Alex Johnson dies at 72; former American League batting champion

Alex Johnson, the former Angels star who captured American League batting title in 1970, is dead at age 72

Former California Angels star Alex Johnson, the 1970 American League batting champion, died Tuesday in Detroit, the Angels announced. He was 72.

Johnson played with eight teams over 13 seasons in the 1960s and '70s, but the left fielder's best season in the majors came during his first season with the Angels, when he batted .329 with 86 RBIs and 14 home runs en route to capturing the AL batting title. He won the honor by the slimmest of margins, beating out Boston's Carl Yastrzemski with two hits on the final day of the season.

Johnson remains the only batting champion in Angels history.

Despite his achievement, Johnson fell out of favor with Angels Manager Lefty Phillips the following season. The team fined Johnson for failing to run out balls, and Phillips benched him multiple times for unenthusiastic play.

Johnson was fined a total of $3,750 by the team and eventually was suspended. He later was reinstated after the players union filed a grievance. The Angels then traded him to the Cleveland Indians in October 1971.

Johnson, who played in the 1970 All-Star game, retired after the 1976 season at the age of 33. After he left baseball, he worked at his father's trucking company in Detroit. He took over the business after his father's death in 1985.

In 1990, he told The Times he had never been to a major league game since his retirement, saying: "The game has no meaning for me anymore. I loved it. But I found out that the game is a fantasy."

Johnson was born in Helena, Ark., on Dec. 7, 1942. He signed with the Philadelphia Phillies as an amateur free agent in 1961 before making his major league debut with the team in July 1964.

Staff writer Chris Foster contributed to this report.

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