In Memory of Ken Johnson

Ken Johnson, Only Loser of 9-Inning No-Hitter, Dies at 82
Bruce Weber
New York Times
November 23, 2015

(c) Houston Astros

Baseball, that statistics-mad enterprise, has served up its share of rare performances by individual players. Fifteen fielders have turned unassisted triple plays. Thirteen hitters have hit two grand slams in a game, including one, Fernando Tatis, who in April 1999 did so in the same inning, which may be the game's most remarkable anomaly, though Don Larsen's perfect game for the Yankees against the Dodgers in 1956 -- the only no-hitter thrown in the World Series -- is better known and better remembered.

No-hitters themselves are not all that uncommon. Almost 300 of them have been pitched in the big leagues, and even their famous subset, perfect games, has 23 entries.

Five times in the major leagues' modern era, a team has given up no hits and failed to win. But in perhaps the game's starkest good-news-bad-news case, only once did a single pitcher complete a nine-inning game without yielding a hit and still manage to lose it. The man who owns that two-faced distinction, Ken Johnson, whose otherwise middling 13-year career in the major leagues included stints with seven teams, died on Saturday in Pineville, La. He was 82.

His son Kenneth Jr. said that his father had been bedridden with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases and that he died after contracting a kidney infection.

For three seasons in the heart of his career, 1965-67, pitching for the Houston Astros and the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves (the franchise moved after the 1965 season), Johnson was an effective starter, going 43-27 with 26 complete games. It was earlier, however, on April 23, 1964, that while pitching for Houston (then known as the Colt .45s) against the Cincinnati Reds, he claimed his spot in history.

A right-hander who featured a knuckleball to go along with a fastball and breaking pitches -- "He always said it was the knuckler that got him to the big leagues," his son said -- Johnson pitched a brilliant game, walking just two, striking out nine and mowing down a lineup that included two All-Stars, catcher Johnny Edwards and shortstop Leo Cardenas; a future Hall of Famer, Frank Robinson; and the eventual career hits leader, Pete Rose.

The Reds hit only three balls out of the infield. In the top of the ninth inning, however, Johnson helped author his own undoing; with one out, he fielded a bunt by Rose and threw wildly to first, allowing Rose to reach second. Rose scored two batters later on an error by second baseman Nellie Fox.

Joe Nuxhall, who allowed five hits for Cincinnati, completed his shutout. Nuxhall was himself the answer to a baseball trivia question. In June 1944, more than a month before turning 16, he pitched two-thirds of an inning for the Reds against the Cardinals, becoming the youngest player ever to appear in a major league game.

Kenneth Travis Johnson Sr. was born in West Palm Beach, Fla., on June 16, 1933. His father, Ernest, was a bank teller; his mother, the former Marjorie Lois Travis, was a waitress.

Young Ken played baseball in high school, joined the Army and later spent a year at the University of South Carolina. There he met Joanna Lynn Ergle, known as Lynn, whom he married in 1955.

She survives him. In addition to their son Kenneth Jr., a medical doctor, he is survived by a second son, Russell; a daughter, Janet Lynne Johnson; six grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

Johnson was signed by the Philadelphia Athletics before the 1952 season and played in their minor league system, advancing to the majors (by then the team had moved to Kansas City) in 1958.

In addition to Houston and the Braves, Johnson pitched for Cincinnati, for whom he pitched two-thirds of an inning in the 1961 World Series; the Yankees; the Cubs; and the Montreal Expos. Over all, he pitched in 334 regular-season games with a record of 91-106 and an earned run average of 3.46.

After his retirement, he worked as a community service coordinator at Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida and later as a baseball coach at Louisiana College in Pineville.

Johnson's no-hitter deserves mention with other fateful performances that at one point led the New York Times columnist Arthur Daley to refer to the pitcher's mound as "Heartbreak Hill." In Chicago in 1917, Hippo Vaughn of the Cubs and Fred Toney of the Reds, pitching against each other, combined for a nine-inning double no-hitter before Vaughn gave up two hits in the 10th and the Reds won. In 1959, in perhaps the greatest game ever pitched, Harvey Haddix of the Pittsburgh Pirates threw 12 perfect innings against the Milwaukee Braves before losing the game in the 13th.

"I pitched the best game of my life and still lost," Johnson said after he pitched the best game of his life. "A hell of a way to get into the record books."

Correction: November 24, 2015
An earlier version of this obituary misattributed a distinction to Pete Rose. He is not in the Hall of Fame.

Kenneth Travis Johnson Sr.
Alexandria Town Talk
November 23, 2015

Memorial services for Mr. Kenneth Travis Johnson Sr. will be held at 6:00 p.m., Tuesday, November 24, 2015 at New Life Community Church with Dr. Gary Baldwin officiating, under the direction of Hixson Brothers, Alexandria.

Mr. Johnson was born June 16, 1933 in West Palm Beach, Florida and passed away Saturday, November 21, 2015 at his home in Pineville, Louisiana.

Ken played baseball all his school years and upon graduation from High School, was drafted into the Army for 2 years at Fort Jackson in Columbia South Carolina. That is where he met his wife of 60 years, Lynn who at the time was attending the University of South Carolina. Joanna Lynn Ergle was studying education when they married March 11, 1955. After his stint in the Army, he started AAA baseball and played for 4 years until he was drafted into the "Big Leagues" with the Kansas City Athletics. He played for the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series against the Yankees. He played four years with the Houston Colt .45's/Astros, where he pitched a no-hitter and lost the game. He played four years with the Atlanta Braves with Hank Aaron. He retired from baseball in 1970, and worked for Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Florida and then came to Pineville to work at Louisiana College as an assistant baseball coach. He was a deacon at his churches and at New Life Community Church, he had a very active nursing home visitation for many years.

He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Lynn, two sons, and one daughter, Ken, Jr, Rusty and Janet; grandchildren, Dr. Jason Johnson from Memphis, Tennessee, Kelly Bentley from Pineville, Beth Maurey from Pineville, Jennifer Phillip from Lake Charles, Jillian and Jalayne Johnson from Lake Charles; great grandchildren, Kassidy Bentley from Pineville, Collin Maurey from Pineville, Carter and Evan Phillip from Lake Charles and Eden Johnson of Memphis; brother, Ernest Henry Johnson, Jr.

He was preceded in death by his parents, Ernest H. and Marjorie Lois Travis Johnson; sister, Shirley Zorzi.

In lieu of flowers donations may be made to New Life Community Church, 4210 Coliseum Blvd, Alexandria, LA 71303.

Ken Johnson, of unique no-hitter, dies at 82
William Boor
November 23, 2015

Ken Johnson, the only pitcher to ever throw a nine-inning no-hitter and lose the game, has died at the age of 82.

Johnson, who played for seven teams across 13 Major League seasons, had been bedridden with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. He ultimately passed away because of a kidney infection, his son, Kenneth Jr., told the New York Times.

The loss in the no-hitter, which occurred on April 23, 1964, is Johnson's claim to fame.

The right-hander, pitching for the Houston Colt .45s, twirled a gem against the Cincinnati Reds as he struck out nine and walked a pair.

However, he also committed an error that led to an unearned run -- and ultimately the 1-0 loss -- in the top of the ninth.

"I pitched the best game of my life and still lost," Johnson said afterward. "A hell of a way to get into the record books."

Johnson is survived by his wife, Lynn, sons Kenneth Jr. and Russell, daughter Janet, six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.