Johnson with the New York Mets
|Born: November 29, 1960|
|April 14, 1982, for the Detroit Tigers|
|Last MLB appearance|
|October 1, 1995, for the Chicago Cubs|
|Runs batted in||760|
|Career highlights and awards|
Howard Michael Johnson (born November 29, 1960), nicknamed HoJo (the nickname of the otherwise unrelated Howard Johnson's company), is an American former professional baseball third baseman. He played for the Detroit Tigers, New York Mets, Colorado Rockies, and Chicago Cubs of the Major League Baseball (MLB) from 1982 to 1995. He is third on the Mets' all-time lists for home runs, runs batted in, doubles, and stolen bases. He also played for the Rockland Boulders of the Canadian-American Association of Professional Baseball. On July 13, 2007, he was promoted from his position as the Mets' first base coach to their hitting coach which he held until the end of the 2010 season. From 2014 to June 2015, he was the hitting coach of the Seattle Mariners after starting 2013 as the batting instructor for the Tacoma Rainiers, the Mariners' Triple-A affiliate.
Johnson was born in Clearwater, Florida, and attended Clearwater High School playing baseball as a pitcher. He attended St. Petersburg Junior College and, at age 17 was drafted in the 23rd round of the 1978 MLB draft by the New York Yankees. Johnson did not sign with the Yankees and the following January was drafted in the first round, 12th overall, by the Tigers.
In the minor leagues, the Tigers soon converted Johnson from a pitcher to an infielder, and in 1981, he hit 22 home runs for the AA Birmingham Barons. He was promoted to Detroit to start 1982, but was hitting only .188 in early May when he was sent back to AAA. He was back in the majors in mid-August and posted fantastic numbers for the rest of the season, including a .405 average in September that raised his final average to .316. He started 1983 with the big club but was sent down again in late May with a .212 average.
In 1984, Johnson was back with the Tigers and was made the left side of a platoon with Tom Brookens. Johnson started fairly well but had a poor second half. He finished the regular season with a .248 batting average, 50 runs batted in (RBI) and 12 homers in 355 at bats. The Tigers led the division for the entire campaign but Johnson sat the bench for the entire 1984 ALCS while Brookens, Marty Castillo and Darrell Evans split time at third. Johnson wound up pinch-hitting only once in the 1984 World Series, reaching on an error by second baseman Alan Wiggins as the Tigers eased through the postseason en route to the world championship.
Johnson was traded from the Tigers to the New York Mets for Walt Terrell at the Winter Meetings on December 7, 1984. The move put three players at third base for the Mets but, three days later, they sent Hubie Brooks to the Montreal Expos as part of a trade for catcher Gary Carter.
Johnson's inability to hit well from the right side resulted in him being platooned by the Mets in 1985, this time with Ray Knight. Both started terribly and neither reached .200 until early July. Johnson hit below average all season, while Knight was even worse. The Mets, as they had in 1984, narrowly missed the postseason in 1985.
1986 was the year of the Mets and both Johnson and Knight started very well. The Mets' problems shifted from third base to shortstop as Rafael Santana struggled to keep his average above .150 most of the season. Johnson was a capable shortstop defensively and picked up extra playing time moving between short and third but his hitting started declining in May. Between his mediocre hitting, continued lack of power, and an injury that wiped out three weeks in June, Johnson played in only 88 games in the regular season. When he returned from the June injury, Johnson went on a home run tear including two in his first game back and, within six weeks, his slugging percentage jumped from .376 to .510. One of Johnson's home runs occurred in a legendary game on July 22, 1986, against the Cincinnati Reds. When a 10th-inning bench-clearing fight ended, three Mets players were out of the game and they were forced to spend the rest of the game with a pitcher in the outfield and two pitchers in the batting lineup. When one of the pitchers, Jesse Orosco, drew a walk in the 14th inning, Johnson followed with a three-run home run that led to a Mets win. Johnson faded down the stretch and was virtually shut out of the postseason, going 0-for-7 in four games. His only start was Game 2 of the 1986 World Series, when he went 0-for-4 in a crucial Mets loss that put them in an 0-2 hole. His only other at bat in the series was in Game 6, when he struck out in the ninth inning. Nevertheless, at age 25, Johnson already had his second World Series ring.
Ray Knight was allowed to become a free agent after the 1986 World Series. Johnson, given sole ownership of the third base position, began a three-month power surge in mid-May. In 10 games, he hit five home runs, including a pair of three-run shots, with 13 RBI. In an 11-game span a month later, he hit another six home runs with 10 RBI. In seven games around the all-star break, he hit another six home runs and seven RBIs, raising his slugging percentage over .520. With his 22nd home run of the season in mid-July, the previously light-hitting Johnson took over the team home run lead from Darryl Strawberry while hitting from the seventh spot in the batting order. He ended July with six RBIs in seven games along with a four-hit game, and then started August with a grand slam. In a 13-game span in late July and early August, he had at least one RBI in all but one game and amassed 17 RBIs overall. Three games in mid-August brought another three home runs and seven RBIs, but the power tear was about over for his breakout season.
Johnson's power surge was complemented by a surge in speed. Although he had 31 stolen bases in five previous seasons, on September 11, 1987, Johnson stole his 30th base to join the 30-30 club for the first time. Johnson became the first switch-hitter to join the club, and he and Strawberry became the only teammates to achieve 30-30 status in the same season. Another grand slam in September brought Johnson's home run total to 36, just four shy of his entire career before 1987. Unfortunately for the Mets, as Johnson's power faded, so did their run at the postseason and the defending champions missed the playoffs. The entire league took notice of Johnson's unexpected rise in 1987 and he received 42 points in the voting for National League MVP. His home run and RBI totals were second only to Strawberry on the team and his home runs were seventh-best in the entire majors. His right-handed hitting was substantially better than his left-handed hitting with numbers better in almost every category including a batting average 36 points higher and slugging 74 points higher. His 36 home runs overall were the most in National League history by a switch-hitter, breaking Ripper Collins' 53-year-old record.
In 1988, Johnson did not nearly live up to his stellar 1987 season, but still showed decent home run power. He reverted to hitting much better from the left side with a .183 average and .338 slugging from the right side. A mid-season injury to his right shoulder contributed to his poor offense. One bright spot was September 8, 1988, when he had the only five-hit game of his career, going 5-for-5 with a three-run home run and four RBIs in a Wrigley Field victory. While Johnson was struggling to stay above .230, the Mets tried out 21-year-old third-base prospect, Gregg Jefferies, who blazed through September. After 13 games, Jefferies, who was also a switch hitter, had a batting average of .462 and a fantastic slugging percentage of .962 with five home runs, a four-hit game and four three-hit games. Despite Johnson's mediocre season, the Mets easily coasted to a division win but Johnson went 1-for-18 with six strikeouts in the 1988 NLCS. With the heavily favored Mets down 3-2 in the series, he was benched for Games 6 and 7 in favor of Jefferies. Johnson pinch-hit in Game 7 and struck out for the final out of the Mets disappointing season.
With Johnson and Jefferies competing for the third base job, the 1988-89 off-season was filled with trade rumors. The logjam was cleared when second baseman Wally Backman was traded to the Minnesota Twins making Jefferies the Mets' regular second baseman in 1989. Johnson was moved from sixth or seventh in the lineup to third, in front of star slugger Darryl Strawberry, who had led the N.L. in home runs and slugging in 1988. The Mets were rewarded for not trading Johnson when he surpassed most of his numbers from 1987. Johnson had a torrid June when he hit eleven home runs, 24 RBIs and logged a slugging percentage of .770 earning him his first National League Player of the Month award. In the All-Star voting, third baseman Mike Schmidt was elected to start for the N.L. but that posed a problem: Schmidt had already retired six weeks before the game. As a result, Johnson was chosen to start for his first All-Star Game. In his first All-Star at bat, he drove in the second run of the game in which the N.L. lost 5-3. Johnson played well in the second half but an overall team slowdown knocked the Mets out of the playoffs. With his 30th home run on August 20, 1989, Johnson joined Bobby Bonds and Willie Mays as the only multi-year members of the 30-30 club. The only other infielders in major league history who had had multiple 30-30 seasons as of 2011 were Ian Kinsler, Alfonso Soriano, and Jeff Bagwell.
He ended 1989 with 36 home runs, tying his career-high and his own N.L. record for switch hitters. He also broke the 100-RBI mark for the first time, finishing with 101. Only Kevin Mitchell's career year stopped Johnson from winning both the home run and slugging titles in the N.L. like his teammate Strawberry had done in 1987. Johnson also stole 41 bases, a career high, and scored 104 runs which tied for first in the N.L. He received 153 points in voting for N.L. MVP, finishing fifth. Both his on-base percentage and slugging from 1989 were career highs.
After his stellar 1989, Howard Johnson's salary doubled from less than $800,000 to over $1.6 million but, similar to 1988, Johnson followed a great year with a decent one in 1990. Johnson put up consistently average numbers for the entire season. He stole 34 bases and, for the third time, he played in over 150 games. Despite finishing with only a .244 average and .434 slugging percentage, Johnson still racked up 90 RBIs and 37 doubles. He spent the last two months of the season as Kevin Elster's replacement at shortstop. The Mets started the season so poorly that manager Davey Johnson was fired in May but, under new manager Bud Harrelson, they recovered to win 91 games. They even took over first place in early September, but still missed the playoffs. Johnson's best game was his first ever five-RBI game, including a grand slam, at Wrigley Field on June 13, 1990. The quality of his season again mirrored the quality of his right-handed hitting, as he batted only .208 from his weaker side.
Johnson's fall-off in 1990 led to more trade rumors. Instead, the Mets' troubled all-time home run and RBIs leader, Darryl Strawberry, left New York when he was signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers in December 1990. Johnson became the leader of the offense for the Mets and, in response, became arguably the best offensive player in the National League in 1991, winning two-thirds of the coveted Triple Crown. Johnson started slowly in April and caught fire in early May. The RBIs came in waves all season as he hit a right-handed grand slam on June 18, 1991 and had 26 RBIs in 22 games before the All-Star break. With 63 RBI, Johnson was selected as a reserve to his second and last All-Star Game. He finished out July well and had a slow August before a fantastic September in which he hit ten home runs with 28 RBIs while slugging nearly .700, earning him his second National League Player of the Month award. Johnson was the last Met to win the award until David Wright in June 2006.
At season's end, Johnson had won both the National League home run title and RBI title. The 38 home runs broke his own record for N.L. switch hitters and 117 RBIs set the Met record for most runs batted in in a season until 1999. Both were also career bests for Johnson. On October 1, 1991, he stole his 30th base becoming only the second player, after Bobby Bonds, to join the 30-30 club in three different seasons. In June 1991, he passed Dave Kingman into second place on the Mets' all-time home run list. Johnson received 112 votes for National League MVP, finishing fifth. He likely would have received more MVP consideration except that the Mets had fallen all the way to a 77-84 record, second-to-last in the division. Despite his heroics, the Mets scored the fifth fewest runs per game in the majors. Johnson's had become a one-man show--his 38 home runs were more than the next two highest totals on the team combined and his RBI total was tops on the team by more than 40. His biggest liability was defense as he accumulated a career-worst 31 errors. In September, with Hubie Brooks out of the lineup and Johnson struggling defensively, the Mets moved him to the outfield, where he played for most of the rest of the year.
Going into the 1992 season, Johnson was surrounded by high-priced veterans like Eddie Murray, Bobby Bonilla, Vince Coleman, and Bret Saberhagen but he responded by virtually disappearing. While he was a spotty right-handed hitter his whole career, in 1992, he stopped hitting from either side of the plate. He hit three home runs in April and followed up with an even worse May. After three months, he had only seven home runs and was batting .223 with a slugging percentage well under .400. A home run in late June turned out to be his last of the season. He went homerless for another month before fracturing his wrist in late July. He played a few more games in agony before the fracture was diagnosed and his season ended in early August. Johnson made over $2 million while his slugging percentage dropped nearly 200 points from 1991. The Mets had the third-highest payroll in the majors and finished 72-90, two games out of last place in the division. He hit his 183rd National League home run that year, breaking Ted Simmons' league career record for home runs by a switch hitter.
The 1993 Mets made their fans forget 1992 as the team went from bad to the worst team in the majors. His batting average did not reach .200 until almost May and his slugging only raised above .400 for barely a week before diving back down. He missed three weeks in June and his season again ended prematurely in late July. After the end of the 103-loss campaign, Johnson's time with the Mets came to an end as he was granted free agency.
In 1994, Johnson signed with the Colorado Rockies. Despite the hitter-friendly atmosphere of Mile High Stadium, he wound up hitting more home runs on the road finishing with only ten overall. In the crowded left field position, he split time with Mike Kingery and Eric Young but was mostly pinch hitting by August when the 1994-95 Major League Baseball strike ended the season. His .211 average was the worst of his career to that point and he was not re-signed.
Johnson signed on with the Chicago Cubs, shortly after the strike ended in April 1995. He saw limited playing time and his average was at .115 in mid-August, lower than many of the team's pitchers. All of his production was at Wrigley Field, as his average on the road was under .100 with only two extra-base hits. A spurt in September raised his overall average to .195 but was not enough to garner a new contract from the Cubs. When he found no team interested, Johnson retired at age 35.
After retiring, Johnson expressed an interest in coaching. In mid-1996, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays named Johnson to the coaching staff of their rookie-level minor league team, the Butte Copper Kings.
In February 1997, Johnson attempted a comeback with the Mets but abandoned the attempt after a month when his batting average was .129. Later in the year, he signed on as a scout with the Mets.
Johnson was named the batting coach of the Mets' Brooklyn Cyclones minor league team for 2001. He was made the manager for 2002 after Brooklyn was named co-champion of the New York-Penn League (the championship was cancelled due to the September 11, 2001 attacks). In 2003, Johnson was the hitting coach under manager, Ken Oberkfell, when the St. Lucie Mets won the Florida State League championship. Johnson and Oberkfell were promoted to the AA Binghamton Mets for 2004 and guided them into the Eastern League playoffs. Both were promoted again to the AAA Norfolk Tides for 2005 and the Tides posted their highest batting average in six seasons. He served as the Tides' hitting coach again in 2006 under Oberkfell.
In 2011, at age 50, Howard Johnson returned to professional baseball for a brief comeback to play two minor league games with his son Glen Johnson for the Rockland Boulders. In the first game, Howard went hitless in four at-bats, but made contact in each plate appearance. In the second game, he walked in his first at-bat but then left the game to be the team's first-base coach.
Johnson joined the Mariners as a hitting coach for the 2014 season, part of the new coaching staff. He was replaced by Edgar Martínez on June 20, 2015.
1985 co-winner of the pro athlete rib eating contest, sharing the honor with Dickie Thon. Elected to not defend in 1986.
Within two years of his retirement, Johnson's two major National League switch-hitting home run records were broken. In 1996, his single-season record was broken by former teammate, Todd Hundley, who finished with 41. In 1997, his career record was broken by another former teammate, Bobby Bonilla, who hit his 210th National League home run in the midst of a championship season with the Florida Marlins.
Bonilla finished his career in 2001 with 249 NL home runs, but Chipper Jones of the Braves currently holds the NL single-season switch hit HR record (45), achieved in 1999, and the career mark as well (452).
Mike Piazza passed Johnson into second-place on both the all-time Mets home run list in 2004 and the all-time Mets RBI list in 2005.
In 2001, Johnson was on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot but received no votes.
Howard is married to his wife, Kim. Together they have three children (daughters: Shannon and Kayla; and son, Glen). Shannon is a figure skating coach in Florida. Glen started his amateur baseball career as a switch-hitting shortstop when he attended Jacksonville University on a baseball scholarship. In the 2007 draft, Johnson's son Glen was selected by the Mets in the 36th round but did not sign with the team. Glen continued to play professional baseball and most recently has been an infielder for the Newark Bears.