that natural charisma didn't at least translate into a role as The Father in a long-running sitcom about a snotty wise-cracking English butler in the suburbs is simply beyond the comprehension of this author.

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