Saturday, September 1, 2012

50 Years in Cards: 1992

Part 31 of our 50-year Greasy Spoon...
What is it: 1992 Topps #590, Howard Johnson

What makes it interesting: The '92s are only slightly better than the '91s, design-wise, but still not an especially good issue. They stuck with the same annoying multi-colored patterns by team, often they became difficult to read if you were looking at the wrong team (say, the Phillies or the Twins).

Howard Johnson came to the Mets in a deal that was somewhat of an afterthought prior to the 1985 season. He came primarily to be part of a platoon at 3rd Base with Ray Knight. After playing a similar role on the 1984 World Series Champion Detroit Tigers, Johnson was benched following a slump, and became relegated to a bench role during the Tigers' postseason run and was deemed expendable following the season. Johnson did little to distinguish himself for the Mets in '85; both he and Knight spent a majority of the season hitting below the Mendoza line with little power. But, Johnson did make his hits count, coming up with some key late-season hits vs. the Cardinals, and finished at .242 with 11 HRs. In '86, Johnson was again stuck behind Knight, who had an excellent resurgent season, while Johnson was left to switch between 3rd and Shortstop. His numbers, at .245 with 10 HRs, were no better than the prior year, and although he did take home his 2nd World Series Championship in 3 seasons, both were accomplished with Johnson providing little more than reserve support.

But, when Ray Knight departed as a Free Agent following the '86 season, Johnson finally was given a chance to prove his worth as the full time starter at 3rd. Johnson responded with a career year, hitting .265 with an eye-popping 36 HRs and 99 RBIs, and even adding 32 Steals into the mix. He and Darryl Strawberry became the first teammates in Major League history to have 30-30 seasons. He even hit a Home Run in the 2nd inning of my first game on August 23rd. He accomplished all of this despite spending most of the season hitting 6th or 7th in the lineup. Johnson's power surge was so unexpected, that he even drew the ire of Cardinals Manager White Herzog, who confiscated Ho-Jo's bat during a July Game, suspecting Johnson of corking. The X-rays were negative.

1988 saw Johnson regress a bit, batting only .230 with 24 HRs, and began to hear boos from the crowd. But in '89, Johnson responded with another outstanding season, once again reaching the 30-30 plateau, batting .287 with 36 HRs, 101 RBIs and even leading the National League with 104 runs scored. Johnson also made the first of his two All Star teams with the Mets. 1990 was again an off year for Johnson, as position changes and inconsistency undercut his season, but in 1991, there he was again, carrying the Mets with a NL-leading 38 HRs, 117 RBIs, and another 30-30 season. But with the pieces around him gone, Johnson was left to bear the brunt of the team on his own, and alone, he couldn't do it all. With the Mets beginning to crumble into oblivion, Johnson fell off as well. Injuries would limit him in 1992 and 1993, and his numbers tumbled to 7 Home Runs in each of those years. Johnson would not be resigned following the '93 season, and left as a Free Agent. Nonetheless, his 192 Home Runs and 629 RBIs continue to rank among the best in club history.

Following his playing days, Johnson would resurface as a coach in the Mets Minor League system, mentoring many young players such as David Wright, who would eventually go on to surpass Johnson as the top 3rd Baseman in Club History. Johnson would become the hitting coach for the Mets in 2007, and although his performance was less than desirable (and often drew the ire of this blog's author), Johnson's reputation as a fan favorite could not be tarnished, and probably never will.

Card back:

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