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Former Spokane star Lou Johnson, the Dodgers’ home run hero from the 1965 World Series, dies at 86

UPDATED: Sat., Oct. 3, 2020

By Mike DiGiovanna Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES – Lou Johnson, the Dodgers outfielder who hit a home run in Game 7 of the 1965 World Series and overcame a drug addiction before spending nearly four decades in the team’s community relations department, died Thursday night, the club announced Friday. He was 86.

Nicknamed “Sweet” Lou because of his infectious smile and outgoing personality, Johnson played eight big league seasons for five teams from 1960 to 1969, including three years with the Dodgers (1965-67) and his final season with the Angels in 1969. He had a career .258 batting average with 48 homers and 232 RBIs in 677 games.

Promoted from Triple-A Spokane when Tommy Davis broke his ankle early in the 1965 season, Johnson hit .259 with 12 homers, 24 doubles, 58 RBIs and 15 stolen bases. He had the only Dodgers hit and scored the only run in Sandy Koufax’s perfect game Sept. 9, 1965, against the Chicago Cubs.

Later that season, Johnson hit a solo homer off Jim Kaat in the fourth inning of a 2-0 victory over the Minnesota Twins in the decisive seventh game of the World Series, making a winner of Koufax, who threw a three-hit shutout with 10 strikeouts.

Johnson, born on Sept. 22, 1934, in Lexington, Kentucky, had his best season in 1966, hitting .272 with 17 homers and 73 RBIs in 152 games for the Dodgers.

In a 2001 interview, Johnson said he gave his World Series ring to a Seattle drug dealer in 1971 as collateral for a cocaine transaction. When he returned two hours later with the money, the dealer and the ring were gone.

“I was at my lowest ebb,” Johnson said in 2001. “It was the only thing I had of value, and now I had given that away.”

Nine years later, the troubled Johnson returned to the Dodgers and asked for help. Don Newcombe, the former Dodgers pitcher who was the team’s director of community affairs, sent Johnson to a substance-abuse center. Then-Dodgers owner Peter O’Malley paid for treatment.

Johnson cleaned up and began working for the Dodgers’ community relations department as a drug-and-alcohol counselor.

Thirty years after he lost his World Series ring, Mark Langill, the Dodgers’ historian and publications editor, was alerted by a former employee that the ring was being auctioned on the internet.

Langill tracked down the auctioneers two days before the scheduled sale. Then-team president Bob Graziano paid $3,457 for the ring and returned it to Johnson, bringing him to tears.

“I don’t have my uniform, don’t have my glove, don’t have my bat, don’t have anything of value,” Johnson said. “It felt like a little bit of me had been reborn.”

Johnson lived in Los Angeles and is survived by his wife, Sarah, and children Lauren, Carlton and Quinton. Funeral services are pending.

“Lou Johnson was such a positive inspiration at Dodger Stadium with our employees, fans and throughout the community,” Dodgers President Stan Kasten said in a statement. “Dodgers fans will always remember his important (World Series) home run, when he was clapping his hands running around the bases.”

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