For a professional baseball scout, Southern California and Arizona
are a little slice of heaven.
“This is really the best job in scouting, being an area scout in
Southern California,” said Costa Mesa’s Gary Johnson, celebrating his
30th year in the business this year.
“This is one of the most productive areas in the country. We have
great weather here and it’s a good, long season, plus there are plenty of
good players to see and you never get bored.”
Johnson, a former Orange Coast College slugger at first baseman and
basketball player under Coach Alan Sawyer, covers Orange, San Diego,
Riverside and Imperial counties, as well as the entire state of Arizona
for the Kansas City Royals.
After playing 11 years in the minor leagues, all in the Chicago White
Sox organization, Johnson thought his baseball future would be in
coaching or managing.
In 1968, Johnson was a player/coach, and in ’69 he was hired as
manager of the Appleton, Wis., Class-A team, then took over a floundering
AA Evansville, Ind., club late in the season. “They thought I could help
them get out of the basement,” Johnson said. “We did get out of the
basement, but then came that big decision about whether to take off the
Johnson was in line for the AAA managerial job the following season at
Indianapolis, where he’d played and gained a solid reputation, but
ownership had a chance to hire Hall of Famer Luke Appling, whose name
might sell tickets.
Glenn Miller, head of scouting and player development at the time for
the White Sox, mentioned scouting to Johnson, who had never thought about
it before, but had two young children at home and wasn’t eager to
constantly move twice a year.
By Thanksgiving that fall, Johnson had his answer. “What I found out
was that nobody ever quit scouting,” he said. “I thought it must be a
pretty good job if nobody quits.”
Three decades later, Johnson, considered a company man by his peers,
has done it all in scouting. Minor leagues, high schools, colleges, major
leagues. He’s been a scout at instructional ball in the autumn, a
national cross-checker, an evaluator of free agents. Johnson has beaten
bushes and traveled the big league circuit as an advance scout.
In the early 1970s, Johnson and Marty Keough launched the Scout League
in Southern California for top high schoolers, who play on Wednesday
nights and Sundays in the off-season.
Johnson, responsible for the Royals drafting and signing 1994 American
League Rookie of the Year Bob Hamelin (out of Rancho Santiago College),
figured scouting was easy his rookie season in 1970, when he saw two
pitchers, lefty Terry Forster and future Giant and Angel right-hander
John D’Acquisto, throwing bullets in the San Diego area.
“You can go years and never see two quality pitchers like that in the
same area at one time,” Johnson said.
Johnson spent 25 years in the White Sox organization, 14 as a scout.
When he was 40 and realized the club had no pension plan, Johnson went to
the Texas Rangers, where he knew general manager Joe Klein. But Klein was
let go 1 1/2 years later, and when it came time for the Rangers to renew
contracts for scouts, Johnson’s name didn’t come up.
But Johnson was only out of work for two weeks, because Kansas City
had immediate interest in him, and on Jan. 15, 1985, he signed with the
“That was the only time in my life I was out of a job. I was
devastated when I was let go by Texas,” he said.
His first year with the Royals, they won the World Series, beating St.
Louis in the I-70 Series, and Johnson has been with them since. “I went
from being out of work to being with a World Series champion,” he said.
Johnson, who never played baseball until making the varsity his
freshman year at Huntington Beach High, made at least 13 stops in his
minor league playing career, playing three years at AAA Indianapolis.
His best year was 1962, when Johnson batted .342 to lead the Northwest
League, along with 15 home runs, 102 RBIs and 90 runs scored, earning him
league MVP honors, as well as a spot on the Topps Class-B League All-Star
team. In the Northwest League that year, Johnson outhit future Atlanta
Brave Rico Carty.
Johnson “signed for nothing” with the White Sox in 1958 after one
season at Orange Coast under Coach Wendell Pickens, after whom OCC’s
baseball field is named. As a senior at Huntington Beach in 1957, Johnson
was the LA Herald Examiner’s Orange County Player of the Year.
A longtime community supporter and member of the OCC Alumni Board of
Directors, Johnson is the latest honoree in the Daily Pilot Sports Hall
of Fame, celebrating the millennium.
Johnson and his wife, Evelyn, a former OCC songleader and current
president of the OCC Alumni Board, have three grown children: Matt, Julia
and Jill, and two grandchildren, Drake, 9, and Kaila, born Oct. 15.