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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bob's Books - Temporary Insanity by Jay Johnstone and Rick Talley

Jay Johnstone was an interesting baseball player. He played twenty seasons in the major leagues as an outfielder, primarily being used as a pinch hitter for the last few years. For his 162 game average, he hit .267 with 9 homers and 5 stolen bases (and 5 caught stealing). Nothing spectacular, but good enough to keep him in the game for a long time.

But as you might guess from the book title, Temporary Insanity (not like the cover gives it away), Johnstone was a character. And while this book does convey that he worked hard to be a good hitter and fielder and that he played to win, he viewed keeping a team loose and laughing as a key part of his job. This book isn’t The Boys of Summer, or a Lou Gehrig biography, but it is one fun read.

Johnstone had over a thousand hits in his career; he may have had more pranks. His favorite target was Tommy Lasorda and the Dodger stuff alone is worth the price of the book. For example, Johnstone once used a rope and palm tree to lock Lasorda in his room at Dodgertown (formerly the team’s spring training complex in Vero Beach), causing the manager to miss breakfast before the day’s bus ride. Lasorda was not a man to miss meals. Once, during a real game, Lasorda looked up at the DodgerVision screen between innings to find Johnstone and teammate Jerry Reuss dressed up as groundskeepers, dragging the field. Teammates and managers alike received Johnstone’s attentions.

With AAA Seattle.
The Majors have no idea
what is coming
He also talks about other baseball oddballs he encountered or heard stories of. Moe Drawbowsky was a well-travelled relief pitcher from the fifties into the seventies. He once called Hong Kong from the bullpen phone and ordered Chinese takeout (they wouldn’t deliver). Having been traded from the A’s to the Orioles earlier in the season, when the two teams were playing, he called over to the A’s bullpen, imitated his former manager’s voice and instructed a coach to warm up a relief pitcher. There are plenty more.

Sometimes it was just a few words. Interviewed for NBC’s ‘Game of the Week’ (ballplayers were largely seen and not heard back then), he said, “I drove through Cleveland one day and it was closed.” The Mayor of Cleveland called NBC the next day and demanded an apology.

This is the first of three offbeat baseball books that Johnstone did with sportswriter Rick Talley. What comes through is a guy who took being on the field seriously, but who also knew that he was making a living at a boy’s game and wanted to make sure he enjoyed it. As I mentioned earlier, it’s fun. And that’s a good quality for a baseball book.

After the Dodgers beat the Yankees to win the 1981 World Series, Johnstone, Reuss, Rick Monday and Steve Yeager cut this record. They even sang it on Solid Gold. I consider this one of Johnstone's greatest pranks.

It's a put on, but it's still as bad as it looks

1 comment:

  1. I don't know that I still have my copies of Johnstone's two books, but the two things that stick out from this, the first book, are both very serious.

    The first one, which you alluded to, was the serious way in which Johnstone approached his job - specifically the one winter that he spent working on becoming a better hitter. That one winter of dedication prolonged his career significantly.

    The second one regarded drugs. Just after telling a funny story about how he disrupted a players' drug talk by blowing powder out of his nose, Johnstone alluded to his own views on drugs (against). But then he made an interesting comment, noting that (in the pre-steroid age when he wrote the book) baseball teams are constantly giving players medications and treatments just to keep them playing. With all of that, Johnstone expressed his surprise that MORE players didn't end up developing drug problems.