Inaugural Class of 2009
Eau Claire Skelly Oilers 1938; Girard’s Hillbillies 1939; Leif’s Conoco Oilers 1953
Simply put, Vic Johnson is the only person in CRBL history to have played in the Major Leagues, doing so with the Boston Red Sox in 1944 and 1945 as well as the Cleveland Indians in 1946.
Playing in what at the time was called the Chippewa Valley Rural League, the left-handed Johnson’s time in league history was brief but memorable. In 1938, he tied for the league lead in wins (7) and saves (1), while leading the league with a 1.000 percentage (7-0) for the league champion, 12 and 2 Eau Claire Skelly Oilers. In 1939, he led the league with a 1.91 ERA (7 ER in 33 IP) and authored the third no-hitter in CRBL history, a 10-3 nine-inning job vs. Jim Falls while hurling for Girard’s Hillbillies.
After bouncing between area teams and leagues over the next few seasons, Johnson was signed by the Eau Claire Bears in 1942. Pitching at a level roughly equivalent to single A, he went 18 and 7 in 1942, making the Northern League’s all-star team. In 1943, he went a combined 17 and 12 between stops in Louisville, KY and Scranton, PA as he again made an all-star team, this time in the American Association. His promising development prompted a call-up to the Red Sox of Boston in 1944, where he debuted against the Yankees on May 3rd in a 11-7 Red Sox loss. He finished his rookie season with a 0-3 record in 7 appearances, 5 games started, and 27.1 innings pitched with 7 strikeouts and a 6.26 ERA.
In 1945, for a 71 and 83 Boston team that finished in 7th place, Vic emerged as one of the main components on the Red Sox pitching staff. In 26 appearances and 9 starts, Johnson was 6 and 4 with 4 complete games, 2 saves, 1 shutout, 85 innings pitched, 21 strikeouts, and a 4.02 ERA.
The zenith of his pitching career occurred on August 29th, 1945 when he threw a 1-0 shutout against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Incredibly, he threw 16 consecutive scoreless innings against a Yanks team that year which included Major League Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, Joe Gordon, and Bill Dickey.
In 1946, Vic was unexpectedly traded to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for pitcher Jim Bagby and cash. For the 6th place Tribe, he was 0-1 in 9 appearances, 1 start, and 13.2 innings pitched with 3 K’s and a 9.22 ERA. He would be sent to the minors by mid-season, with his last game in the majors being on June 11th, 1946. Johnson would spend over two more years successfully pitching in the minor leagues, in the process notching a no-hitter vs. future Brooklyn Dodger all-star Carl Erskine on May 28th, 1948. Vic’s 13 and 7 mark from the mound that summer would count as the last tally on his professional resume.
A finesse pitcher who relied on locating his sinker and curveball, Vic Johnson’s final major league numbers are that of 42 appearances, 6 wins, 8 losses, 15 games started, 4 complete games, 2 saves, 126 innings pitched, 152 hits allowed, 60 walks, 31 strikeouts, 1 shutout, and an ERA of 5.07. During his seven seasons as a minor leaguer, he won 68 games against 58 setbacks for a winning percentage of .540 while piling up 1,012 innings in 215 pitching appearance, 53 as a starter.
Post-professional baseball found Vic playing and managing on several area teams before returning to league play for one season in 1953 with Leif’s Conoco Oilers out of Eau Claire. As their player/manager, Johnson threw just 2 innings while guiding the young group to an 8-3 record and assisting in the process of getting several Oiler players signed to professional contracts.