On the surface, Johnny Mitchell seemingly had a familiar career arc. He played six years, but never played more than 97 games in a season. He wasn’t great, but did enough to hang around for years, getting shots with multiple teams. After his final team got rid of him, Mitchell played a bit longer in the minors, presumably trying to get back to the bigs, but never did.
The actual journey of his career was a bit deeper than that.
Mitchell grew up in Detroit, and first started playing organized professional baseball in 1913 with the Adrian Champs of the Southern Michigan League. He was 18 years old, and played parts of two seasons there before moving up a level. Mitchell spent the next couple seasons with various teams before getting picked up by the Vernon Tigers of the Pacific Coast League in 1918.
While with the Tigers, Mitchell helped win PCL pennants in 1918, 1919, and 1920. During those seasons, Mitchell’s play, specifically his defense, got him on the radar of major league teams. Vernon manager Bill Essick, who went on to work for the Yankees and is credited with helping acquire Joe DiMaggio and several other notable players, traded Mitchell to New York for a handful of players.
Mitchell spent most of the 1921 season with the Yankees, but was used mostly as a backup shortstop. He only appeared in 13 games. He recorded a hit in his major league debut, but had a .612 OPS for the season, which translates to a 56 OPS+. In other words, he was a backup shortstop.
In 1922, Mitchell didn’t appear in a game until June. He would play just four games for the Yankees that season, recording no hits, though he did score a run. More runs that hits in a season is a fun little stat, even if it is explainable (he pinch ran).
Even though Mitchell was already only a backup, his complete drop off in playing time was understandable. The Yankees had acquired Everett Scott in the offseason. Even as good as Mitchell’s defense was said to be, he wasn’t as necessary anymore. Consequently, the Yankees traded him to the Red Sox as part of a package with Chick Fewster and Elmer Miller. The trade brought Joe Dugan and Elmer Smith to New York.
Mitchell did go on to establish himself as a regular for the Red Sox for the next year and a half. His status as a great defender was solidified. However, he also went from the team that went on to win the AL to the team that finished dead last.
His time in Boston didn’t last beyond 1923, as he was traded to minor league team for former St. Louis Brown Dud Lee. He got a couple seasons with the Brooklyn Robins after they picked him up, but Mitchell wouldn’t play in the major leagues again after 1925.
Despite the semi-long career, it’s hard to look at Mitchell’s major league tenure as anything but unfortunate. After spending a long time in the minors, he not only finally gets called up, but plays for the eventual AL pennant winners. Mitchell then gets traded away the season before the Yankees finally break through and win the World Series. He ended up on Boston, who finished last in both years he played for them. Then in his first season in Brooklyn, they miss out in winning the NL by 1.5 games.
Mitchell did more than a lot of players do in their careers, but in a way, his tenure was a little sad. He literally got traded for a guy called “Dud”.