There are just some feats in baseball that we will very rarely, if ever, see happen again. One of them was what Don Johnson did for the Yankees on April 20, 1947.
Johnson had a seven-year career for several teams. He threw just 72 inning across two seasons for the Yankees, but he got his start with them. The Yankees signed Johnson out of high school in 1944. After spending parts of that season in the minors, Johnson joined the army and served through 1947.
After he finished up with his military commitments, he went with the Yankees to spring training ahead of the ‘47 season. He impressed, and ended up making the team to start the season.
Johnson made his debut on April 20, 1947, getting the start on the mound in the sixth game of the season. He gave up a hit in the second and third innings, but escaped both damage-free. Meanwhile, the Yankees got him some early run support, going up 2-0 against the Athletics after three innings.
Like a lot of pitchers making their debut, Johnson started to become less effective as the game went on. He got through five innings scoreless, but Philadelphia finally got on the board in the bottom of the sixth.
Manager Bucky Harris stuck with Johnson through the sixth, and he was rewarded with scoreless eighth and ninth innings. The Yankees couldn’t add to their lead, and Johnson was went back out for the ninth to try and finish a complete game.
That decision very well might have backfired. After getting the first out of the inning, Johnson allowed a solo home run to Buddy Rosar, tying the game at two. All of Johnson’s good work in his first major league game was seemingly gone.
The Yankees retook the lead in the top of the tenth. After Phil Rizzuto reached on an error, he came around to score on a Tommy Heinrich single.
Maybe at that point, you would think the Yankees would bring in a new pitcher. You got a good outing out of the starter, but he had surrendered a late lead. The Yankees did not do that.
Johnson came back out for the tenth. He gave up a one-out single, but eventually finished off a 3-2 win for the Yankees. In his major league debut, Don Johnson finished with a line of two runs on 11 hits, walked a batter, and struck out three in 10 innings. It’s unsurprisingly the deepest a debuting Yankee pitcher has gone in a game.
Compare that to Jonathan Loaisiga’s debut start a few weeks ago. He lasted just five innings, despite allowing just three hits. His pitch count was over 90, partially because of the walks he issued.
However, there was no way he would have been allowed to go 8-9 innings in his debut, never mind ten. There are a variety of logically sound reasons as to why, so this isn’t a criticism of how pitchers are used today. It’s just funny to compare these things.
Don Johnson had a perfectly okay, but below-average major league career after his debut. He never quite managed to repeat that type of performance, but he has a World Series ring, and a bit of notoriety.