Ernie Johnson Sr., a former major league pitcher better known for his long tenure in the broadcast booth with the Braves, passed away Friday night at age 87.
Johnson went 40-23 in a nine-year major league career spent mostly with the Boston and Milwaukee Braves. Primarily a middle reliever before such a role got much attention, he finished his career with 19 saves and a 3.77 ERA. He had his best year in 1953, the Braves’ first in Milwaukee, went he amassed a 2.67 ERA in 81 innings. He followed that up with a 2.81 ERA in 99 1/3 innings in 1954. Also, he allowed one run over seven innings in the Braves’ 1957 World Series victory over the Yankees.
But it was his second career for which he’ll long be remembered. Johnson worked with the Braves from 1962-99, doing both play-by-play and color. Even after his retirement, he spent at least one series in the Atlanta booth in each of the next several seasons. He worked with his son, Ernie Johnson Jr., in the SportSouth booth from 1993-96, and the Braves inducted him into their Hall of Fame in 2001.
With the 2017 World Baseball Classic around the corner, Team Israel has reportedly reached out to Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, per MLB Network’s Jon Morosi. Tournament rules stipulate that a player’s roster eligibility can be achieved in one of several ways: they were born in the country in question or hold citizenship/permanent legal residence there (or are simply capable of qualifying for citizenship), or one of their parents was born in the country or holds citizenship/permanent legal residence there.
For Kipnis, it’s the latter. Kipnis’ father, Mark Kipnis, is Jewish. That gives Kipnis the status he needs to suit up for Team Israel, despite the fact that he is a practicing Roman Catholic. He has yet to confirm or deny his participation in the competition.
Fifteen players have confirmed for Team Israel so far, including Mets’ infielder/outfielder Ty Kelly and free agents Sam Fuld, Nate Freiman, Jason Marquis and Jeremy Bleich. Per MLB.com’s Chad Thornburg, eight minor leaguers will also appear for the team. Like Kipnis, at least three other major leaguers are eligible for Team Israel’s roster but have yet to accept or decline involvement in the WBC: Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson, Mariners infielder/outfielder Danny Valencia and free agent left-hander Craig Breslow.
Free agent first baseman James Loney has reportedly signed a minor league deal with the Rangers, per FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman. The deal includes an invite to spring training and a $1 million salary if he makes the major league roster in 2017.
Loney picked up a one-year stint and starting role with the Mets in 2016, slashing .265/.307/.397 with nine home runs in 336 PA. While his numbers were down a hair from the .280/.322/.357 batting line he produced with the Rays in 2015, he provided the Mets with a necessary, if underwhelming upgrade over an injured Lucas Duda through most of the season.
The 32-year-old infielder is expected to have some competition at first base, with at least five other candidates in the mix: Jurickson Profar, Ronald Guzman, Ryan Rua, Joey Gallo and Josh Hamilton. Rumor has it that the team is planning on platooning Rua and Profar in 2017, barring any impressive breakouts or injuries during spring training, though Loney could still provide the club with some veteran depth and a decent left-handed bat off the bench.