Johnny Tobin was a 5’8″, 142-pound little dynamo of an outfielder, who was also one of the best drag-bunters in baseball history.He was born in St. Louis and began his professional baseball career there, when the St. Louis Terriers of the upstart Federal League signed him in 1913. Tobin led the new league in hits during its second and final year of operation and he caught the attention of the cross-town Browns. He then spent most of the next decade starting in that team’s outfield after the Federal League went belly-up in 1915.
Beginning in 1920, he put together four 200-hits seasons in a row including a career best 236 in 1921, the same year he established a personal high of 132-runs scored. George Sisler, the greatest player in Browns’ history called Tobin, “the best lead-off hitter I ever played with.”
By 1924, however, Tobin was approaching his mid-thirties and slowing down a bit at the plate. The Browns traded him to the Senators for two starting pitchers. He didn’t last long in our Nations’ Capital. He started out slowly at the plate for manager Bucky Harris’s Washington ball club. After 27 games he was hitting just .212 and was put on waivers. Tobin was prepared to retire and return to St. Louis, where he had just invested in his own car dealership.
That’s when the Red Sox came calling and offered him a starting spot in their outfield. After thinking about it a couple of weeks, Tobin decided to accept it and when he went 3-5 with 4 RBIs in his first game with his new team, it was his way of showing Harris, the Senators and his hometown Browns who had also not offered him a job, that he was far from through as a player. Of course, the 1926 Red Sox team he joined and the ’27 club he finished his big league career with were two of the worst teams in Boston franchise history. Even so, Tobin leading that ball club with a .310 batting average during his only full year with Boston, when he was 35 years old was quite an accomplishment.
Tobin retired with 1,906 career hits and a .309 lifetime batting average. He eventually became a coach for the Browns and then one of baseball’s first-ever bunting instructors. He lived until the age of 77, passing away in 1969. He shares his birthday with a more recent Red Sox, pitcher Ryan Dempster.