Friday, May 31, 2013
After 44 years of coaching, Georgetown High School’s Mike Johnson is hanging up his baseball uniform and cleats.
But don’t send him a rocking chair as a retirement gift. The 65-year-old still plans to take care of the field at the park in Georgetown that bears his name, and help out with the International Paper Baseball Classic, which he founded in 1991.
“I just feel like the timing of it all is a good time right now,” Johnson said. “My energy level was not quite where [my assistants] were.”
Johnson started thinking about retirement early in the 2013 season. He confided his plans to Georgetown High principal Craig Evans, but didn’t want to be a “distraction.”
So he waited until after the team’s end-of-season banquet and told his players on Tuesday.
“Maybe we won’t have to shave before every game,” one player quipped. Johnson required players to be clean-shaven, with presentable haircuts and clothes. Earrings are not allowed.
The school made the news official on Wednesday morning.
Johnson said he was tired of being in charge.
“I would just like to not have to be there every minute,” he said. “I want to enjoy the game more, just kind of watch.”
Johnson started his career in 1971 as an assistant baseball coach at Howard High School. He had just graduated from Erskine College.
He became head coach the next year and continued with Howard until he was hired at Winyah High School in 1976.
The athletic departments of Howard and Winyah were combined in 1982 and the teams became the Georgetown Bulldogs. In 1985 Georgetown High School opened and the two old schools were officially merged.
Johnson won the state championship with Georgetown High in 1988. His teams were also state runners-up in 1980 (Winyah) and 1998 and 1999 (Georgetown).
For one year, Johnson was the winningest active high school baseball coach in South Carolina after David Horton retired from Bamberg-Ehrhardt in May of 2012.
Johnson recently received a letter from his Erskine baseball coach Harry Stille, who wrote, “I never thought that little old guy who came up to Erskine would do anything like that.”
Johnson’s career record is 744 wins and 449 losses.
Johnson joked that he realized how old he was when he ran into former players with hair as white as his. He also feigned dismay when seeing his white hair on a video at the team’s post-season banquet.
“I looked like an old man,” he said.
Johnson credits much of his longevity to Lisa, his wife of 34 years.
“I would not have made  years without an understanding, great wife,” he said. “There’s been a lot of nights I got home late. A lot of bus rides. I lost count after a thousand.”
The Johnsons’ children have followed in their father’s footsteps. Michael Jr. played minor league baseball and was on the staff at Clemson University. Meagen is the softball coach at Carolina Forest High School.
Johnson said what he loved most about coaching was his players.
Many will just stop by the stadium to say “coach I don’t what would have happened to me if it hadn’t been for baseball.”
And a lot just stop by to see him.
It’s like a Mastercard commercial, he said. Priceless.
By Chris Sokoloski