SI Vault
Ron Fimrite
July 05, 1971
Alex Johnson, baseball's troubled and troublesome batting champion, is suspended for indifference by the California Angels
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July 05, 1971

For Failure To Give His Best...

Alex Johnson, baseball's troubled and troublesome batting champion, is suspended for indifference by the California Angels

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"Gee," Walsh quoted him as saying, "I thought you were my friend."

Walsh has not entirely abandoned his quest. "There are always problem players," he says, "and there is always someone who feels he can handle them."

In the past, however, Johnson's problems seemed merely temperamental. He was uncommunicative and frequently sullen, although the "I-like-Alex-but" contingent has always said that he is amiable enough out of uniform. Neither Walsh nor Angel Manager Harold (Lefty) Phillips claim, for that matter, that Johnson is a problem anywhere but on the field. He is good with children, and his most recent notoriety seems even to have improved his disposition with outsiders. He was talking to newspapermen and radio and television broadcasters as never before, cheerfully granting interviews that, because of his elliptical rhetoric, invariably failed to reveal the source of his deep discontent. The trouble was locked within Alex Johnson, and there it remains.

"Ever get sick of a thing?" Johnson asked. "I mean sick, sick, sick? I mean really sick, sick, sick? That's the way it is with me and this club. I didn't consciously decide to do this [not hustle]. But things are just so disgusting, it drills on my mind, drills on my mind. It hurts to look back on a game like that, but I can't do it any other way. I'm not playing any part of the game up to par. I can't. I can't get my mind to want to play the game the way others do."

Black journalists have quoted Johnson as saying his troubles are racial, but Johnson, while not entirely disavowing the issue, is as vague in discussing it as he is with other topics. He is more inclined to blame the insensitivity of his teammates, the "dishonesty and hypocrisy" of Walsh and Phillips and, preeminently, Chico Ruiz, his teammate, former friend and the godfather of his adopted daughter.

"He is the cause of dissension," Johnson says of the utility infielder who seems generally popular with the other Angels. "He keeps trying things against me.... I never knew a man to be so determined in a negative way...."

Johnson touched off the biggest brouhaha on this truly star-crossed team when he accused Ruiz of menacing him with a pistol in the Angel clubhouse during a game with Washington on June 13.

"We had both been pinch hitters," Johnson said. "The game was still on, but I was done, so I showered. I had my street clothes on. Ruiz was in the clubhouse, too. He was rattling something, making a noise, so I looked up. What he was doing was tapping his gun on a chair. I looked up and he pulled the gun out of its holster. He did it one time last year and was more jovial about it. This time he was not jovial."

"It did not happen and I can swear to it on a Bible with both hands, with my whole body—even sit on it," says the embattled Ruiz.

There were no witnesses to the alleged incident, and a club investigation has failed to establish the facts. But it did lead to some murmurings about armed Angels and it excited believers among them as well as nonbelievers.

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