Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Ernie Johnson, Sr.

When Ernie Johnson was inducted into the Braves’ Hall of Fame on August 24, 2001, it was an award honoring his more than 50 years as a member of the Braves’ family.

Some speakers at the ceremony mentioned his playing career, highlighted by a stellar 1.29 ERA during the 1957 World Series against the Yankees; others spoke of his 35 years in the broadcast booth, keeping listeners entranced during periods when the Braves' performance ranged from worst -- to first.

But Ernie’s true place in Braves’ history can’t be measured in balls and strikes or games behind the mike. There is no statistic that takes the measure of a man’s heart, and what he has meant to his fans, his friends and colleagues, and his family.

Ernie was born in what he calls “God’s country” -- Brattleboro, Vermont, in 1924. His parents, Thorwald and Ingeborg Johnson, were Swedish immigrants, and his dad was a woodworker by trade. Ernie was an outstanding high school athlete in baseball and basketball who had his choice of possible professional careers. He chose baseball.

In 1942, he began his pro career with Hartford, a Braves’ farm club, but he would miss the next three years after he joined the Marine Corps, serving in Okinawa during World War II. Some of his war memorabilia is currently on display in the Braves Museum at Turner Field, and the Marine Corps flag flies atop the flag pole in his front yard.

Back in Brattleboro when the war ended, Ernie was about to enter a storybook romance that continues to this day. He met Lois, a cheerleader at his old high school, and the rest is Johnson history.

“What do you do?” Lois asked him on their first date.

“I play baseball,” came the reply.

“I know, but what do you do for a LIVING?”

They were married on November 15, 1947.

Ernie pitched for the Braves in “middle relief” from 1950 until 1958. He was traded to the Baltimore Orioles, where he pitched in 1959, and released at the end of the season. The Cleveland Indians picked him up, but released him before the 1960 season, and his playing days were over.

The end of his playing career, however, became the stepping stone to his broadcast career.
His smooth voice and knowledge of the game earned him his first television job as the host of a baseball show called “Play Ball!” on a local Milwaukee station. From there, he was hired as the color commentator on Braves radio in 1962.

Play Ball!

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