By STEVE KRAH
Lenny “Lefty” Johnston was part of the professional baseball for six decades.
Born in Pontiac, Mich. on March 15, 1928, and graduated as a football, basketball and baseball standout from Arthur Hill High School (Saginaw, Mich.) and football and baseball star at Western Michigan University (Kalamazoo), Johnston was signed by the Chicago White Sox by Johnny Mostil and Doug Minor in 1952.
Johnston stole 325 bases and led his league in stolen bags for six consecutive seasons (1953-58).
He was The Sporting News Minor League Rookie of the Year for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox of the Western League in 1953.
In 1956 — his second of 12 Triple-A seasons — Johnston led the International League with 182 hits for the Richmond Virginians.
The last seven of his 15 minor league campaigns as a player was spent with the Indianapolis Indians (1960-66). The Indians won championships in 1961 (American Association), 1962 (American Association) and 1963 (International League South). Johnston was a player-coach in his last two seasons.
At 35, hit .316 and finished second in batting in 1964. He smacked four home run and drove in 67 runs in 127 games.
A lefty swinging and throwing outfielder, Johnston hit .304 in 76 games with the 1960 Indianapolis team managed by Johnny Hutchings and Ted Beard. The Indians were then a Philadelphia Phillies farm team.
He hit .297 in 113 games for the Cot Deal-managed 1961 Indians (then a Cincinnati Reds affiliate).
In 1962, Indianapolis was part of the Chicago White Sox system and the ties remained through Johnston’s career in Indy. He hit .270 with 45 runs batted in over 113 games for a ’62 team managed by Luke Appling (who went into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1964).
Rollie Hemsley skippered the 1963 Indians and Johnston hit .262 with four home runs and 30 RBIs in 115 games.
Les Moss managed the 1964 Indians to a second place finish in the Pacific Coast League East.
Johnston hit .206 in 81 games for the 1965 Indians (fourth in the PCL East). George Noga was the manager.
Moss was back as manager in 1966. Johnston hit .251 in 94 games and the Tribe placed third in the PCL East.
Among his other managers are Hobart, Ind., native Everett Robinson plus Don Gutteridge, Danny Murtaugh, Eddie Lopat and Rube Walker.
Johnston will be enshrined in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame during the IHSBCA State Clinic Jan. 12-14 at Sheraton at Keystone Crossing in Indianapolis. The Hall of Fame and awards banquet is slated for 7 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 13 at the Sheraton. Other inductees will be Kelby Weybright, Drew Storen, Jeff Samardzija and the late Wayne Johnson.
For questions about banquet reservations, program advertisements or events leading up to the ceremony, contact Hall of Fame chairman Jeff McKeon at 317-445-9899.
Banquet tickets can be purchased at https://www.cognitoforms.com/Baseball3%20_2023IHSBCAStateClinic and can be picked up from Jeff on the night of the banquet at the registration table. Tickets must be purchased in advance.
“Lefty” Johnston married for the second time in Indianapolis and had two sons — David and Danny (who is now caregiver for his 93-year-old father in Nashville, Tenn.).
Johnston had three children from a previous marriage in Michigan and had three older children — Tommy, Janie and Kim. In total, he has five children, 12 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
According to Danny Johnston, his father “loves Florida and loved coaching there.
“He also loved Bluefield, Va., where he spent part of three decades with the Bluefield Orioles coaching, mentoring and coordinating.”
As a national cross-checker scout “Lefty” was responsible for Tito Landrum coming to the Orioles.
Landrum hit the homer that gave Baltimore the lead in Game 4 of the 1983 ALCS and the O’s eventually made it to the World Series.
“He was proud to have been a part of that,” says Danny Johnston.
He resided in Indianapolis for 50 years during the winters and helped sell season tickets for the Indians and was a substitute teacher and sold insurance for Lincoln National Life.
Johnston has been inducted into both Western Michigan’s Football Hall of Fame and Baseball Hall of Fame.
In 2010, “Lefty” received the Herb Armstrong Award for his contributions to baseball and the organization, and he was inducted into the Orioles Hall of Fame.
Johnston went into the Appalachian League Hall of Fame in 2020.