1952 Topps #83 Billy Johnson

Cardinals third baseman Billy Johnson wasn’t going to make it to the big leagues on name recognition alone: He has one of the most generic sounding names in the sport. Instead, his friends raised a collection to send him to a professional tryout in the 1930s. He didn’t make it there, but effective play for local teams eventually caught the eye of a Yankees scout.

He played throughout the 1940s with New York, excelling with true defensive baseball skills in a period of depleted rosters. Averaging nearly 3 WAR per 162 games played, he counts among one of the period’s more efficient players. Johnson found himself temporarily removed from the lineup with a couple seasons of military service but returned to his former position at the conclusion of the war. The rise of several younger New York players and a tendency for managers to preference them with playing time prompted a trade to St. Louis in 1951. Johnson is depicted in the ’52 Topps set for the first time as a Cardinal.

Grading a solid VG-EX (and maybe EX if one is feeling generous), this is one of the better condition ’52s in my collection. It’s a nice card to look at, though the more I do so the more I find myself wondering what angle the camera was held at the catch this pose. Johnson is leaning forward as if awaiting a pitch while the grandstands in the background tilt to the left.

Johnson was known as “The Bull,” a nickname that found its way onto at least one of his baseball cards. His 1949 Bowman issue includes the name on the front of card #129. The facsimile signature on the back of the card, however, looks nothing like the one on the front of his ’52 Topps.