Former White Sox outfielder Jay Johnstone passed away on Monday afternoon, at the age of 74. As of this writing the cause of his death is unknown.
Johnstone came up in the California Angels organization in the early 60’s, but was acquired by Chicago White Sox player personnel director Roland Hemond on Nov. 30, 1970 as part of a six-player swap that included All-Star outfielder and Gold Glove winner Ken Berry.
In addition to Johnstone, the Sox got catcher Tom Egan and pitcher Tom Bradley. All three contributed to the “New Look” White Sox of the early 1970’s, make the trade one of Hemond’s best.
Johnstone’s top season with the Sox came in 1971, when he hit 16 home runs, with 40 RBIs and 10 steals.
The following year didn’t go well for Johnstone, as he only batted .188 in 113 games.
Still he played all three outfield positions both years and was known as a great teammate and a clubhouse comic. But as Ed Herrmann told me about “Moon Man” (Johnstone’s nickname on the Sox): “As crazy as he was, his objective was always to win. He was crazy/smart."
Johnstone was released by the Sox in March 1973, when he didn’t sign the offer the club extended to him.
White Sox vice president Stu Holcomb ordered that any player who refused the team offer was to be released. In addition to Johnstone, the Sox also let go of Mike Andrews, Ed Spiezio and Rick Reichardt.
When Holcomb ordered Hemond to release 21-game winner Stan Bahnsen midway through that year because he still didn’t accept the club offer, Hemond and manager Chuck Tanner went to owner John Allyn and in essence said, “It’s either him or us…”
Allyn then announced that Holcomb was “retiring,” but the damage had already been done. The Sox used the disabled list more than 30 times in 1973, and because they released all these players they simply had no depth to turn to.
Tanner told me that one of the things he remembered from that time was Johnstone saying to him, “How could they just release me?”
Johnstone wasn’t out of work very long, and would continue his career with Oakland, Philadelphia, the Yankees, San Diego, the Dodgers and the Cubs, retiring in 1985 after 20 seasons in the big leagues.
He appeared in one division series, four league championship series and two World Series—being part of teams that won both times.