When looking back over the life of the late Lou Johnson, it was clear that he didn’t have an easy road to the majors. He was released by a couple of teams before he finally found a home with the Dodgers. His first pro season ended when he was hit in the head with a pitch. Then there was a matter of a serious car accident in Oklahoma in 1956. It happened while he was playing for the Ponca City Cubs. The team was traveling from Ponca City to Muskogee for a game, and the resulting accident cost Johnson the top part of his right ear. He didn’t lose it, in the literal sense. He always knew where it was — it just wasn’t attached to his head anymore.
Johnson told the Daily News the story of his relocated ear in 1966. I’ll let him take it from here:
“Damn, it was funny as hell. We traveled in station wagons, and one night after a game we hit the road, and you know how bad some of them back roads can be. Well, anyway, we was talkin’ and jokin’ and just takin’ it easy when… wham! The car skidded off the road and tipped over. Man, you never saw so many feet and arms going in so many different directions in all your life.
“Nobody was hurt too bad, but we all went to the hospital anyway.
“I remember somebody shouted, ‘Hey, you guys okay?’ and everybody says, ‘Yeah, we’re all right.’ I felt fine. Then somebody comes running over and says, ‘Hey, looky here, look what I found in the back seat.’ Man, it was part of a real live ear. Then the guy says, “Whose ear is this belong to?’ and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t mine.
“Then one of the guys says, ‘Don’t worry Lou, the doctors can sew that back on, just like a button, no kidding. Lou, they’ll sew that ear right back on your head.’ Hell, by this time, all the guys were laughing more about my ear than they were worrying about the lumps from the accident.
“So they put me on this table in the hospital and are all set to start stitching and sewing my ear back on, only it wasn’t easy like a button, it didn’t take. Now this doctor starts feeling around my stomach and says, ‘Lou, we are going to insert the missing part of the ear into your abdominal muscles.’ I said, ‘You’re going to put what where?’
“Then my roomy says, ‘What’s the matter with you boy, are you stupid or something? The doc is gonna put your ear in your belly so maybe the ear will grow back on your stupid head, you dummy. You’re gonna be a celebrity, Lou, you’ll have the most talked-about belly in the whole world.’ Haw haw, I says, you guys are having a ball with my deformity, I says.
“Well anyway, the doc cut me open and planted my ear, but that didn’t work either. I guess I’m the only man in the world with wax in his stomach. If I get an ear ache right now, I just put a heating pad on my belly. If I start going deaf, they can always attach a hearing aid to my navel.
“Now I didn’t mind getting short-changed in the ear department, but when the guys started bending over shouting, ‘Can ya hear me, Lou baby?’ into my stomach, that’s when I put my foot down!”
The procedure that Johnson described was meant to restore blood flow to the severed body part. Doctors can “grow” a nose on a forehead or an ear on an arm, for instance. Johnson’s procedure didn’t work out, and I couldn’t find any evidence that he ever had what was left of his ear removed from his stomach.
One other thing to note: Johnson was put on the disabled list for a few weeks to allow him time to recover. In the time, the Ponca City Cubs called up another young outfielder to take his place. That rookie happened to be Billy Williams. It’s an odd way to get a promotion, but it worked out.