Ernest Thorwald Johnson (June 16, 1924 – August 12, 2011) was a Major League Baseball pitcher. The 6’4″, 195 lb. right-hander was signed by the Boston Braves as an amateur free agent before the 1942 season. He played for the Boston Braves (1950, 1952), Milwaukee Braves (1953-1958), and Baltimore Orioles (1959).
After serving three years in the U.S. Marine Corps, Johnson made his major league debut in relief on April 28, 1950, against the Philadelphia Phillies at Shibe Park. His first big league win was also in relief, coming against the New York Giants on June 30, 1950, at the Polo Grounds. He spent part of 1950 in the Eastern League and all of 1951 in the American Association before returning to the major leagues for good in 1952. He started 10 games for Boston in 1952 and then appeared almost exclusively in relief thereafter.
From 1953 to 1957, the first five years that the Braves were in Milwaukee, Johnson led the pitching staff with 175 relief appearances, an average of 35 per season. He was followed closely behind by Dave Jolly, who relieved in 158 games during that five-year span. During those seasons the closer’s job was held at different times by Lew Burdette, Johnson, Jolly, and Don McMahon.
Johnson had an important role on the 1957 World Series Champion Braves with a 7-3 record and four saves in 30 games. In three World Series appearances against the New York Yankees that October he gave up only one run in seven innings, but it happened to be a game-winning home run by Hank Bauer in the seventh inning of Game 6.
In nine seasons Johnson had a losing record only once (1955) and had an overall winning percentage of .635. Career totals include a record of 40-23 in 273 games, 19 games started, three complete games, one shutout, 119 games finished, 19 saves, and an ERA of 3.77.
Following his playing days Johnson was a longtime color commentator and play-by-play broadcaster on Braves radio and television, working from 1962 to 1999 and becoming an icon in Atlanta. He was elected to the Braves’ Hall of Fame on August 24, 2001. His son, Ernie Johnson, Jr., worked with him from 1993 to 1996.
Johnson died on August 12, 2011, after a long illness.
Following the ‘Voice of the Braves’ from Boston to broadcasting
Georgia Magazine – BY JACKIE KENNEDY
Before Chipper Jones could crawl, before Atlanta’s baseball team went from worst to first, before Hank Aaron hit all those homers, even before the Braves ever thought of moving to Georgia … there was Ernie Johnson.
Hailed through the years as the “Voice of the Braves,” Ernie Johnson Sr. could just as easily be dubbed the “Heart of Baseball.” He’s been at the game—either on the pitcher’s mound or as an announcer—for six decades.
What a journey it’s been.
A native of Brattleboro, Vt., Ernie played with both the Boston and Milwaukee Braves and announced games for the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves for nearly four decades. He pitched in one World Series game against the Yankees, called games when Phil Niekro and Dale Murphy were in their prime, and was named Georgia Sportscaster of the Year three times.
Last year, his daughter, Chris Johnson, spearheaded a drive to secure her dad a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame for broadcasting. More than 2,000 fans have signed the guest book of an Internet Web site (designed by family friend John Amato as a surprise for Ernie) devoted to this living legend’s career, deeming him everything from “a great announcer and human being” to “a role model for the ages.”
…In 1962, he was hired as the color commentator for the Braves on WTMJ, a TV station in Milwaukee, and in 1965 he moved his family to Atlanta, where he started setting up the Braves’ radio network across the Southeast. The next year, the Braves followed and Ernie joined Milo Hamilton and Larry Munson as the Atlanta Braves’ broadcast team. He and Milo worked together for 10 years and, in 1976, Pete Van Wieren and Skip Caray joined Ernie in the announcer’s box. Beginning in 1973, when the TBS Superstation debuted, Ernie’s voice was heard by millions across the country.
His sincerity, humor and ability to educate were key elements to Ernie’s success. In his home, there’s a plaque with a quote from French-American historian Jacques Barzun: “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball.”
“Everything I know about baseball, I learned from Ernie Johnson,” says Kathleen Boyd, LaGrange fan, echoing hundreds who’ve signed Ernie’s Web site guest book.
Braves pitcher John Smoltz sums it up this way: “Ernie Johnson Sr. has handled his job just like his family, just like his life—all with class, dignity and humility. Ernie Johnson’s attitude towards all of these areas of his life has been an inspiration to me as well as many others who have gotten to know him.”
Ernie’s secret to broadcasting: “I was told ‘Just be yourself,’” he says. “And I got some good advice in the beginning, to not talk down to my listeners.”
…When it comes to Braves baseball, Ernie’s just about seen it all. He was there for the first game at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium in 1966 and he was back in 1996, for the final game against the New York Yankees for the World Series. But one of the most special nights at the old ballpark was in 1989. The Braves finished in last place and their attendance that year was lowest in the National League. Despite the dissatisfaction with another losing season, 42,000 fans (the largest crowd that year) showed up on Sept. 2. It was “Ernie Johnson Night,” and they’d come to say goodbye.
The beloved “Voice” retired from full-time broadcasting that night but returned to announce games on Sports South and Fox Sports for another decade. In 1999, he retired for good after 35 years in Braves broadcasting. Even now, though, he continues to fill in two or three times a year, a treat his fans enjoy.
The highlights of his career as an announcer were being on the broadcast team when the Braves won pennants and the World Series, and calling the games when Hank Aaron was breaking records.
“Going from last to first in the ‘90s was really fantastic,” Ernie recalls. “There were great players and such big crowds. I was so happy for the fans; they had suffered a lot through most of the ‘70s and ‘80s.”
Earlier, Ernie had watched Aaron hit his first homerun and he’d called the games when the superstar hit homerun number 500, 600 and 700, and when Aaron tied Babe Ruth’s record at 714.
“It was a great feeling doing play-by-play on those,” says Ernie, “especially since I’d been a friend of Hank’s since he was about 20 years old.”
Aaron recalls sharing many road trips with Ernie when they both played baseball. He considers the broadcaster a close friend.
“Ernie has a homey, easy-going manner, and the fans feel like he is their friend, the kind gentleman who lives next door,” Aaron says. “I have heard Ernie bring life to a game that wasn’t so lively, and truly convey the excitement of exciting games. He was a credit to the team both as a player and a broadcaster.”