August 10, 1964
The lump in Johnny Callison's belly protruded like an air bubble on an inner tube. It was May 1996, and life was taking another shot at Callison—this time in the form of an aortic aneurysm. For a change, though, luck was with him: Doctors were able to remove the aneurysm in a five-hour operation. "I was all doped up in the ICU for four weeks," says Callison. "My wife, Dianne, says I talked about traveling all the time, to crazy places like Pakistan. But I don't remember any of it."
Unfortunately for him, Callison still vividly recalls the summer of 1964, when with 12 games left in the season his Philadelphia Phillies blew a 6�-game lead in the National League, losing 10 of their last 12 to finish behind the St. Louis Cardinals. The collapse was one of baseball's worst ever and probably cost Callison, a 5'10", 175-pound power-hitting rightfielder, the MVP award. Despite his 31 homers, 104 RBIs and league-leading 19 outfield assists, he finished second in the voting, behind Cardinals third baseman Ken Boyer, who had 24 homers and 119 RBIs.
The Phillies never again contended with Callison on their roster, and he was traded to the Chicago Cubs following the 1969 season. After two mediocre seasons in Chicago and two more with the New York Yankees, he retired at age 34. "I was going to try and fake it a couple more years, but I'd lost too many steps," Callison says. "And then it got bad."
Cash-strapped because of failed investments, Callison, who had Dianne and their three daughters to support, endured what he calls the "toughest years of my life." He drifted in and out of car-sales jobs he despised but needed and worked as a bartender until finally, in 1984, his major league pension kicked in. Stress, however, had taken its toll, and in April '86 an ulcer that had bothered Callison for years hemorrhaged. Doctors removed half his stomach, and then, while recuperating in the hospital, he suffered a heart attack. After having a quintuple bypass, Callison spent the ensuing years comfortably retired—until the lump. "My weight dropped to 135 pounds," Callison says. "And I still can't walk much."
He and Dianne now spend their days at their Glenside, Pa., home, visited often by their children, Lori, 41; Cindy, 38; and Sherri, 36, and eight granddaughters. When asked, Callison laughs off the misery of Philly's epochal failure in 1964. "It wasn't a matter of life and death," he says. "It just seemed that way."