In a League of His Own

Nothing stops Warner Johnson from playing baseball at Homecoming. Not even being 73.

By Amy Vames

Front row: Harry Jackle, Sol Gittleman, Ken Hellman, Dick Semeraro, Warner Johnson, Harry Baas, Art Lindsay, Joe Holzinger, Jim (Blomberg) Castañeda, Stan Wilson. Back row: Gerald Miller, Wes Bishop, Don Sparks, Steve Tuzeneu (now Tousignant), “Doc” Young, Roy Haynes, Jack Doyle, Warren Van Pelt, Herman Elgarten, Ron Vander Schaaf.

“You never want to think you’ve played your last baseball game,” says Warner Johnson C’57. This fall, as he has for about half of the past 52 years, he will travel from his home in Andover, N.Y., to play in Drew’s annual Homecoming baseball game. “I’ve just never gotten the game out of my system,” says the Randolph, N.J., native, who still remembers his father hitting balls to him on his days off during World War II.

As a freshman, Johnson played for legendary Drew baseball coach Doc Young his last year before retirement. The coach made an impression on Johnson. “Drew was not an athlete’s school, but somehow, Young had a 70 percent win record,” he says. Johnson attributes that success in part to Young’s insistence on discipline and professionalism in his players. “He wanted you to do everything in a big league manner,” Johnson says. “When we traveled, you had your tie on and your shoes were shined.”

Johnson himself shined at Drew, playing catcher in every game during his four years here. He had his best year at bat when he was a junior and hit .388. In one memorable game during his sophomore year, “I had two home runs,” Johnson says. “Doc Young was watching the game, and I remember seeing him jumping up and down in the stands.”

After graduating, Johnson tried out for several major league teams, including the Brooklyn Dodgers, the New York Giants and the Yankees, but was not signed. He moved on, marrying his high school sweetheart, raising three kids and finally retiring as a chemist from the Mennen Company in 1998. Although he doesn’t get as many hits as he used to and plays first base instead of catcher, he believes that playing in the alumni game is a way to honor Young and the Drew teams of the past.

“I worry all year long that I’m going to make a jerk out of myself,” Johnson says. “But when I put the uniform on and play with those much younger guys, I feel just like them. You don’t notice you’re an old guy, and you just do it.”—Amy Vames

Editor’s Note: Actually, there is something that can stop Warner Johnson C’57 from playing baseball at Homecoming. After our Fall 2009 issue went to press, Drew Magazine got word that the 2009 game has been canceled due to field work.

5 Responses to “In a League of His Own”

  1. Renee Olson says:

    At last, we’ve posted the correct photo for Warner Johnson and for the 1954 team! If anyone notices any errors, please let me know. We’ll run both photos in the print edition of the magazine, due out in January 2010.

    Renee Olson, Editor, Drew Magazine

  2. Renee Olson says:

    So sorry, everyone, for using the wrong photo. We’ll take this one down, and locate one that’s accurate.

    Renee Olson, Editor, Drew Magazine

  3. Sol Gittleman says:

    Sorry, gang, that is not Warner Johnson, nor is it a team that Warner played on. Assistant Coach Harry Simester, on the right, was not on any baseball staff from 1952 on. Good luck in finding a more accurate photo. Check the Oak Leaves Yearbooks.

    Sol Gittleman
    C ’55
    32 Fletcher Street
    Winchester, MA 01890

  4. Thanks for the great article about Warner. It was very well written and brought back lots of memories for me
    (his sister). I did not see him in the picture and think maybe this was another year’s team.

  5. I was a team mate of Warners in ’53 and have been a friend of his since I met him in kindergarden. Baseball was Warner’s passion and he played every chance he got. After college he played in various leagues, eventually even in an over 50 league.

    I was disappointed to learn of this years game being cancelled, at 73 he can probably still hit.

    One of the nicest persons I’ve every known, I enjoyed reading this article about him,

    Herman Elgarten

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