Gary Johnson, Millennium Hall of Fame

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

uniform."

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

Royals.

"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.

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