Brothers Face Off for First Time in 1920 Series
Vince Guerrieri | On 27, Jan 2015
In July 1920, Mickey Silverman, the night manager of the Associated Press office in Cleveland, spent part of his vacation in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Silverman returned and dutifully reported to Plain Dealer writer that the town was completely crazy over baseball – and not the Southern Association’s Chattanooga Lookouts, a team that remains in the city to this day. No, residents asked repeatedly about the exploits of the Indians and Brooklyn Robins, each a team that employed one of their own.
As fate would have it, Cleveland and Brooklyn would meet in the 1920 World Series, pitting the two natives, Jimmy and Doc Johnston, against each other. It was the first time that two brothers would face off in the Fall Classic.
Wheeler Roger Johnston was born in 1887 in Cleveland, Tenn. His father bestowed the nickname of Doc on him, believing he was fated for a medical career. But Doc Johnston played baseball. He made his major league debut with three games with the Reds in 1909, but spent three years in the minors before making his debut with the Indians in 1912. Johnston, a first baseman, came to the team the same time they got the man who would serve as shortstop and team leader for the better part of the next decade: Ray Chapman.
Johnston, like Chapman, cemented himself as a fan favorite. But unlike Chapman, who immediately became a main contributor at the plate, Johnston wasn’t renowned for his hitting. That, plus his flirtations with the Federal League when that circuit was establishing itself, led to his departure from Cleveland. He was traded to the Pirates, where he acquitted himself well enough to stay in the day-to-day lineup, and once again endeared himself to fans.
By then, his brother Jimmy had received a taste of the major leagues. Jimmy made his major league debut in 1911 with the Chicago White Sox. His contract was sold to the Cubs, and he played about 50 games for them. In 1916, he was ready to jump to the Federal League before the circuit folded. He then landed in Brooklyn, on the roster as another outfielder. Manager and team namesake Wilbert Robinson started using him in the infield, and he found a home at third base.
“I believe that position suits me a little better than any other and I have tried them all, except the battery,” Jimmy Johnston told Baseball Magazine in the weeks leading up to the 1920 World Series. “I don’t suppose I shall ever equal Jimmy Collins in his prime.”
Doc Johnston spent two years in Pittsburgh. He spent 1917 in the minors, and before the 1918 season, he was snapped up again by the Indians, a move that was considered smart by at least one opposing manager. “The Indians made a ten-strike when they grabbed Doc Johnston to play first,” said Athletics manager Connie Mack.
A year later, Johnston was an everyday player for the Indians, and batted .300 for the first (and as it turned out, only) time, finishing with a .305 average.
“Almost every player you encounter in the Big Leagues has a brother back home who is at least as good as he,” said Tigers Manager Hugh Jennings. And the Johnstons backed that up, saying that there was another brother who was injured on the family farm, and it prevented him from reaching his full potential.
Baseball was a brotherly act for the Indians and Dodgers at the time. Outfielder Zack Wheat had a brother McKinley, nicknamed Mack, who played with him from 1915 to 1919. He spent 1920 in Philadelphia. And new Indians shortstop Joe Sewell had a brother Luke who was making his way through the minors and would join his brother in the major leagues.
But this was the first time two brothers would meet each other in the World Series. Their father made the trip from Tennessee to watch the World Series. He said he was the only person in Cleveland who didn’t care which team won. To him, it was all in the family.