Moose Johnson will be missed

Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar came to the Blue Jays in large part thanks to the expertise of team...

Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar came to the Blue Jays in large part thanks to the expertise of team scout Moose Johnson. (SUN FILE PHOTO)

Bob Elliott, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:42 AM ET

CINCINNATI - There have been plenty of significant moments for the Blue Jays franchise.

Former scout Wilbur (Moose) Johnson, author of many behind the scenes, passed away Monday night of heart failure in Denver. He was 82.

The small-market Cincinnati Reds locked up gold glove second baseman Brandon Phillips to a six-year, $72.5-million US contract Tuesday, a week after general manager Walt Jocketty gave Etobicoke first baseman Joey Votto a 10-year, $225-million extension.

Yet, the talk along the scout’s alley section at the Great American Ball Park was not of Phillips, but Johnson and his impact with the Jays, before St. Louis edged the Reds 3-1, as Votto had a single and knocked in the only run.

Everyone recalls Robbie Alomar’s homer in the American League Championship Series in 1992 to put the Jays a win away from their first World Series.

Or Joe Carter’s homer the next year to win their second.

Yet, Gord Ash always said the one moment that made it all possible was the organization meetings in early November of 1990, after the Jays finished two games back of the Boston Red Sox.

That’s when Jays scout Johnson stood and said he was sick and tired of travelling the country and being asked, “So, what’s wrong with the Blue Jays.”

The can’t-miss Jays lost the 1985 ALCS, were eliminated on the final day of 1987 at Tiger Stadium, and lost the 1989 ALCS, earning the nickname “Blow Jays.”

Johnson gave an impassioned speech to the room of scouts and executives how the team had to be more aggressive. He then rolled his 1980 Philadelphia Phillies World Series ring onto the conference table.

The Jays signed free-agent reliever Ken Dayley Nov. 26, out-hustling the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Atlanta Braves.

Inside of four days at the winter meetings at the Grand Hyatt in Rosemont, Ill., the Jays added centre fielder Devon White, Hall of Famer Alomar and Carter via two trades.

“I’m sick as a dog, lying on the couch from bad oysters, and Pat Gillick walks in. He asks how many people would trade Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff to San Diego for Alomar and Carter?” said former scouting director Tim Wilken, now of the Chicago Cubs.

Bobby Mattick, Al LaMacchia, Bob Engle, Don Welke, Wayne Morgan, Mel Queen, Chris Bourjos, Gordon Lakey, Wilken plus other scouts and executives were in the room.

“People broke out laughing, no one thought a deal of that magnitude could get done, two teams putting with four key guys in a blockbuster. Everyone laughed out loud. Everyone except Moose.

“Moose said, ‘Pat, I’d do that deal right now.’ Moose was so tuned in. He never wavered, didn’t even flinch.”

Within 24 hours the deal was done.

Working as an amateur scout for the Phillies, Johnson scouted and signed Ryne Sandberg in 1978.

“How good a scout is Moose? He signed Sandberg, found the NL second baseman the Jays wanted in Alomar, both are Hall of Famers,” Huey Alexander told us one spring in 1992.

Sandberg was inducted in 2005 and Alomar last year.

Besides being a talented scout — it was Johnson who selected the Jays claim Tom Henke in the compensation draft after Donnie Moore had been selected — Johnson was famous for malapropisms, being forgetful and being Moose.

“I marked Bob Engle down scouting him in junior college in Colorado, I knew he had another path to the majors and he’d be my boss,” Moose used to joke about scouting director Engle. “Plus he swung the bat like a sword.”

“He was so positive when he’d go in to see an area scout’s player,” Engle said. “He was so funny, we never knew if he was trying,”

Bourjos remembers the end of a barbecue at Gillick’s house in 1991 when the all-star game was in Toronto.

“My wife Janet and I were walking along with Moose, then I heard a sound,” Bourjos said. “It was a splash, then water hit me. Moose had walked into the pool. He bobbed up, climbs out and says, ‘I didn’t know there was a pool there.’

“He walked away, shoes and pants squishing and squashing.”

Moose was a dear friend of Bus Campbell, who tutored Roy Halladay, a Colorado youngster, who grew up to be a Jays first rounder and then some.

Gillick’s assistant Fran Brown once suggested disposable airline credit cards once since Moose often lost his.

Once we recall being in St. Cloud, Minn., with Moose following him on a scouting trip. My phone rang. It was Engle.

“Can I speak to Moose, please.”

Sure.

“Yeah, I picked up the new cell phone, Oh, you want me to turn it on? Sure I can do that, but why don’t we use Bob’s minutes.”

Later that night, Bart Braun, then an Atlanta Braves scout, and a few others were standing along the third base line. The bases were loaded and the outfielder Chris Schwab of Cretin High School, a projected first rounder, was on deck.

Moose was telling his audience a long story when the pitcher bounced a ball in the dirt.

“NO, BACK! BACK!” yelled Johnson.

The runner retreated. Johnson continued with his story. Had the runner scored Schwab would have been walked intentionally.

Deepest sympathies are extended to Moose’s family.


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