Class of 2010
Most major league baseball hitters don't look forward to facing a pitcher who throws 98 mph. Can one imagine a softball hitter facing a pitcher throwing the same speed 14 feet closer? Only 46 feet separated the hitter from Jim Johnson and his overpowering fastball. That was the task facing hitters as they stepped into the batter's box to face Johnson.
The tall right hander was a dominating fast-pitch softball pitcher for many years throughout Alabama and the southeast region. The 2010 Limestone County Sports Hall of Fame inductee was widely considered as one of the top pitchers in the southeast from the mid 1950's until he retired in 1985.
"The good Lord blessed me with the ability to play for a long time," said Johnson.
Born in Limestone County, Johnson's family moved to Huntsville when he was a young boy. He graduated from Butler High School but returned to Athens after serving in the United States Air Force.
Johnson began playing in the Athens Fast Pitch league in 1958. It was at the old Athens Fair Grounds where many hitters faced the young flame throwing Johnson without much success. "Big Jim was something else," recalls Athens resident Freddy Leonard. "I tried everything to hit Jim and never could. He literally made me quit playing. Jim made me believe I couldn't hit him and I quit."
Leonard wasn't the first and certainly not the last hitter that would fail against Johnson. "I attribute much of my success to my height. I'm 6'5" and I had a long stride. Once I turned the ball loose, the hitters didn't have long to think if they could hit the ball or not," said Johnson.
In 1960, Athens dropped their fast pitch league and Johnson started playing in Huntsville. He played with the Huntsville Merchants throughout the decade. The team traveled quite a bit and Johnson pitched his first Southeast Regional Tournament and was selected to the All-Regional Team.
In 1970, Johnson joined the Montgomery based United Surgical Steel team. During the next four seasons, Johnson would be named to the All-State and All-Regional teams. The 1972 season was one of Johnson's best. "I pitched a perfect game that year and struck out every batter (21 strikeouts)," said Johnson. He would finish the season with a 33-0 pitching record while claiming Most Valuable Player honors in the State and Southeast Regional tournaments.
It was the 1974 season that Johnson received his greatest compliment as a pitcher. "The Redstone Arsenal team protested the two games that I pitched against them. They claimed I threw too hard," laughed Johnson.
One team that wouldn't make such a claim would be the legendary "King and his Court." The barnstorming four-man team led by another flame thrower Eddie Feigner took on all comers. Johnson would face Feigner and his three players 12 times in his career with success. "We only beat them once while I played in Huntsville but we won six times when I played with United Surgical Steel," said Johnson.
Johnson played his last competitive softball game in 1985. By then, he had started an insurance company in Athens and would retire in 2001. He now lives in Rogersville.
For his softball achievements, Johnson was inducted into the Blue and Gray Hall of Fame in 1993 and the Alabama Softball Hall of Fame in 1996.
Because he is a native of Limestone County, Johnson says being inducted into the LCSHOF is his biggest thrill. "This is where I was born. I raised my children in Athens and coached them in basketball and baseball. It is a very special honor," said Johnson.