LOS ANGELES — Jay Johnstone, who won World Series championships as a versatile outfielder with the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers while being baseball’s merry prankster, has died. He was 74.
He died last Saturday of complications from COVID-19 and also had suffered from dementia in recent years, according to his daughter Mary Jayne Sarah Johnstone. He died at a nursing home in Granada Hills, she said Monday.
“COVID was the one thing he couldn’t fight,” his daughter said by phone. “It’s really kind of shocking.”
His family noted that Johnstone’s time of death last Saturday occurred around the same time Dodger Stadium was plunged into darkness because of a power outage.
“He may have had a hand in it or a victory lap of remembrance,” said Rick Monday, Johnstone’s former teammate and current Dodgers broadcaster.
Besides the Yankees and Dodgers, Johnstone played for the California Angels, Chicago White Sox, Oakland, Philadelphia, San Diego, and Chicago Cubs during a 20-year major league career that began in 1966 and ended in 1985. He had a career batting average of .267, with 102 home runs and 531 RBIs.
In the 1981 World Series, Johnstone had a pinch-hit, two-run homer in Game 4 that rallied the Dodgers to an 8-7 win over the Yankees. That tied the series at two games apiece, and the Dodgers won the next two games to claim the title.
“When the game was on the line, he was able to transform that little 7-year-old child that was always in a playful mood into serious,” Monday said. “Jay was always bigger than life. If the team was in a spot where you felt your backs were against the wall, he was one of the reliable guys.”
Johnstone possessed a sense of humor that he used to keep his teammates loose with pranks. He would nail their cleats to the floor or set them on fire. He cut out the crotch area of Rick Sutcliffe’s underwear. Johnstone once replaced the celebrity photos in the office of Dodgers manager Tom Lasorda with pictures of himself, Jerry Reuss and Don Stanhouse. He locked Lasorda in his office during spring training.
Another time, Johnstone and Reuss dressed up as groundskeepers to drag the infield during a game. Returning to the dugout, they were fined on the spot by Lasorda, who then asked Johnstone to pinch hit. He responded with a home run.
“Jay came back and wanted to know if he could get a discount on the fine,” Monday recalled.
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