Card-by-Yankees Card: The 1977 Topps Set, Cards #415, Jay Johnstone (Article 77)
by Paul Semendinger
(Continuing a series…)
I remember, as a kid, thinking that the adults in the world knew everything.
Certainly, they knew more than me.
I remember when the Yankees acquired Jay Johnstone (or was it Gary Thomasson?) and listening to adults around me talking baseball and asking, “Why do the Yankees need another outfielder?”
If the adults knew everything, why did these adults question what the Yankees’ adults were doing?
It was a good question.
Did some adults know more than others? Were some people smarter than the Yankees?
(At nine and ten years-old, I reasoned that no one was smarter than the Yankees.)
By why did the Yankees need Jay Johnstone and Gary Thomasson?
Jay Johnstone and Gary Thomasson were similar players:
They were outfielders
They batted left handed
Through the 1977 season, Johnstone averaged 7 homers a season, Thomasson averaged 6.
Johnstone’s career batting average to that point was .269, Thomasson’s was .254.
To me, there wasn’t much difference between the two players.
The Yankees acquired Jay Johnstone on June 14, 1978. The next day, on June 15, they acquired Gary Thomasson.
The Yankees were stocking up on outfielders, of that there was no doubt.
In The Bronx Zoo (Sparky Lyle’s biography of the 1978 season), Lyle comments:
“I guess some people collect stamps, some people collect coins, and George is collecting left-handed guys to sit on the bench and collect splinters. Now we have Spencer, Johnstone, this kid infielder Doyle, and Thomasson. With Mickey, Graig, and Reggie in the lineup, no one throws any righties against us anyway.”
In 1978, the following players appeared as outfielders on the Yankees:
Paul Blair (64 games)
Jay Johnstone (22 games)
Lou Piniella (104 games)
Reggie Jackson (103 games)
Mickey Rivers (138 games)
Gary Thomasson (50 games)
Thurman Munson (13 games)
Roy White (74 games)
Yup, they had a lot of guys who played in the outfield.
As a Yankee in 1978, Jay Johnson batted .262/1/6. Gary Thomasson hit .276/3/20.
In the end, there wasn’t much of a difference.
On June 15, 1979, the Yankees traded Jay Johnstone to the San Diego Padres. Gary Thomasson had been traded to the Dodgers the previous February.
They came, and they both went, within a year.
There isn’t much more to the story except for the fact that Johnstone, who was known as a practical joker, found success after his playing career with a few humorous baseball books. For a short time, he was the color man on the Yankees radio broadcasts with John Sterling.
Gary Thomasson had a different “honor” that came at the tail end of his playing days in Japan. His name became a word. I’ll share that story when we get to his card in this series.