Flashback Friday: Tim Johnson

Image courtesy of The Star

It sounds like the plot ripped straight out of a dark comedy; a manager weaves some tales about wartime experiences to motivate his team. Only they find out down the road that it was all a hoax.

Most people probably wished it was just fiction, but the whole situation played out in real life. For this week’s Flashback Friday, we take a look at Tim Johnson’s controversial and short-lived stint as manager for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Johnson’s career with the Blue Jays began as a player, as he actually had a brief stint in Blue Jays uniform during the 1978-1979 seasons. Tim Johnson retired as a player following the 1979 season, and then bounced around as a scout and minor league coach.


Ultimately, an opening as the manager of the Toronto Blue Jays presented itself after Cito Gaston was fired following the 1997 season. Tim Johnson was brought on as the successor to Cito, as he guided the Blue Jays to a highly respectable 88-74 record in his first year as manager.

But something didn’t quite feel right in Blue Jays land … there began to be rumblings that Tim Johnson wasn’t quite who he appeared to be. Or at least, who he lead people to believe he was and what he experienced.

It was revealed that Johnson lied about horrific experiences in Vietnam, when in fact there was no truth to them at all. And not only did Tim Johnson fabricate lies about his experiences in Vietnam, but he also lied about being an All-American basketball player who turned down a chance to play for UCLA.

One of the incidents in question was when Tim Johnson opted to use Rogers Clemens instead of Pat Hentgen to pitch a series finale in Boston. After Hentgen responded unfavourably, Johnson quipped back saying something to the effect of “you don’t know anything about tough spots … pressure is in Vietnam.”

Of all people, it was actually Roger Clemens who discovered Tim Johnson’s secret. At the time, Clemens was a good friend of Johnson; and knowing of his wartime stories and that he was a big motorcycle fan, wanted to get him a present any veteran would be honoured to receive – a motorcycle helmet featuring the logo of his combat unit.

Roger Clemens asked around trying to gather some background info on Tim Johnson, to no avail. Clemens even went as far as to ask Johnson’s wife, but she apparently knew nothing about it. And that was the beginning of the end of Tim Johnson’s time with the Blue Jays.

Word got out quickly that Johnson spun a web of lies about his service time in order to instill motivation into his players. One would have thought that would have ended Johnson’s time with the Blue Jays right then and there, but that’s not what happened.

General Manager Gord Ash gave Tim Johnson the option to either resign or apologize. Johnson chose the latter, and remained on as the Blue Jays manager through the off-season. But the distractions became too much, as he was let go during Spring Training 1999.

Along with Pat Hentgen and Ed Sprague, Tim Johnson was also rumoured to have a tumultuous relationship with Blue Jays pitching coach Mel Queen. The two did not see eye-to-eye, which would create volatile environment for any organization.


Interestingly enough, after all these years, Tim Johnson has landed on his feet and is making a living as a manager in the minors and winter ball. For a while, he coached the Mexico City team, and most recently took over as manager for the El Paso Diablos.

There are others who are interested in telling the Tim Johnson’s side, as there is currently a feature film in the words entitled “El Diablo: The Tim Johnson Story”. The video below is a 10-minute teaser which I highly recommend you watch.

Make no mistake … what Tim Johnson did was unforgivable. Fabricating a lie about serving in Vietnam in order to motivate players is pretty damn low. But watching that video above, I can’t help but feel bad for the guy.

Tim Johnson obviously loves to coach, and that’s why he continues to manage independent league teams today. He may never coach in the Major Leagues ever again, but one thing’s for sure … Johnson has a passion for the game of baseball.

And that’s one thing Tim Johnson will never have to apologize for.


Ian Hunter

Ian has been writing about the Toronto Blue Jays since 2007. He enjoyed the tail-end of the Roy Halladay era and vividly remembers the Alex Rodriguez "mine" incident. He'll also retell the story of Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS to his kids for the next 20 years.

5 thoughts on “Flashback Friday: Tim Johnson

  • September 7, 2012 at 4:04 pm

    First off thanks for the laugh. I remember when this sorry tale was playing out. I wasn't a fan of Johnson's while he was manager but wasn't too keen on Cito back then either for the way he treated Shawn Green. Considering the number of people who lost their lives in Vietnam for Johnson to make up tales about being there was shameful. I just can't muster any empathy for him. But for FF it does us good to look back on the not so positive as well as the good times. I really do appreciate these posts.

    • September 7, 2012 at 5:35 pm

      It seemed like there was a lot of descension with the manager and coaches back then. Cito took an "extended holiday" to end the 1998 season, and Mel Queen stepped in as interim to finish off the season.

      Then of course Tim Johnson got hired, and one wonders if maybe that's why Mel and Tim didn't see eye to eye.

  • September 7, 2012 at 4:41 pm

    It's too bad Johnson lied. I thought he was a pretty good manager.

  • September 7, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    88-74 only "respectable"?!!

Comments are closed.