Johnnie LeMaster

Johnnie LeMasterWhen he was traded to the Indians from the Giants in 1985, LeMaster was welcomed by a front office that felt they needed a better glove in the middle of their infield.

“Johnnie LeMaster is my regular shortstop,” Cleveland manager Pat Corrales said, “only Ozzie Smith is better defensively than LeMaster, and he’s making two million a year. LeMaster will solidify our defense. He can help our pitching staff. Anything he hits is gravy.”

LeMaster, who was so skinny and frail looking that teammates called him “Bones”, never put much gravy on the plate – he hit .222 with anemic power in a 12-year career.When the trade was announced, the Tribe told Tony Bernazard that he would lose his starting job. “I don’t mean to be rude,” Bernazard said, “but who the hell is Johnnie LeMaster?”

As Corrales said, LeMaster was a decent shortstop – he had above average range and a strong throwing arm in his prime. But by 1985 his career was on the downslide, and LeMaster only played 11 games for Cleveland (hitting .150 and making two errors) before he was traded to Pittsburgh. Thus, the veteran shortstop played for three of the four last-place teams in the ’85 season (Giants, Indians, Pirates).

LeMaster hit only 22 home runs in his career and his lifetime slugging percentage of .289 illustrates how slight a hitter he was. His very first home run was an inside-the-park homer off Don Sutton in Dodger Stadium in LeMaster’s first big league at-bat. He hit a line drive that center fielder John Hale dove for but was unable to snare. As the ball rolled to the wall, LeMaster circled the bases. In ’85 with the Pirates, leMaster hit his final big league homer, and ironically it was on a similar play. This time the ball was a line drive between Cincinnati outfielders Gary Redus and Eddie Milner in left/center. The ball caromed to the wall and LeMaster scampered around for the 22nd and final homer of his career.

LeMaster was so maligned for his poor hitting and overall play in his final seasons in San Francisco that fans at Candlestick Park brought signs calling him “Johnnie Disaster.” In response, LeMaster had the word “BOO” stitched on his home jersey in place of his last name.

Connections

  • In his years as the starting shortstop for the Giants, LeMaster rarely had a steady double play partner. Second basemen he worked with while in San Francisco included Bill Madlock, Joe Strain, Rennie Stennett, Joe Morgan, Brad Wellman, and Manny Trillo.
  • In San Francisco in 1985, Johnnie LeMaster seemed to have won the starting shortstop job in spring training. He started the season there but within a week he was losing much of the playing time to rookie Jose Uribe. As a result of Uribe’s increased playing time, LeMaster requested a trade and was sent to Cleveland.
  • LeMaster had a bad relationship with Giants’ manager Jim Davenport because of a lack of communication about his playing time.
  • LeMaster was heir apparent to Chris Speier in the mid-1970s in San Francisco, but Speier was not happy about stepping aside for the younger LeMaster. In 1976 when he was having his worst season at the plate, the Giants asked Speier to move tos econd so LeMaster could get time at short, but the veteran refused. The nextseason the team traded Speier to Montreal for shortstop Tim Foli, which left them in the same situation: one too many shortstops. Ultimately, LeMaster won the starting job in SF and held it for seven seasons in spite of a very weak bat.