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Oscar "Heavy" Johnson

Oscar Johnson
Nickname: Heavy

Career: 1922-1933
Positions: of, c, 2b
Teams: Kansas City Monarchs (1922-1924), Baltimore Black Sox (1925-1926), Harrisburg Giants (1927), Cleveland Tigers (1928), Memphis Red Sox (1928-1933)
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Height: 6'   Weight: 250
Born: 1896, Atchison, Kansas
Died: 1966, Cleveland, Ohio

A heavy player with an equally heavy bat, he was one of the league's power hitters during the 1920s. The big slugger was fat, carrying 250 pounds on his frame, which he used to good advantage in generating power at the plate. Jocko Conlon, who barnstormed against Johnson, said that he could hit a ball out of any park. He played with the 25th Infantry baseball team as a catcher, but moved to the outfield when he, Bullet Rogan, and Dobie Moore signed with the Kansas City Monarchs.

Breaking in with the Monarchs in 1922, the youngster posted a .389 batting average, and continued his offensive production for Santa Clara in the Cuban winter league with a .345 average. He was back in the United States for the 1923 season, and his heavy hitting helped the Monarchs to the Negro National League pennant as he had his best season with a .380 average and 18 home runs in 46 games. In 1924 he was credited with more than 60 home runs against all opposition, and he hit .411 in league play to help the Monarchs capture another pennant. In the subsequent showdown with Eastern Colored League champion Hilldale in the first World Series, he contributed a .296 average to the Monarchs' victory.

Johnson was an unpolished fielder and not noted for performance afield. However, in the 1924 World Series he turned in a defensive gem when he snared Hilldale's George Johnson's long drive at the wall, robbing him of an extra-base hit, and then whirled and pegged the ball to the plate to double-up base runner George Can, who had tagged at third base and was trying to score.

The next season he made the jump east to the Baltimore Black Sox, hitting .345 and .337 for his two seasons with them, batting fifth in the order behind Jud Wilson and John Beckwith. In 1927 he signed with Harrisburg, where he hit .316 while teaming with Beckwith and Oscar Charleston to provide the offensive power for the Eastern Colored League team. In 1928 he was back in the Negro National League, splitting the season between the Cleveland Tigers and the Memphis Red Sox. With each team he hit in the heart of the batting order when in the lineup and finished with a combined .315 average.

The burly outfielder's bat was what kept him in the lineup, and he could hit under any circumstances, once blasting a pinch-hit home run with a fungo bat after being rousted from his sleep on the bench. The slugger closed out his career in 1933, after twelve years in the Negro Leagues, compiling a lifetime .337 batting average.

Source: James A. Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1994.