Heard the one about the accountant who's asked the color of a certain horse? "Brown on this side," he answers.
Well, not all accountants are precise, colorless and as damnably composed as cast-iron lawn dogs. There's Wallace Johnson, a Montreal Expo who, especially at this time of year, moonlights as an accountant. "Normally, I try to be calm, clearheaded, even-tempered," says Johnson, a 31-year-old pinch hitter and sometime first baseman. "But put me in a baseball uniform and I'm a totally different person: aggressive, intense, ruthless. You couldn't tell I had any formal education."
Johnson has a degree in accounting from Indiana State and has spent two off-seasons as an independent auditor for the Chicago office of Peat Marwick, a Big Eight accounting firm. During spring training the last few years, Johnson has prepared, at no charge, income tax returns for half a dozen young Latin players in the Expos system who were having difficulty dealing with their tax forms.
When Johnson doesn't have numbers to crunch, he looks for fastballs. A switch-hitter, he batted .247 in 75 games last season and tied the New York Mets' Lee Mazzilli for the major league lead with 17 pinch hits. "Wallace is one of the most prepared guys I've ever seen," says Buck Rodgers, the Montreal manager, who audits Johnson's stats. Johnson knows National League pitchers as well as the Internal Revenue Code. "When I'm in the batting circle, I'm collecting all my receipts on the pitcher, accumulating my data," he says. "Once I get to the plate, it's April 15th. Everything is due."
April 17, 1988
Johnson can carry this taxes-as-metaphor business to considerable lengths. "Paying taxes is like being shut out," he says. "You have nothing to show for it after-ward." Still, he thinks preparing tax forms is easier than pinch-hitting. "At least you can amend your returns three years back," he reasons. "Once you strike out, you can't ask to hit again." Johnson's greatest liability is his glove: He's far more adept with a pocket calculator. "You can manipulate numbers," Johnson says. "I just wish I could manipulate them on a field the way I can on a return."
Johnson's lousy fielding turned him from a prospect to a suspect to a reject. He was drafted by Montreal as a second baseman in 1979, and the next year he led the Florida State League in batting. He opened the '82 campaign as the Expos' starting second baseman but was sent down to Wichita to work on his defense. He was traded to San Francisco in '83, released in '84, then picked up again by Montreal. After two more years in the minors, he rejoined the Expos in '86.
In 1985 he was haggling over his salary with Bob Gebhard, then the head of Montreal's farm system. "I said, 'Give me a raise and I'll do some taxes for guys in the organization,' " says Johnson. He got the raise—and the job of helping to straighten out the finances of some Expos minor leaguers.
Soon teammates began asking Johnson for tax advice. Sample question: Is chewing tobacco a business expense? (Johnson's answer: I guess not.) Johnson improved his baseball clients' tax situations, but he didn't do much for their careers. All have either been released or dropped to lower levels in the minors. "The only people interested in them are the Feds," says Expos second baseman Casey Candaele. "I don't think Wallace is really an accountant. He's one of those imposter-type guys. He'll probably come to spring training next year and tell us he's a doctor."
Johnson won't dismiss the possibility. In his world, he says, the only things that are certain are death, taxes and a Todd Worrell sidearm fastball. "With two strikes," says Johnson, "he throws it every time."