By Bob Elliott
Blue Jays scouts have not been spotted checking out any hoops players leading into first round of this year’s draft begins Monday night.
Yet, that is exactly what the organization did in 1984 the only other time in its 39-year history that the Jays didn’t have a first round pick.
By signing free agent reliever Dennis Lamp, the Jays first round pick in the 1984 draft went to the Chicago White Sox (who chose right-hander Tony Menendez, 29 innings in the majors). With their second-round pick (their first on draft day ... confused yet?) those chose right-hander Dane Johnson of the Biscayne College Bobcats of North Miami.
“I went to school on a basketball scholarship, I hadn’t pitched organized ball since I was 13,” said the 6-foot-5 Johnson, now the Jays bullpen coach.
Johnson threw hard and made the baseball team ... a two-sport Letter man at Biscayne, now known as St. Thomas University.
With some gentle prodding he remembers averaging about 14 points and seven rebounds per game on the court as a forward. Although an NCAA Div. II school Biscayne beat the University of Houston Cougars of Phi Slama Jama fame with Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler in Miami and “lost by about 30 the next year in Houston.”
And from the mound? Walks? Strikeouts? Innings?
“My numbers weren’t much, I was a big guy who threw hard and didn’t know where it was going,” said Johnson, who played for Paul Mainieri, now coach of the LSU Tigers. “I didn’t know anything about pounding the zone, I didn’t know anything about the draft.”
Mainieri told Johnson that he would be drafted, then he told his right-hander he would be drafted early. Blue Jays super scout Tim Wilken was around at Biscayne games and then visiting Johnson at his house. Johnson said he recalls phoning his father and telling him he had a chance to be drafted and pop said “what are you talking about?” Johnson said.
Scouts Bob Engle and Wilken saw Johnson at 92-96 MPH
“He had a real good spin to his curve ball, the problem was he only threw about 11-to-15 innings that year,” said Wilken. “Bob and I saw him decent, but he didn’t get an out for almost two months.
Then Biscayne played a game after the season against an amateur team with Jays scout Al LaMacchia on hand.
“Al loved him,” said Wilken.
The Jays gave Johnson their top pick an $85,000 US signing bonus and he was off to Medicine Hat to pitch for manager Rocket Wheeler. From there he climbed the Jays ladder to class-A Florence, class-A Dunedin and class-A Myrtle Beach before heading East ... and we don’t mean Syracuse.
Johnson pitched for the Brother Elephants and the Mercuries Tigers of the Chinese Professional League. After pitching in the Milwaukee Brewers system, he was promoted to the Chicago White Sox gaining his first major-league win over the Jays on June 8, 1994 retiring Mike Huff, Ed Sprague, Pat Borders and Dick Schofield in a perfect four-up, four down outing.
Wilken signed him again to a minor league deal and in August of 1996 he finally joined the team that selected him on draft day.
All of which led to one of the great scouting lines after as a fellow scout told Wilken: “I’ve heard of projecting, but this is ridiculous ... 12 years?”