Clifford Johnson, Jr.
Nickname: Connie, Cliff
Positions: p, 1b
Teams: Indianapolis Crawfords (1940), Kansas City Monarchs (1941-1942, 1946-1950), military service (1943-1945), Canadian League ('51), minor leagues ('52-'54, '59-'60), major leagues ('53, '55-'58,) Mexican League ('61)
Height: 6' 4'' Weight: 200
Born: December 27, 1922, Stone Mountain, Georgia
Died: November 28, 2004, Kansas City, Missouri
Primarily a fastball pitcher early in his career, after arm trouble he developed a good breaking pitch. In his prime, the big righthander had good control and an assorted repertory, including an outstanding fastball and curve, a good slider, and an average changeup. He made two appearances, a decade apart, in the East-West All Star game. He pitched in the 1940 contest while with the Indianapolis Crawfords, and after achieving greater recognition as a member of the superb Kansas City Monarchs' mound corps of the 1940s, he notched the victory in the 1950 game.
Before signing with the Crawfords in 1940, he played baseball in high school at Stone Mountain, Georgia. After a year with the Crawfords, he joined the Kansas City Monarchs and played a key role in the 1941 and 1942 Negro American League championships, posting league ledgers of 2-2 and 3-0 before entering military service during World War II for three years. Returning from the Army in 1946, he registered a 9-3 record as the Monarchs copped another pennant, but he did not pitch in the World Series. The next two seasons he was a .500 pitcher with the Monarchs, but in 1950 he was 11-2 with a 2.17 ERA.
In 1951 he played with St. Hyacinthe in the Canadian Provincial League and was 15-14 with a 3.24 ERA and a league-high 172 strike-outs. In 1952 his contract was purchased by the Chicago White Sox organization and he was sent to Colorado Springs in the Western League, where he posted an 18-9 mark with a 3.38 ERA and led the league with 233 strikeouts.
In 1953, at age thirty, Johnson's fastball and picture-book curve earned him a shot at the major leagues, and he split the season with Charleston (6-6, 3.62 ERA) of the American Association and the parent White Sox (4-4, 3.54 ERA) of the American League. After two fine seasons with Toronto of the International League (17-8, 3.72 ERA and 12-2, 3.05 ERA) in 1954-1955, he was back with Chicago before the end of the latter season and was 7-4 with a 3.45 ERA.
During the winter (1954-1955) sandwiched between these two seasons with Toronto, he played with Marianao in Cuba and was 12-11 with a 3.29 ERA. He also toured with Roy Campanella's All-Stars in 1954.
Traded to Baltimore in 1956, he fashioned the best season of his five-year major-league career with the Orioles in 1957, when he posted a 14-11 record with a 3.20 ERA. He remained in the majors through 1958, with a composite recod of 29-31 for the three seasons, before being sent back to the minors. Pitching with Vancouver in the Pacific Coast League, he registered an 8-4 mark in 1959 but lost his only game in 1960. In 1961 he finished his baseball career with a 1-0 record with Puebla in the Mexican League.
Baseball Career Highlights:
Johnson said that his Negro Leagues baseball career started one Sunday in 1940 when the Kansas City Monarchs were playing the Toledo Crawfords. The Crawfords needed a pitcher and chose Johnson, a high school outfielder, who threw hard. The Crawfords were confident in Johnson's abilities. However, Johnson wasn't so sure. He said he told them, "I can't play with you guys." Johnson recalled them saying, "I saw you play." Johnson was given an oversized uniform and a glove and was competing against the Monarchs the next day.
When the Crawfords disbanded in 1941, Johnson joined the Monarchs and was instrumental in the team's 1941 and 1942 Negro American League Championships. While in the U.S. Army during World War II, Johnson's baseball career was halted until 1946. When he returned, he posted a 9-3 record helping the Monarchs win another pennant. In 1952, his contract was purchased by the Chicago White Sox and he was sent to Colorado Springs in the Western League. Posting an 18-9 mark with a 3.38 ERA, he led the league with 233 strikeouts. In 1953, he got his shot at the Majors. Johnson was traded to the Baltimore Orioles in 1956. In 1957, posting a 14 11 record with a 3.20 ERA, he had the best season of his five-year major league career, which ended in 1958.
"The most I made in a year playing baseball was $15,000. Players today make more in one day than I made in an entire career," Johnson said. "But, I wouldn't change a thing. We had a good time. We had a ball." Johnson, who retired from the Ford Motor Company, is an active supporter of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, and involved in telling others about the history and glory of the Negro Leagues.
Awards, Honors, Titles, Championships,
• Negro American League Championships - 1941, 1942, 1946
• Broke Western League Strikeout Record (233) - 1952
• Earned 8 Major League Shutouts (During 5-Year Major League
NLBM Legacy 2000 Players' Reunion Alumni Book, Kansas City Missouri: Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Inc., 2000.
James A. Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1994.