Born: March 10, 1944
Town: Paterson, New Jersey
John Edward Briggs was born March 10, 1944 in Paterson. Johnny attended Eastside High in Paterson. He was a quiet, confident athlete with a smooth left-handed swing. Johnny earned a baseball scholarship to Seton Hall. He played for the varsity in 1962 and 1963. Among his teammates was Danny Coombs, a basketball star who was signed by the Houston Colts as a pitcher, and Bill Henry, who pitched briefly for the Yankees.
Johnny signed with the Philadelphia Phillies after his sophomore season. He played one season in the minors, with Bakersfield of the Class-A California League. He batted .297 with 21 home runs. Johnny made the Phillies in 1964 just after turning 20. He played sparingly and did not get his first big-league hit until June. Over the course of the year he only started seven games. He appeared in 61 overall, primarily as a left-handed bat off the bench. He batted .258 and collected only one hit over the final month—the same month that saw the Phillies make their historic collapse.
In 1965, Johnny figured into a famous incident. As one of the youngest Phillies, he was often picked on by aging slugger Frank Thomas. Richie Allen, the team’s young star (he and Briggs had made the club as rookies the previous year) challenged him during batting practice. The two came to blows and Thomas was traded out of town almost immediately.
From 1966 on, Johnny played more or less regularly for Philadelphia. He could handle all three outfield positions, but found himself sitting against most lefties. The old Phillies ballpark was not friendly to power hitters, and Johnny hit more than his fair share of warning track flies. His best homer output for the Phillies was 12, in 1969.
The Phillies traded Johnny to the Brewers for a couple of forgettable pitchers early in the 1971 season after he got off to a slow start. He was a new man in Milwaukee, playing left field and clubbing 21 homers in 1971 and 1972. Brewer fans still consider this to be one of the most lopsided deals (in Milwaukee’s favor) in team history.
Johnny was a patient hitter, willing to work deep into counts and take a walk if he didn’t see a pitch he liked. With the Phillies he typically batted anywhere between leadoff and cleanup. In Milwaukee, he and George Scott often alternated in three-and four-holes.
In June of 1975, the Brewers traded him to the Twins for Bobby Darwin. Johnny hit .231 for Minnesota with just 7 home runs. At 31, his big-league career came to an end. Johnny tried to hang for a season with the Lotte Orions. The Orions were just two years off a Japan Series championship. He joined fellow “gaijin” Jim Lefebvre, a member of the Dodgers in the 1960s and a popular American player in Japan. Johnny moved back to Northern New Jersey after leaving baseball.