Kenneth Lance Johnson was born July 6, 1963 at Cincinnati, Ohio. Johnson attended the University of South Alabama getting drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 6th round of the 1984 draft. Johnson had a fine minor league career as he developed & by 1987 he won the American Association MVP award. He hit .333 & stole 42 bases with the Louisville Redbirds. The speedy center fielder stole over 30 bases five straight seasons in the minor leagues, including three straight years of 40 plus steals.
At the time the Cardinals had Willie McGee in center & had no plans for Johnson, except to trade him. After his great season at AAA he was brought up to the 1987 Cardinals team for 33 games, & appeared in one game each of the NLCS & World Series. He stole a base in each game, scoring a run as a pinch runner. That winter he was traded along with Ricky Horton to the Chicago White Sox for Jose DeLeon.
In Chicago he became one of the best centerfielders of that era with speed, range and a strong throwing arm. He was among the top three centerfielders in assists four different times, posting eleven assists two straight seasons. His 70 career assists are 69th most on the all time list. He led all centerfielders in errors three times, games played twice, put outs & fielding one time each. His range was considered the best over the 1992 & 1993 seasons.
He led the league in fielding in 1994 with a perfect 1000%, Johnson spent eight seasons as the White Sox regular centerfielder, playing in both the old & new Comiskey Parks. Johnson wore the uniform number one and was known as “One Dog”.
In 1990 he played his first full season, he hit .285 while leading the league in caught stealing (22) times he stole 36 bases & hit nine triples. Over the next four seasons, from 1991-1994 he led the American league in triples each year. He hit 12 or more triples in each of those years & did that for six straight seasons.
During his White Sox years he would bat over .300 three times, while posting good on base percentages. He would steal 25 or more bases six straight seasons, including 30 plus steals three times. He was among the AL's top ten base stealers five straight seasons, excluding 1991. In 1993 he was second on the A.L. Western Champion White Sox club to Frank Thomas hitting .311, while posting 14 triples 18 doubles , 36 stolen bases (6th in the AL) with a .354 on base %.
Post Season: In the 1993 ALCS the White Sox lost the first two games to the Toronto Blue Jays. In Game #3 Johnson singled home two runs in Chicago's five run third inning leading to a 6-1 win. In Game #4 he had a big four hit day including a two run HR off Todd Stottlemyre to get the scoring started in the 2nd inning. In the 6th inning with Chicago down 3-2 he triples with two runners on, putting his team ahead for good in the 7-4 victory. The Blue Jays went on to win Game #5 & the World Series.
In 1994 the Sox finished first again this time in the newly aligned AL Central, but the baseball strike killed any post seasons hopes. Johnson once again led the league in triples (14) but his average fell to .277. In 1995 he was back over .300 (.306) leading the league in hits (186) & at bats (607). Johnson had career highs up to that point, in runs scored (117) & RBIs (57), while stealing 40 bases (6th in the AL).
During the winter he signed as a free agent with the New York Mets for the 1996 season.
The year ahead looked bright at Shea Stadium, with Johnson aboard in center, Todd Hundley & Bernard Gilkey in the lineup coming off promising years. And of course Generation K ready to take the mound. Unfortunately everything fell apart with the pitching staff, Manager Dallas Green eventually lost his job after going 59-72. He was succeeded by Bobby Valentine as the new era began.
Through it all, Johnson went on to have a career year and one of the best Mets seasons ever at the plate.
He set a Mets single season record for hits with an incredible league leading 227. He also led the league in triples while setting the Mets club record, with 21. Johnson joined company with Stan Musial, Sam Crawford & Willie Wilson as the only players to ever lead the league in triples five times. He became only the fourth player since 1947 to have over 20 triples, and his 21 were the highest mark since 1951.
He came in fourth in the NL batting race, hitting .333; while posting a .363 on base % (second on the club to Gilkey).
Johnson stole 50 bases (second most in the league) while only getting caught 12 times. It was the most stolen bases by a Mets player since Mookie Wilsons 54 in 1983. The previous year (the strike year) the Mets Bret Butler led the team with 21.
Johnson scored 117 runs (tenth in the NL) which were also a Mets single season record until Eduardo Alfonzo broke it, three seasons later. Johnson hit 31 doubles & played 160 games as the Mets leadoff man, setting a club mark (later broken by Jose Reyes). He also led the league in at bats (682) & plate appearances (724) posting a .363 on base %. He made his only All Star team that year representing the Mets, getting the starting spot in centerfield and going 3-4 with a run scored in the Mid Summer Classic at Veterans Stadium.
Johnson debuted on Opening Day 1996 going 1-4 batting lead off & playing centerfield in the Mets 7-6 win over the St. Louis Cardinals. He hit in his first three games, then went on an eight game hit streak a few days later. In the month of April he had eleven multi hit games. In early May he stole three bases in a game against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. He then hit safely in 14 of 15 games & had 13 multiple hit games that month to raise his average above .300.
In June he had a four hit day in Atlanta during a 12-6 Mets win, then hit safely in 19 of 22 games to close out the month. On July 5th he broke a 6-6 tie in the 8th inning at Montreal, by getting a base hit to drive in Chris Jones & Carl Everett for the eventual game winning runs. Throughout that month he kept his average above .310, while a 13 game hit steak in August got him up to .320.
In September he hit safely in 24 out of 26 games to raise his average up another eleven points. He closed out the year hitting safely in 40 of his last 43 games. In twenty four games throughout the season, he had at least three hits in a game, including four different four hit games.
Defensively he led the league in put outs (391) made nine outfield assists (3rd best in the league) while posting a .971 fielding percentage, making 12 errors in 412 chances.
In 1997 he began the year where he left off, with a six game hit streak, hitting safely in 12 of 14. On April 15th he drove four of the Mets five runs in a Armando Reynoso 5-0 shutout. He missed all of May & half of June with an injury. On June 22nd, he had a four hit day at Shea in a game against the Pirates, He hit a HR & drove in two runs while scoring three runs in the 12-9 win. He got himself over the .300 mark going into early August.
On August 4th he hit a pair of triples driving in two runs, including the game winner in the 5th inning, leading the Mets past the Cardinals 4-2, as Rick Reed picked up his tenth win of the year. On August 8th, after 72 games he was batting .309 with 6 triples & 15 stolen bases, but he got traded to the Chicago Cubs for Turk Wendell, Brian McRae, & Mel Rojas. (The Mets later sent along Manny Alexander & Mark Clark).
Johnson hit .303 the rest of the way but was slowed up by injuries and his career began to wind down from there.
He spent two more seasons in Chicago; being teamed up again in the outfield with his former White Sox sidekick Sammy Sosa. By now Sosa was a superstar chasing Mark McGwire & the single season HR record. Johnson finished off his career in 2000 with the A.L. New York team playing in just 8 games.
Retirement: After his playing days he & his wife moved back to Alabama, where he had gone to college. Johnson also has the rare distinction of playing for both New York & both Chicago baseball teams.
In his 14 season playing career, Johnson played in 1447 games batting .291, with 1565 hits, 117 triples (103rd all time) 175 doubles 34 HRs 486 RBIs and 327 stolen bases (130th all time). In the outfield he posted a .983 fielding % with 68 assists, making 62 errors in 3638 chances.