Johnny Callison was born in March 1939 in Qualls, Oklahoma. He grew up there, but eventually moved to Bakersfield, California where he spent his high school years. He was a premier high school athlete and quickly got a lot of major league attention from scouts. He was signed straight out of high school and joined the Chicago White Sox in 1957 at the age of 18.
Callison made his big league debut in 1958 but only played in 18 games. He played 49 games with the White Sox in 1959, and despite the hype surrounding Callison’s future, the White Sox traded him to the Phillies that offseason for Gene Freese in hopes of competing with the New York Yankees for the AL Pennant.
The White Sox went on to lose the Pennant race to the Yankees, and Callison played in 99 games for the 59-win, last-place Phillies that year.
It took a couple years in the majors for Callison to adjust and perform to standards, but as a lefty hitter, he worked on slapping the ball down the left field line, and laying down bunts to catch infielders off-guard. Before long he perfected his strategies at the plate and it started paying off in 1962.
That year, Callison batted .300 for the first and only time of his career. He hit 23 homers, drove in 88 runs, and led the league with 10 triples. It was this season that Callison officially became the everyday right fielder for Philadelphia.
In his time with the Phils, Callison slashed .271/.338/.457 with a .795 OPS. He collected 1,438 hits, smashed 185 home runs, and drove in 666 runs. He had the unique ability to hit for power and average at will, and hit an impressive 112 homers between 1962-65.
Let’s take a look at some of Callison’s greatest career achievements:
- Phillies Wall of Fame
- 4x All-Star
- All-Star Game MVP - 1964
- 1,577 defensive games in right field - 26th all time
- 159 assists from right field - 13th all time
- Five consecutive seasons with 10+ triples
In 1966, Callison’s power numbers began to take a noticeable dip. He did, however, lead the league with 40 doubles, but had his worst slugging percentage since 1959 with the White Sox. A series of lingering injuries, as well as a loss of confidence, brought Callison from an All-Star-caliber player to an average one.
He spent a few more seasons in Philadelphia, but in 1970, he joined the Chicago Cubs via trade. A couple years later, he went to New York and would retire as a Yankee in 1973.
It may not have been a fairytale ending to an otherwise solid career for Callison, but in the early to mid 60s, he was a fan favorite in Philadelphia. At his peak he was a true five-tool player and always dazzled the crowd. That is why he earned his plaque on the Phillies Wall of Fame, where the right fielder will forever be celebrated for his greatness.
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