RIP to Ron Johnson, who had a very successful career as a minor-league manager after a brief career in the major leagues in the 1980s. He played for the Kansas City Royals (1982-83) and Montreal Expos (1984) before starting a 25-year career as a minor-league manager.

Ronald David Johnson was born on March 23, 1956, in Long Beach, Calif. He was a slugger from a pretty early age, being chosen as an All-Star in the Northeast Little League and in the Pony League. He was a starter on the Garden Grove High School junior varsity team as a freshman and made the varsity team as a first baseman in his sophomore year.

By the time he got to Fullerton Junior College, he was showing off the ability to hit 400-foot home runs. At the age of 19 in 1976, Johnson stood 6’2″, weighed 220 pounds and had a 19-inch neck. Unsurprisingly, he was an offensive lineman on the Fullerton football team as a freshman, but he decided to focus solely on baseball after that. Football’s loss was baseball’s gain, as he hit some tape-measure shots as a catcher/designated hitter.

The California Angels drafted Ron in the 13th Round of the 1976 January Amateur Draft, but he elected to stay in college. He transferred to Fresno State University in 1977 and hit .333 with 10 home runs and 42 RBIs. FSU went to the Northern California Baseball Association championship, and he was named the conference’s MVP. He managed to improve on those numbers as a senior and was named to the All-American first team, beating out other slugging first basemen like Greg Brock and Tim Wallach for the honor.

Ron was drafted again in 1978, this time in the 24th Round by the Kansas City Royals. I can’t account for what dropped him so far in the draft, but he was one of four players drafted in that round to make it to the major leagues. The power that was such a big part of his college game took a little while to show up in the minors. The fearsome slugger arrived in 1980, though.

Spending the entire season with the Jacksonville Suns, Johnson clubbed 23 homers and drove in 104 runs, while hitting .270. He was added to the Royals’ 40-man roster to protect him from being drafted by another team, but he was considered a long shot to make the team in 1981 as a backup to first baseman Willie Aikens.

The Royals moved Ron up to AAA Omaha in 1981. The Royals brought Johnson in September of 1982, but he didn’t get much playing time. His MLB debut game in a blowout win over the Twins on September 12th. He replaced Aikens at first base in the ninth inning of an 18-7 win and made a couple of putouts. Then he sat on the bench, until Aikens and backup Lee May were injured, leaving the rookie to play first base for much of a West Coast road trip.

Ron came to spring training in 1983 with hopes of making the team as a pinch-hitter or backup first baseman. Instead, the team wanted him to be a third-string/bullpen catcher — something he hadn’t done since college. He jumped at the chance.

Ron made the Royals roster, but he never saw action in the seven week or so he was there. His jobs were working as a bullpen catcher and entertaining his teammates on bus rides by playing a guitar and singing country songs. He was eventually sent back to Omaha, rejoining the Royals in September.

In December of 1983, the Royals traded him to the Montreal Expos. The 28-year-old Johnson again hit over .300 with the AAA Indianapolis Indians in ’84, but the only major-league action he was was during a brief trip to the big leagues in June. He spent 1985 in the Tigers and White Sox organizations in his last season as a ballplayer.

In parts of 3 seasons, Ron appeared in 22 major-league games and went 12-for-46. He had 2 doubles, scored 4 runs and had 2 RBIs. As an 8-year minor-leaguer, he hit .296 with 72 home runs.

Ron worked at a carpet store in Florida when he got a call from the Royals about working as a minor-league coach. He began coaching the Florida State League Royals in 1987 and was given his first managerial assignment in 1992 with the Baseball City Royals of the FSL. He became the first manager of the Wilmington Blue Rocks in 1993.

In 2000, he became the manager for the Sarasota Red Sox, back in the Florida State League. Once again, he rose up the ranks to spend 2005 through 2009 as the manager of the AAA Pawtucket Red Sox. Ron accomplished his goal of returning to the major leagues when the Red Sox named him as the team’s first base coach for the 2010 season. In July of 2010, the family’s world changed. His 10-year-old daughter Bridget had gone horseback riding with her older sister Cheyanne near their home in Morrison, Tenn. As they crossed a street, a speeding driver collided with Bridget’s horse. She spent more than a month in a hospital and, after several surgeries to try and fix the damage, lost her left leg just below the knee. Ron left the Red Sox for the rest of the season and spent it with his family, helping his daughter with her injuries as she regained her mobility.

The Red Sox community rallied around the Johnson family, with gifts, well-wishes and jerseys. Bridget was fitted for a prosthetic leg and threw out the first pitch at a game at Fenway Park in 2011… much to her father’s surprise.

The Red Sox parted ways with Terry Francona and his coaching staff after the 2011 season. Ron was hired as manager of the Norfolk Tides, the AAA affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. He held that position from 2012 until 2018, becoming the winningest manager in Tides’ history in the process. He was also named the International League Manager of the Year in 2015, as Norfolk won a division title.

Ron Johnson died on January 26, 2021 at St. Thomas Rutherford Hospital in Murfreesboro, Tenn, at the age of 64 from complications of COVID-19.