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Happy Birthday To A Dodger Legend

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<em>Image courtesy of <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/streetmedic/2522413463/" target="new">Flickr</a></em>
Image courtesy of Flickr

September 22 is the birthday of a famous Dodger, a man who replaced a Dodger record holder and went on to success of his own.  He is known for his charisma, his outgoing personality, and has been known to give a speech or two in his day.

Tommy Lasorda?  Well, yes, its his birthday, too.  But I'm talking aobut Sweet Lou Johnson, who turns 75 today.  In April 1964, the Dodgers traded former World Series MVP Larry Sherry to the Tigers for the 29-year old minor leaguer.  After a broken ankle sidelined Dodger outfielder Tommy Davis in May 1965, Johnson took over and ended up tying Jim Lefebvre for the team lead in home runs with a grand total of 12.  Johnson is most well known for his home run off Jim Kaat in Game 7 of the 1965 World Series that gave the Dodgers a lead they would never relinquish.  Johnson, who clapped his hands rounding the bases in Minnesota, was known for his outgoing style.  Jack Mann in 1966 wrote of Johnson in Sports Illustrated:

Lou Johnson, the elf of the Dodgers, can make you cry because he's beautiful. Fouled up like an unscheduled fire drill, but beautiful. "Spark plug, hell," Alston said to him one day as Johnson girded for battle despite a case of hemorrhoids that would have kept a bank teller in bed. "Are you the spark of this club or the plug? You bust your tail on the field every day, but I have to kick it to get you out of here. You're the last s.o.b. to get dressed every day."

"Hey, Skip," said Johnson, with that incandescent smile, "would you like me to hustle at 12:15, or after the bell rings?"

"I give up," Alston said. "There isn't any way to top that."

Johnson also played a key role in another memorable win by Sandy Koufax that year.  During Koufax's perfect game against the Cubs, on September 9, 1965, Johnson was the only batter from either team to reach base.  He walked off Bob Hendley to start the fifth, advanced to second on a Ron Fairly sacrifice bunt, then stole third and scored when catcher Chris Krug's throw went into left field.  Johnson also doubled in the seventh inning, breaking up Hendley's no-hitter.

Today, Johnson is part of the Dodgers' Speakers Bureau, speaking on, among other things, addiction and recovery.  Johnson lost his 1965 World Series ring in a cocaine deal gone bad, but eventually got sober a decade later with the help of former Dodger Don Newcombe.  As Doug Padilla of the LA Daily News reported four years ago:

``Don Newcombe told me, 'If you ever take another drink, I'll break your legs,' and they ain't broke yet,'' Johnson said with a laugh. ``What the Dodgers did was they put some pride back in my life.''

They also got his ring back. It was discovered in an unclaimed safety deposit box and was being auctioned on the Internet. Johnson didn't have the $3,500 to buy it, so the Dodgers bought it for him.

Happy 75th birthday, Sweet Lou.

As for today's other birthday boy, Tommy Lasorda, he will have a 60 by 50-inch portait of him hung in the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C today in a ceremony starting at 7:30am. 

Happy 82nd birthday to you, Tommy.