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OC Register: Jay Johnstone, former Dodgers and Angels outfielder and popular prankster, dies at 74


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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.

Johnstone, who grew up in West Covina, died Saturday, Sept. 26 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.”

Besides the Yankees and Dodgers, Johnstone played for the 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.

In his first postseason experience, he went 7 for 9 as the Phillies got swept by Cincinnati in the 1976 NL Championship Series. He played for the Yankees when they beat the Dodgers to win the 1978 crown.

With the Angels, Johnstone preserved Clyde Wright’s no-hitter against Oakland on July 3, 1970. He caught a flyball by Reggie Jackson to straightaway center field just in front of the wall in the seventh inning.

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.

  • Obit-Johnstone-Baseball-1-1.jpg

    In this Oct. 18, 1981, file photo, Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Jay Johnstone, wearing a padded version of manager Tommy Lasorda’s uniform, checks the progress of a rain delay before a National League Playoff baseball game with the Expos in Montreal. 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, died Saturday, Sept. 26, of complications from COVID-19 at a nursing home in Granada Hills, Calif., his daughter Mary Jayne Sarah Johnstone said Monday, Sept. 28, 2020. He was 74. He also from dementia in recent years, his daughter said. (AP Photo/Barrett, File)

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    Steve Garvey, Steve Sax and Jay Johnstone talk to fans about the old days at San Manuel’s Pines Steakhouse in Highland on Tuesday July 22, 2014.

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    Jay Johnstone meets Steve Garvey and talks about the good old days at San Manuel’s Pines Steakhouse in Highland on Tuesday July 22, 2014.

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    In this July 29, 1977, file photo, Philadelphia Phillies manager Danny Ozark, center, gets between umpire Jerry Crawford, left, and his outfielder Jay Johnstone during an argument in the fifth inning of a baseball game against the San Francisco Giants in Philadelphia. 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, died Saturday, Sept. 26, of complications from COVID-19 at a nursing home in Granada Hills, Calif., his daughter Mary Jayne Sarah Johnstone said Monday, Sept. 28, 2020. He was 74. He also from dementia in recent years, his daughter said. (AP Photo/Rusty Kennedy, File)

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Another time, Johnstone and Reuss dressed up as groundskeepers to drag the infield during a game. Lasorda imposed a fine on both players for being out of uniform, and Johnstone responded with a pinch-hit home run.

His daughter said Johnstone’s pranks didn’t end at the ballpark. She recalled rubber snakes in their pool and spiders by the bathtub. She said her friends loved being around her father because “he always made us laugh.”

“He wanted to find the humor in life no matter how serious things got,” she said. “That was his motto to everything, bring a smile to people’s faces. Everyone loved him.”

After retiring, Johnstone briefly worked as a radio color commentator for the Yankees and Phillies. During an interview with Yankee players Deion Sanders and Mel Hall, he got them to uncover a restaurant bread basket containing a snake, startling both players who jumped out of their seats.

Born John William Johnstone Jr. on Nov. 20, 1945, in Manchester, Connecticut, he moved to California and grew up in West Covina. After attending Edgewood High, he was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Angels in 1963 and made his major league debut at 20.

Johnstone appeared in the hit movie “The Naked Gun” as a member of the Seattle Mariners in a game against the Angels.

Besides his daughter, he is survived by his wife of 52 years, Mary Jayne Johnstone, and son-in-law Ryan Dudasik.

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