Augusta has its share of World Series heroes, but you could argue none did better than Billy Johnson.
The New Jersey native came to town to play for the minor league Augusta Tigers in 1939, met and married a local girl, enjoyed a successful major league career and then transitioned into 30 years with the Graniteville Co.
A solid third-baseman nicknamed “The Bull,” Johnson appeared in four World Series with the New York Yankees of 1943, 1947, 1949 and 1950. His first followed an outstanding rookie season that not only landed him on the American League All-Star Team but also earned fourth-place in Most Valuable Player voting as he drove in 95 runs.
He batted .300 that October, breaking open the series with a bases-loaded triple in Game 3. Triples, in fact, would get Johnson into the World Series record book, where his four are the most by any player over a career.
After World War II Army service, Johnson returned to the Yankees and the World Series in 1947 where he would score eight runs in New York’s eventual victory over Jackie Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers.
That was no surprise to New York Sunday News sports writer Joe Trimble, who described Johnson’s play “as smooth as the top of a new radio cabinet.”
Trimble credited Johnson with “pulling the Yankees together and holding them together after getting off to a dubious start.”
“It was such a thrill to realize that I was good enough to wear the Yankee uniform and be a Yankee,” Johnson later told a baseball writer.” I know a lot of players who were better than I was, and played in the majors for 15 to 20 years, and never played in a World Series. I was one of the lucky ones.
“I had no regrets. I lasted as long as I did because I had a winning attitude and worked and played hard.”
Johnson finished his major league career with the St. Louis Cardinals, then returned to Augusta where he worked as a shipping supervisor with the Graniteville Co., raised a family with his wife Louise and was active at The Hill Baptist Church.
His early playing days in Augusta baseball were not forgotten. In 1997 he was inducted into the South Atlantic League Hall of Fame, prompting him to praise his hometown.
“There wasn’t a greater city for baseball anywhere than right here,” Johnson said 20 years ago. “There have been so many great players and teams over the years, and the fans were always great supporters of baseball.”
He said he even got his “Bull” nickname in Augusta for the way he charged fences and walls in pursuit of pop flies or drives.
William Russell Johnson passed away in 2006 and is buried in Westover Memorial Park.