Memories of 1965, Lou Johnson, Sandy Koufax
August 7, 2012
He walked up behind me Sunday, grabbed both of my shoulders and broke into that infectious smile which became part of Dodger history in 1965.
Lou Johnson, better known as Sweet Lou Johnson, wanted to talk about his game-winning home run against the Minnesota Twins in the seventh game of the ’65 World Series that brought a championship to Los Angeles. He also wanted to talk about baseball in general and his teammate, the great Sandy Koufax, the MVP of that World Series.
“Sandy and I are good to this day,” he said proudly.
In May of ’65 the Dodgers were jolted when their star left fielder, Tommy Davis, suffered a broken ankle that would sideline him for the rest of the season. How would they replace his bat?
They called up Sweet Lou from the minors and managed to finish two games ahead of the Giants in their division.
Vin Scully remembers Sweet Lou as “a colorful character and a pretty good ballplayer.”
The Dodgers’ pitching wasn’t bad either. Koufax was 26-8 and Don Drysdale was 23-12.
In the World Series that year Sweet Lou had eight hits, including two homers.
“I was so determined,’ Sweet Lou recalled of his fourth inning home run in Minnesota. Koufax didn’t need much more help, other than one spectacular defensive play by Jim Gilliam in the 2-0 victory.
Scully was broadcasting, Walter Alston was the manager, Walter O’Malley was the owner.
“When I played left field that day there was so little to do because Sandy was in such control of the game,” remembered Sweet Lou.
“I like to talk but there was nobody on the field I could talk to. The infielders can talk to each other, the baserunners, the coaches. But we’re just out there.
So I talked to the fans.”
Again, the infectious laugh.
The next year Tommy Davis returned and Sweet Lou moved to right field and had 71 RBI.
But ’66 was Koufax’ last year due to an arthritic left elbow. He won 27 games but retired at 30, saying, “I don’t regret a minute of my 12 years in the major leagues but I might regret one more.” Doctors had told him if he kept pitching he might lose the use of the arm.
Koufax pitched four no-hitters including a perfect game. In 1965 he struck out 382 batters. In 1971 he was elected to the Baseball Hall Of Fame.
As for Sweet Lou, he’s a valuable member of the Dodgers’ Community Relations Department and Speakers’ Bureau.
And that’s why he was in the press box Sunday before the 7-6 win over the Cubs, grabbing my shoulders and brightening my day with his smile.
In a serious moment he told me “I regret that I never met Gene Autry or Phil Wrigley, two owners I would have liked to know.”
But he made a lot of friends, and in this 50th year of Dodger Stadium, when memorable moments of the past are being celebrated, his contribution is properly being included.