When the news came out on Wednesday that Ben Johnson would be named manager of the Memphis Redbirds, the question among several people that I spoke with was, “who??”
To baseball fans in Memphis, Johnson is no stranger. Johnson was born and raised in the Memphis area, graduating from Germantown High School in 1999. That same year he was named the Memphis-area High School Player of the Year. Johnson also had offers to play football at Mississippi State, but stuck with baseball.
1999 was also the beginning of his connection to the Cardinals organization, as he was drafted that year by St. Louis in the 4th round. He was traded a season later to San Diego. Johnson spent time with the Padres and Mets in the minors and majors, including winning the Padres Minor League Player of the Year award in 2005.
After his playing days, Johnson became a scout for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Bob Gebhard, a current Senior Special Assistant to GM Mike Girsch and in his second stint in the front office, was a VP and Special Assistant in Arizona during some of Johnson’s time there.
Johnson has apparently left an impression with the Cardinals front office, as this (as far as I can tell) will be the first time he’s been a head coach at any level. In fact, the only coaching experience he appears to have is this past season at Durham and a season as a coach with a team in the now-defunct Freedom Pro Baseball League in 2012.
If Johnson is the guy for Memphis, it looks like a logical move. The Cardinals have clearly made it a goal to not only find new operational talent and but to grow it and advance it, too. In Memphis’ case, they’ve done a great job of all of that, plus finding managers that are part of the Memphis community.
Before he was ever the manager of the Redbirds, Stubby Clapp was a part of the first season of the Redbirds back in 1999. He was beloved by the fans as both a player and a coach. It also helps that Stubby and his family have stayed in Tennessee. If there’s one thing that Tennesseans and especially Memphians like, is the teams in Memphis hiring coaches and players that are from the community, and Johnson definitely checks that box.
Of course, if it comes out that these rumors are unsubstantiated, and Johnson doesn’t get named manager in Memphis, it still should be noted that he’s at least on the radar of the organization. Where there’s smoke there is usually a fire of some sort.