By Dr. David J. Fletcher, CBM President
Bart Johnson, the free-spirited White Sox right-hander from Torrance, Calif. nicknamed “Mr. Smoke” for his 95 mph fastball, died April 22 in Palos Hills, Ill. He suffered from complications from Parkinson’s disease, with which he was afflicted for a number of years.
The Sox’s No. 1 draft pick in 1968, Johnson, 70, spent 30 years with the organization – 12 as a player and 18 as a scout. He became a lifelong Chicago-area resident, making his home in southwest suburban Oak Lawn with his wife Nora.
The 6-foot-5 Johnson, whose birth name was Clair Barth Johnson, played his entire eight-year MLB career (1969-74, 1976-77) as a Sox, then scouted from 1980 to 1997, discovering future White Sox GM Kenny Williams, among others. He flirted briefly with coming out of retirement in 1985 at age 35 at the urging of Roland Hemond, then Sox GM.
For Sox fans, who had seen the franchise go from narrowly missing the pennant in 1967 to utter free-fall in 1969-70 with talk of a franchise relocation, the arrival of Johnson on the scene in late’69 as a 19 year-old provided hope. Johnson was followed to the majors by fellow home-grown hard throwers in future Hall of Famer Goose Gossage and Terry Forester.
Johnson was touted as a future Nolan Ryan. For two seasons, (1971 and 1974) he was a budding star, but injuries shortened his promising career.
Before he had signed with the Sox after being scouted by George Norga and Doc Bennet, Johnson had considered a career in basketball as he was named to several high school All-America teams.
STORYCategory Chicago Baseball History Feature Tags Bart Johnson, Mr. Smoke, White Sox