Aug 10, 2017

Mid Sixties Mets Outfielder "The Gunner": Johnny Lewis (1965-1967)

Johnny Joe Lewis was born in Greenville Alabama on August 10, 1939. As a baby, the family moved to Pensacola, Florida where he grew up a high school sports star. The six foot one switch hitting Lewis was originally signed by the Detroit Tigers in 1959, but was soon sent over to the St. Louis Cardinals.

With the Cards, he roomed with Bill White who helped tutor Lewis on opposing pitchers. The right handed corner outfielder appeared in 40 games for the 1964 World Champion Cardinals batting .234 with two HRs & seven RBIs. He didn’t see any action in the Cardinals World Series win. In December 1964 he was traded along with Gordie Richardson to the New York Mets for infielder Elio Chacon and pitcher Tracy Stallard.

In 1965 Lewis became a standout player on a bad ball club. He was the teams main center fielder mostly batting at the top of the order. He had a strong throwing arm which earned him the name "the gunner". He led the club in games played (148) walks (59) stolen bases (4) on base percentage (.331) & runs scored (64). Overall he hit a career best batting .245 with 15 HRs 15 doubles 3 triples & 45 RBIs while striking out 117 times.

Lewis debuted on Opening Day 1965 driving in the only Mets run in a 6-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. On April 20th he was the hitting star in Los Angeles as he singled in the top of the 9th inning scoring Ed Kranepool & Billy Cowan to put the Mets up 3-0. The Dodgers would score two runs in the bottom of the 9th but fall short 3-2.

In early April in a game vs. the Houston Astros at Shea Stadium, Lewis started the third triple play in Mets history. He caught a Jimmy Wynn (the toy cannon) fly ball & threw out the runner at home. Next, catcher Chris Cannizzaro then threw to shortstop Roy McMillan nailing the runner on second.

In back to back May games against the Cincinnati Reds, he hit HRs & drove in two runs in each game, both leading the Mets to victories. Also that month, he hit three HRs in a week, including a three run shot against the Phillies in Philadelphia, leading New York to a 4-1 win. In the month of May he hit 6 HRs with 17 RBIs hitting safely in 19 of thirty games.

Spoiling a No Hitter, Walk Off Style: On June 14, at Shea Stadium he had his most famous day as a New York Met. The Cincinnati Reds pitcher; Jim Maloney, had thrown nine no hit innings against the Mets, but the Reds had failed to score & the game was a scoreless tie through 9 1/2 innings. 

In the bottom of the 10th inning, Lewis spoiled Maloney's no hit bid, by blasting a walk off HR over the Shea Stadium fence, for a 1-0 game winning thriller.

Quotes: Johnny Lewis- “He did get the ball out over the plate on me, but I want to tell you I’m not sure I saw the pitch. All I know is that it was a fastball. In my entire career, I never saw any fastballs like he threw in this game.”

In the first two weeks of July he hit three HRs driving in runs in six of eleven games. Lewis had another big day on July 29th at Wrigley Field. He collected four hits, while blasting two HRs with four RBIs, as the Mets walloped the Cubs 14-0 in the first of a twin bill.

In the final two months of the season he only hit one HR & drove in just eight runs. He also struck out 117 times on the season (10th most in the NL). As he slumped the Mets encouraged him to wear glasses.

In the outfield he made 14 assists (3rd most in the NL) with five errors (5th in the NL) posting a .975 fielding %. Lewis became a popular player around Shea Stadium in 1965, but unfortunately his fame didn’t last too long.

In 1966, he struggled, although one highlight was hitting a late game HR off Dodger Rookie & future Hall of Famer; Don Sutton. The HR tied the game which the Met went to win 7-6. 

Lewis was batting just .209 with 5 HRs at the end of June when he was sent down to AAA Jacksonville. There he hit 13 HRs, batting .286 while returning to the big league club as a September call up. On the season, Louis was limited to only 65 games batting .193 with 5 HRs & 20 RBIs.

In 1967 he came up to the club at the end of May, batting only .118 (4-34) in 13 games and was back at AAA Jacksonville by mid June where he only hit .218. He played one more season in the minors before ending his playing career at age 29. In his four year career he batted .227 with 175 hits 22 HRs 24 doubles 6 triples eight stolen bases a .313 on base % & 74 RBIs.

Retirement: After his playing days he spent 29 years in the St. Louis Cardinal organization, as sales assistant, promotions director, coordinator of player development, scout & coach. He also managed in the minors for three seasons.

He was also a coach on the Cardinals from 1973-1976 under Red Schoendienst and then again from 1985-1989 under Whitey Herzog. In the 2000s he worked in the Houston Astros organization.

By 2011 he was retired living in Cantonment, Florida.

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