Great Braves Through The Ages: Ernie Johnson

In this week's "Great Braves Through The Ages" Dany Pace takes a look at the career of great Braves announcer and player Ernie Johnson.

In this day and age there are probably more professional sports leagues than ever before. But to this sports fan nothing compares to the mystique, nostalgia, excitement and romanticism that is major league baseball. One of the things that seperates baseball from other sports is the fans love of broadcasters. The baseball hall of fame even has a section dedicated to the legendary voices of the game. Braves fans have been lucky enough to have three potential future hall of famers behind the mic in Skip Carey, Pete Van Wieren and Ernie Johnson. This week we are going to take a look at not only the broadcast career of Ernie Johnson but also his days as a major league relief pitcher.

Ernie Johnson was born Ernest Thorwald Johnson on June 16th, 1924. In high school his two loves were baseball and basketball and he hoped to one day play for the Boston Celtics. His high school coach took him to meet with the Boston Red Sox and Boston Braves, the Braves signed him on the spot. In 1942 Ernie joined the elite aviators of the Marine Corps where he rose the the rank of staff sergeant and served in the Pacific campain before finally returning to the minor leagues in 1946. On April 28th 1950 Ernie made his major leage debut with the Boston Braves, little did he know he would be a part of the Braves franchise for over 50 years. In his rookie season Ernie got into 16 games where he compiled a 2-0 record with 15 strikeouts, 13 walks and a 6.97 era in 20 2/3 innnings.

After spending 1951 in the minors Ernie returned to the Braves for the '52 season. That year he was 6-3 with 45 strikeouts, 1 save and a 4.11 era. Ernie did manage to make 10 starts that season having 2 complete games and the only shutout of his career.

In 1953 the Braves left Boston for the baseball hungry city of Milwaukee and Ernie went with them. Going 4-3 with a 2.67 era and 36 strikeouts Johnson allowed only 4 home runs in 81 innings as a reliever. Ernie would go 5-2 in 1954 with 2 saves, 5-7 in 1955 with 4 saves, and 4-3 in 1956 with 6 saves.

1957 was a banner year for the Braves. The team won its first national league pennant in 9 years thanks to sluggers Hank Aaron Eddie Mathews, Joe Adcock and Del Crandal and pitching aces Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette. Ernie contributed aswell going 7-3 with 4 saves, 44 strikeouts and a 3.88 era in 65 innings out of the bullpen.

In the World Series the Braves took on the mighty New York Yankees. The Braves upset the Bronx Bombers in 7 games giving the franchise thier first world championship since 1914. In the series Ernie was credited with a loss but only gave up one run in 7 innngs pitched. He finished the series 0-1 with 8 strikeouts, 1 walk, 2 hits and a 1.29 era.

In 1958 Ernie struggled, he had a winning record of 3-1 but had given up 21 runs in 23 1/3 innings of work. The Braves were once again National League champs but left Ernie saw no action in the World Series. The Braves fell to the Yankees 4 games to 3.

Ernie spent the 1959 season with the Baltimore Orioles where he was 4-1 with 29 strikeouts and a 4.11 era in 50 1/3 innings.

In 1960 Ernie was retired and started a insurance company, but he got a call from a Milwaukee tv producer who wanted him to host a baseball show called "Play Ball!". Reluctant at first Ernie finally decided to give broadcasting a shot. In 1962 he became the color man for Milwaukee Braves radio broadcasts.

In Febuary 1963 Ernie became administrative assistant to the president and in May he became public relations director. When the Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966 he continued his broadcasting duties and became director of broadcasting in 1974. Johnson also won the Georgia broadcaster of the year award in 1977. In the 1990's Ernie retired from TBS but still did a weekly Braves game on Fox sports south. In 1999 Johnson decided to retire for good. In his last broadcast on Fox sports south he was joined by his son Ernie Johnson Jr for a few innings.

Today Ernie enjoys retirement but conintues to emcee Braves events such as inductions into the Braves hall of fame or ceremonies honoring Braves players. In 2001 Ernie was inducted into the Braves hall of fame and has returned to the TBS booth the past few seasons to fill in for other broadcasters while they were away.

When you think about Ernie Johnson many things come to mind. Who can forget him snagging foul balls at Atlanta Fulton County stadium with a giant fish net, and after holding up his catch for everyone to see tossing it to a lucky fan below? Or how about riding around the bases in the ostrich races the Braves held back in the 70's? It is people like Ernie who prove baseball is more than a game and that baseball is the greatest "sport" on earth. Ernie Johnson is a class act and will always hold a warm place in my heart and that of millions of Braves fans. Here's to you Ernie.

Ernie Johnson career Braves pitching stats
Games: 242
Innings: 524
Wins: 36
Losses: 22
Saves: 18
Strikeouts: 290
Walks: 212
Era: 3.74

Ernie Johnson career pitching stats
Games: 273
Innings: 574 2/3
Wins: 40
Losses: 23
Saves: 19
Strikeouts: 319
Walks: 231
Era: 3.77

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