How to spot true Braves and Astros fans as World Series begins - and some local connections| Marcase

John Marcase
Special to The Town Talk

As the 2021 World Series gets under way in Houston between the Atlanta Braves and Astros, I can’t help but think of Ken Johnson.

KJ, a longtime Pineville resident who died in 2015, moved from Florida in the 1980s to serve as an assistant baseball coach at Louisiana College under Billy Allgood and to coach his sons, Ken Jr., and Rusty.

True baseball fans know the story of Johnson, who in 1964 as an original member of the Houston Colt 45s, became the first pitcher in major league baseball history to throw a no-hitter. And lose.

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For those who are not true baseball fans, the team Johnson pitched for – the Colt 45s – might not sound familiar. You may better know them as the Houston Astros. The team changed its name when it moved into the Astrodome.

On April 23, 1964, Johnson threw a nine-inning, no-hitter and lost when he mishandled a Pete Rose bunt in the ninth, allowing Rose to reach second. Rose would later score on second baseman Nellie Fox’s fielding error to give the Reds a 1-0 win.

A year later, Houston traded Johnson to the Milwaukee Braves, who then moved to Atlanta. KJ would pitch for the Braves until being traded during the 1969 season to the Yankees. In all, he pitched for seven franchises – Athletics, Reds, Houston, Braves, Yankees, Cubs and Expos.

But of the seven, there was one team Johnson rooted for … the Braves. He even used to travel back to Atlanta to take part in old-timer games until his health no longer permitted. In truth, it might’ve been the time he pulled a Charlie Brown, nearly getting undressed on a line drive back through the box, that ended his “playing” days for good.

Johnson is not the only local connection to both franchises. Pollock’s Russ Springer pitched for both franchises during his 18-year career. In fact, he pitched in the World Series for both teams – the Braves in 1999 and Astros in 2005.

Russ Springer pitches in relief with the Houston Astros in Game 3 of the 2005 World Series. The Pollock native made his professional start with the New York Yankees and pitched for numerous teams in his career.

The reason I mention both Johnson and Springer, aside from their connection to both World Series franchises, is both were/are old school enough to remember a time that both franchises, to be polite, stunk.

A friend Sunday night mentioned this could be the “World Series of Bandwagon Fans,” and there is some truth to what this die-hard Braves fan said. The Braves became quite popular due to TBS broadcasting their games for decades in which the franchise was already out of the NL West race by June 1.

The level of success Atlanta enjoyed in the 1990s was in large part due to the pitching trio of Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz. That success back then was matched only by the antipathy its fans somehow showed during the playoffs when swaths of empty seats could be seen throughout Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium (1966-1996) and Turner Field (1997-2017).

The great thing about attending games in the Astrodome – aside from the original scoreboard – was you rarely had to worry about sold-out crowds. The Astros, save for a few seasons like 1980 and 1986, were more known for bad luck than success until the Killer Bs – Biggio, Bagwell, Berkman and Bell – arrived in the 1990s.

For the Braves fan, the greatest shame of this week’s World Series is the fact it is not taking place in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

For the Astros fan, the greatest shame of this week’s World Series is the fact it is not taking place in the Astrodome.

At least the ol’ Dome is still standing, and so will one of Ken Johnson’s and Russ Springer’s former teams when the World Series comes to an end.

John Marcase is a former assistant managing editor and sports editor of The Town Talk. He writes a weekly column.