Nov 30, 2018

Remembering Mets History (1998) The Mets Catching Problem Before the Arrival Of Mike Piazza

1998 was the start of a good point in Mets history, with even better days to come in the near future as the club would make two consecutive post season appearances for the first time in franchise history in the next two years. When the Bobby Valentine era began in 1997, there were signs of good things to come. That year the Mets won 88 games, the most wins they had had in seven years & also the first time they were over .500 since 1990.

On May 22nd, 1998 Mike Piazza arrived & the Mets had their second team Hall of Famer. A superstar player who would get the team to the World Series two seasons later. But before the greatest hitting catcher of All Time arrived, the Mets were in turmoil at the catchers position.

Todd Hundley the Mets All Star catcher, had the position locked up since 1992. Two years prior (1996) he set the All Time HR mark by a catcher, as well as a Mets single season HR record with 41 round trippers. Hundley became a celebrity in the Big Apple, appearing on Saturday Night Live & enjoying the night life, something that didn't sit well with his managers.

Toward the end of the 1997 season, Hundley underwent reconstructive elbow surgery & wasn't ready to start the 1998 season. Before Piazza arrived on May 22nd, the Mets used five different catchers in the first 44 games of the season, with Piazza being #6 upon his arrival in the 45th game. Here's a look at who was behind the plate in 1998......................

Jim Tatum would play four games a catcher, getting one start. He would play in 35 games with the '98 Mets at the end of his five year career. He hit just .180 with 2 HRs & 13 RBIs.

Rick Wilkins was a veteran catcher who had played seven years in the majors, mostly with the Chicago Cubs (1991-1995). Houston Astros (1995) San Francisco Giants (1996-1997) & Seattle Mariners  (1998-1998). He was came to the Mets for minor leaguer Lindsay Gulin on May 8th, to help out the catcher situation. Wilkins would play in just five games for the Met, four full games, getting two hits & RBI in 15 at bats.

Alberto Castillo had been with the Mets since 1995, seeing limited action through the years. On Opening Day 1998, he drove in the game winning run, in a 1-0 Mets, 14 inning victory at Shea Stadium over the Phillies. Castillo saw the majority of time, with action in 26 of those first 44 games, but clearly he wasn't the answer. In 38 total games with New York that year he hit .205 with 2 HRs & 7 RBIs. On a positive note he threw out 54% of would be base stealers (15 0f 28). He was granted free agency at the end of the season.

Tim Spehr was in the Mets minors & would also see lots of playing time before Piazza's arrival, including being the starting catcher on Opening Day. But in 28 games he batted just .137 with three RBIs. He threw out 7 of 12 base runners trying to steal, 37%  a bit better than the league average. By the end of August he was gone too, getting purchased by the Kansas City Royals.

Todd Pratt would get two starts at catcher in early May, he would hit a three run HR in his first& have a three run triple the next day as well. Pratt would emerge as the best of the bunch, becoming Piazza's back up catcher the next year & forever being remembered for his walk off HR, in the NLDS over the Arizona Diamondbacks, advancing the team to the NLCS. In 1998 he batted .275 with 2 HRs 9 doubles 7 18 RBIs in 41 games.

Todd Hundley would return in July but only see two games behind the plate. The Mets experimented with him in the outfield but that didn't work out, in December he was traded to the Dodgers for Roger Cedeno & Charles Johnson.

Jorge Fabregas would come over on the July 31st trade deadline in exchange for Nelson Figueroa & Bernard Gilkey.

Remembering Mets History: (1996) Mets Fire Dallas Green & Hire Bobby Valentine As Manager

August 26th, 1996: On this day the Mets VP Joe McIlvane fired Mets manager; the 62 year old Dallas Green.

Quotes: Joe McIlvane: ''We haven't done as well as we anticipated. Progress has been slower than expected. Our hope with this change is the younger players will begin to blossom some more, to come up to that major league level, to begin to make more significant contributions."

Green had taken over as manager of the New York Mets, in May 1993 replacing Jeff Torborg who had taken the club to a 13-25 record. When Green took over the Mets went 46-78 the rest of the way finishing in last place. In the strike shortened 1994 season, the Mets finished third (55-58) in the newly aligned division. In 1995 they finished below .500 once again (69-75) but did end up in second place. In 1996 the club was in fourth place (59-72) at the time of Dallas Green's firing. 

Green, the oldest manager in the NL at the time, was an harsh old school type of manager who was labled as having with no patience for young players.

He criticized young Mets "Generation K" pitchers Jason Isringhausen & Paul Wilson publicly saying he didn't feel they even belonged in the major leagues. This was looked at by the players & organization as a betrayal to the team.

Quotes: Green said the next day: ''We got rid of all the bad stuff and truthfully that's what I've been. I've been the damage-control guy. I go in their and clean up the bad stuff and then I get fired. That's just where I am in baseball and I understand that. That's the way the game is. I'm proud to have helped the Mets through some troubled times and get them on what I think is the right track.''

Green had been in baseball for over forty years, starting out with the Philadelphia Phillies as a pitcher. He would manage the Phils (1979-1981)  taking them to their first World Series title in 1980. He served as the clubs GM after that & then did one year as manager of the A.L. New York club.

The Mets hired Bobby Valentine as the new manager ushering in the "Bobby V" Era. Valentine would be the teams fifth manager in the past seven seasons.

The Valentine era would certainly be a successful, as the club went to two straight post seasons for the first & only time in team history in 199 & 2000.

Valentine brought the Mets to their first World Series since 1986 & the first New York Subway World Series since 1956. He also took the club to it's first Wild Card title as well.

On this date the Mets also promoted Bob Apodaca to pitching coach. Apodaca had pitched for the Mets in the 1970's but had a bright career ruined by arm troubles. He had been pitching coach at AAA Norfolk under Manager Bobby Valentine.

An Original 1962 Mets Player: Gus Bell (1962) & His Baseball Family

David Russell Bell was born on November 15, 1928 in Louisville, Kentucky. The six foot left handed hitting Bell became known as Gus, in honor of Italian / American catcher Gus Mancusco. 

Gus Bell was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1947. He hit .325 at A ball Albany in 1949, followed by a huge start to his minor league season in 1950. He was batting over .400 with 6 HRs after 38 games when he got the call up to the big leagues. 

He batted behind Pirate slugger & future Mets announcer Ralph Kiner for three seasons. In his rookie year, Bell hit .282 with 8 HRs & 22 doubles. In 1951 he had his best season in Pittsburgh as he led the league in triples (12) hit 16 HRs & batted .278 while driving in 89 runs with a .330 on base %.

On June 12th he hit for the cycle in the first game of a double header against the Philadelphia Phillies. After the season he was sent to the Cincinnati Reds for Cal Abrams, Gil Henley & Joe Rossi.

He was thrilled to return to his hometown area, near Louisville as a local star. He had some good seasons in nine years at Cincinnati playing in the shadows of Reds sluggers Ted Kuzewski & Frank Robinson. 

In Bell's first year in Cincinnati he had a career high 30 HRs (7th in the league) with 37 doubles (5th in the league) & 105 RBIs while batting .300 for the sixth place Reds. it was the first of three straight seasons he drove in over 100 runs. He would make his first two All Star games in 1953 & 1954. 

Bell would have three seasons where he hit 20 or more HRs, as well as four seasons with 100 plus RBIs, coming in the league’s top ten in both categories three times. Besides hitting .300 twice he hit over .290 four more times with the Reds, as well as having two 100 plus runs scored seasons.

Gus Bell made four All Star teams and was one of the league’s top players during his years. He led all centerfielders in fielding % twice & when he played in right field he led right fielders in fielding twice as well. 

His arm got him double figures in assists eight times including a high of 18 in 1951. In 1955 he batted .308 with 188 hits (third in the league) with 27 HRs (10th in the NL) 30 doubles (5th in the NL) & 108 RBIs (10th in the NL) posting a .361 on base %. 

On May 26th, 1956 he hit HRs in three consecutive at bats in a game at Wrigley Field against the Chicago Cubs. That day Bell along with team mates Ted Kluzewski & Bob Thurman became just the second set of players from the same team, to hit three HRs in a single game. That day Bell had five hits with seven RBIs in the 10-4 win.  

Later that year, on September 21st he drove in eight runs in a 14-5 win over the Milwaukee Braves. That day he gathered up four hits with a grand slam HR, a double & a walk. Bell made the 1956 All Star team, as the starting centerfielder going 0-1 in the NL's 7-3 win. 

In 1957 he was included with six other Reds players that made the All Star team. The Reds fans were accused of stuffing the ballot boxes illegally with their votes. Bell remained on the All Star team as a reserve player, although his team mate Wally Post was removed completely from the roster. 
Bell entered the '57 All Star game as a pinch hitter for Frank Robinson in the 7th inning. He singled off future Hall of Fame pitcher Early Wynn, driving in Willie Mays and Ed Bailey in the 6-5 NL loss.

Over the next few years his numbers fell off, although he did drive in 115 runs in 1959, his fourth season with over 100 plus RBIs.

For the 1961 NL Champion Reds he played in 108 games, with 235 at bats as his career began to wind down at age 32. He hit .255 with 3 HRs 10 doubles & 33 RBIs as a back up to outfielders to Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson & Wally Post.

Post Season: In the '61 World Series he went 0-3 as a pinch hitter.

In the off season, although he was way past his prime, he was chosen as the eighth pick by the New York Mets in the 1961 expansion draft. He became an original Met, batting in the fifth position playing right field in the teams inaugural 1962 Opening Day lineup. 

He made Mets history getting the first franchise hit, a single in the 2nd inning at St. Louis, off pitcher Larry Jackson. On April 17, 1962 he hit his only Mets career HR, it came against the Houston Colt 45’s in the Polo Grounds. Bell would only play just 30 games in New York, batting only .149 (15-141) with 1 HR, two doubles, ten walks, & six RBIs while scoring eight runs. 

On May 21st, he was sent to the Milwaukee Braves as the player to be named later for Frank Thomas. He returned back to the Polo Grounds with the Braves in late June for a three game series. On June 20th in the first game of a double header, he hit a three run HR off Mets pitcher Ray Daviault, leading his team to the win. He finished his playing career in 1964 at age 35.

Retirement: After 15 seasons he batted .281 with 1823 hits, 206 HRs, 311 doubles, 66 triples, a .330 on base % & 942 RBIs. In the outfield he posted a .985 fielding % with 57 assists (94th all time). 

Family: Gus Bell is the first in a long line of family members to play baseball. His son is long time player & MLB manager Buddy Bell, who was born during his dads second season playing with the Pirates in Pittsburgh. 

In 18 seasons Buddy Bell made five All Star Teams & won six Gold Gloves at third base. Buddy played for the Cleveland Indians as one of the teams few stars during a dreary era in Cleveland (1972-1978) Texas Rangers (1979-1985/ 1989) Cincinnati Reds under manger Pete Rose (1985-1988) & Houston Astros(1988). 

In 2405 career games (85th all time) Buddy Bell batted .279 with 2514 hits (99th all time) 201 HRs 425 doubles (145th all time) 56 triples 836 walks, 1151 runs scored & 1106 RBIs (208th all time) 80 sac flies (93rd all time) with 8995 at bats (75th all time) a .341 on base %.

He played 2183 career games at third base (7th all time) winning six straight gold gloves, leading the league in fielding % three times, turning 430 career double plays (6th all time).

After his playing career Buddy was a coach for both the Reds & Indians. He then managed the Detroit Tigers (1996-1998) & Kansas City Royals (2002-2007).

Family: Gus Bell's grandson is former MLB infielder David Bell, who played 12 seasons with the Cleveland Indians (1995 / 1998) St. Louis Cards (1995-1998) Seattle Mariners (1998-2001) San Francisco Giants (2002) Philadelphia Phillies (2003-2006) & Milwaukee Brewers (2006) batting .257 with 123 HRs & 589 RBIs in 1403 games.

He played in three post seasons getting to a World Series with the Giants in 2002. He has been the St. Louis Cardinals bench coach from 2015-2017.

His other grandson Mike Bell played briefly (2000) with the Reds.

Passing & Honors: Gus Bell passed away at age 67 in Montgomery, Ohio. Every year, the Gus Bell Celebrity Golf Tournament is held in his honor in the Cincinnati area.

Proceeds benefit the Down Syndrome Association, his granddaughter Traci, to whom he was very close, suffers from Down Syndrome.

Nov 29, 2018

Remembering Mets History: (1991) Howard Johnson Leads the NL in HRs & RBIs

The 1990 Mets had finished in second place once again, winning ninety games (91-71) once again as well. But for the second straight year & the fifth time in time in seven years they finished in second place. That cost Manager Davey Johnson his job, as he was replaced by long time Mets favorite Bud Harrelson. Harrelson would fare much worse as the 1991 club fell to 77-84 fifth place finish, the teams worst since 1983. Harrelson would be replaced by Mike Cubbage at the end of the season as well.

These Mets were different than the power hitting team of the mid to late eighties. Howard Johnson was the sole slugger left, as Kevin McReynolds on the down side of his career would hit 16 HRs & Hubbie Brooks, doing his second time around as a Met also hit 16 HRs. These three hitters would be the only Mets to hit double figures in HRs. Darryl Strawberry had left New York for Los Angeles & was the only the second Mets player who had ever led the league in HRs. Dave Kingman did it first with 37 HRs in 1982.

In 1991 Howard Johnson would be one of the few bright spots on the New York Mets. In the sixth game of the season, the last on a 4-2 Mets home stand, Hojo hit his first HR of the year. The next day, Hojo helped David Cone to his first win of the year, as he first  had a two run single later followed by a two run HR in the 9th inning. He would close out April with four HRs batting just .211.

In May, Johnson started out with a May 4th walk off HR against Mike Lacoss & the San Francisco Giants. Two days later, in Darryl Strawberry's debut at Shea as a Dodger, Hojo homered again helping the Mets in a close 6-5 win. Strawberry also homered in his Shea return.

Hojo would then homer in back to back games in San Francisco as he totaled four HRs with 10 RBIs in the first two weeks of May. He would belt three more HRs that month, including a May 27th, 8th inning HR at Wrigley Field which was the game winner in a 2-1 contest.

On June 11th, he hit another game winner, this one in the top of the 11th inning off Mike Capel in Houston beating the Astros 4-3. Hojo would hit HRs in back to back games on a road trip to Cincinnati, he would hit six HRs in June.

As July began he started out the month with back to back HR games in Montreal, both Mets wins. On July 3rd he helped lead the Mets to a 4-0 shut out win, it was the last win Ron Darling would record as a Mets pitcher. Hojo  would enter the All Star break with 19 HRs & 63 RBIs, making his second All Star team. He went 0-2 in the game playing from the 6th inning on.

As the season rolled on, the Mets losses mounted & most of Johnson's HRs in August came during Mets losses. On August 31st he had a big day in Cincinnati, where he hit two HRs driving in three runs in the Mets 8-7 win.

September would be Hojo's biggest month of the year as he went on to win the NL Player of the Month Award. Unfortunately, the Mets were not in any pennant race, he hit ten HRs drove in 31 runs, passing the 100 RBI mark for the second time in his career.

He closed out the Cincinnati road trip with another HR & three RBIs on September 1st. On September 4th, he had just his second multi HR game of the year, getting him to pass the 30 HR mark on the season as well. It was his third 30 plus HR season.

Hojo hit another the next day & another the next week. On September 13th he homered driving in two runs leading the Mets to a 4-2 win. He would also lead the Mets to a 3-2 win against Montreal four days later hitting a two run HR.

On October 1st, he stole his 30th base of the season , joining the 30 30 club for the third time in his career. He is just one of five players ever to accomplish that feat.

Johnson ended the year leading the league in HRs (37) RBIs (117) extra base hits (76) & sac flies (15). He was second in slugging % (.535), runs scored (108), at bats per HRs (14.8).

Back issues would haunt Howard Johnson & he would never have another season as he did in 1991. The next year he would play in 100 games hitting just seven HRs. The next year he hit seven more HRs but played in just 72 games. That year he was let go to free agency going to the Colorado Rockies & then the Chicago Cubs in 1995. He then retired at age 34 with 228 career HRs. 

Mets 1978 N.L. ERA Leader: Craig Swan (1973-1984)

Craig Steven Swan was born on November 30, 1950 in Van Nuys, California. He was drafted at age 17, but chose to attend Arizona State University instead. There he was a top pitcher, setting a record in the 1972 College World Series allowing only one run over 18 innings pitched.

The six foot three, right handed Swan, had a good moving fastball in the low nineties and a hard slider. He was selected by the New York Mets in the third round of the 1972 draft. He had a brief cup of coffee in September 1973, debuting on against the Philadelphia on September 2nd, where he gave up four earned runs on nine hits in four innings pitched.

His next outing went better, pitching two scoreless innings against the Chicago Cubs, two weeks later. He was with the club at the start of the 1974 season, having a great day on May 11th. At the plate he had three hits, driving in a run, scoring another while pitching six shutout innings to earn his first career win. In June he broke his arm and missed the rest of the season finishing up at 1-3 with a 4.45 ERA. He returned to AAA Tidewater in 1975, and was named the International League MVP going 13-7 with a 2.24 ERA.

Swan made the 1976 Mets staff as their fifth starter, behind Tom Seaver, Jon Matlack, Jerry Koosman & veteran Mickey Lolich brought in from Detroit in the Rusty Staub trade. He lost his first decision then pitched a five hit complete game shutout in Atlanta to beat the Braves. He then beat the Big Red Machine in his next outing. He had a horrible May losing five straight decisions, and only won two more games the rest of the year.

He did have good stretch in June pitching into the 7th inning or beyond giving up two runs or less five different times. All he had to show for it were two wins, two losses and a no decision due to lack of run support. The no decision came during a 10 inning three hit shutout against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Over a stretch of three games he allowed just a single earned run in 26 innings (0.35 ERA) with 21 strikeouts. He finished the year 6-9 with a 3.54 ERA, 89 strikeouts in 132 innings pitched.

In 1977 he began the year with a 1-4 record, improving to .500 by the All Star break. His best month was July when he was 3-1, including pitching a three hit shutout against the eventual NL Champion Dodgers in Los Angeles. He finished the year at 9-10, the second most wins on the staff, with a 4.23 ERA & 71 strikeouts in 146 innings pitched, as the Mets sank to last place.

Swan began 1978 with a five hit shutout victory against the Chicago Cubs at Shea Stadium, in the 5th game of the season. Although he pitched well, he didn’t earn another victory until mid July. He had allowed two runs or less ten times, and had actually allowed no runs pitching into the 7th inning three different times. During that stretch he posted a 2.66 ERA going 1-5, but this was a Mets team that didn’t score many runs. 

He had a 13 strikeout performance on Independence Day, but gave up two 9th inning runs and took the 3-2 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies. He was one of the very few bright spots for the Mets in the summer of ’78, winning seven straight decisions during July & August. On August 15th he pitched a five hit victory at Shea against the San Diego Padres, where he allowed no earaned runs. When he faced the Padres in San Diego on the next road trip he beat Gaylord Perry in a 2-1 pitcher's duel allowing just five hits.

Although he lost to the NL Champion Los Angeles Dodgers on August 20th at Shea, he struck out ten batters. He won eight of his last nine games, posting the league’s best ERA. On September 16th, he allowed one run and three hits over nine innings but again got no decision.

He finished the season leading the National League in ERA (2.43) posting a 9-6 record, pitching in 207 innings and striking out 125 batters. He pitched well at home, posting a 1.67 ERA at Shea Stadium, with a 5-2 record.

Swan was the Mets 1979 Opening Day starter & earned the win in a wild 10-6 win at Wrigley Field. In his next start he allowed just one earned run in nine innings pitched against the Expos but go no decision. On April 25th at Shea Stadium, he tossed a two hit shutout against the San Francisco Giants walking only one batter.

In June he won three straight games, allowing only three runs over three straight complete games. In San Francisco he tossed another shut out against the Giants, this time a six hitter with seven strike outs on July 25th. He won his first three games in August, then suffered four losing decisions.

He finished off the season with two victories at the end of September, giving him 14 wins on the year. That total was more than any of his two team mates combined in that dismal season. He averaged two walks every nine innings which was one of the league's best ratios as well.

For 1979 he led the staff in ERA (3.29) wins (14) strike outs (145) shut outs (3) complete games (10) innings pitched (251) starts (35) as well as HRs, hits & runs allowed. His numbers were pretty much all career bests as by now he had developed into a mature pitcher. In the off season, he became the highest paid Mets pitcher in history signing a large contract that got him $560,000 for the 1980 season.

On Opening Day 1980 he beat the Chicago Cubs at Shea Stadium, with a lineup of Frank Tavares, Eliot Maddox, Lee Mazzilli, Steve Henderson, Mike Jorgenson, Jerry Morales, John Stearns & Doug Flynn behind him. On May 9th he beat the Expos in Montreal allowing just one run on three hits. On May 25th he beat the Atlanta Braves throwing another three hitter, this time a shut out performance.

By mid-June he was 5-4 with a 2.21 ERA on another bad hitting team. After losing his next four decisions, he was placed on the disabled list in what turned out to be a torn rotator cuff. He made two more starts pitched poorly & was done for the season by mid August. He went 5-9 with a 3.58 ERA, pitching 128 innings striking out 79 batters & walking 30.

He started out pitching in 1981 but went down again, missing most of the season, appearing in only five games. In one freak accident he fractured a rib, when he was hit by a throw from John Stearns trying to nail a base runner. He really should be recognized for the amazing accomplishment of being maybe the first pitcher to successfully come back from rotator cuff surgery.

After suffering a loss on April 12th, he earned a win pitching one inning of relief on April 21st at Shea Stadium. By June he was back in the starting rotation, winning his first two starts in the month. After two early season starts he spent some time in the bullpen, earning a save and posting a 1.30 ERA in relief. On August 4th, the day Joel Youngblood made history driving in the winning run for two different teams, Swan hit his only major league HR.  

In September as the Mets were on their way to lose 97 games, Swan won four of his five starts, with a complete game in his final start.

In 1982 he was second for the Comeback Player of the Year Award, leading the team with 11 wins (11-7) with a .611 winning %, pitching in 37 games, 166 innings, 67 strikeouts & a 3.35 ERA. During Spring Training the next season, he Swan felt something pop in his arm but he pitched through the injury.

He pitched the second game of the season after Tom Seavers Opening Day return to New York, and beat Philadelphia 6-2. His arm trouble affected his throwing as he only won one more game on the year, going 2-8 with a 5.51 ERA.

In 1984, while the Mets were competing for the title, Swan managed only ten awful relief appearances before being released on May 9th. The Angels signed him two weeks later but after two bad appearances he was through.

After a 12 season career, he finished up Lifetime 59-72 with seven saves, 673 strikeouts and a 3.74 ERA in 1235 innings pitched. He has that one ERA title to his credit as well.

All Time Mets Leader Board: Swan is 13th on the Mets all time list in victories (59) 11th in shut outs (7) 9th in complete games (25) & starts (184). Swan is 8th in innings (1230) & losses (71). He is 12th in Strike outs (671)

Retirement: As Swan was recovering from rotator cuff surgery he discovered the technique of Rolfing. It helped strengthen his muscles back into shape. He enrolled in the Rolfe institute in Boulder Colorado and went into the practice. His office is located in Greenwich Connecticut and his son has now joined his staff.

Swan now lives in the Riverside section of Greenwich, Connecticut. Among the patients he has helped, is former team mate, Hall of Famer Tom Seaver. Years ago, Swannie lost millions of dollars in bad investments, and credits Fred Wilpon in helping get his daughter into the University of Michigan.

2006 N.L. Eastern Champion Mets Reliever: Aaron Heilman (2003-2008)

Aaron Michael Heilman was born November 11, 1978 in Logansport, Indiana. The tall six foot five right hander was a star pitcher at his Logansport high school. He was the team MVP leading the school to two regional titles.

He attended the University of Notre Dame majoring in management information as well as philosophy. He was drafted by the New York Mets in the 18th round of the 2001 draft. He pitched just seven games at A ball St. Lucie in 2001 getting to AA & AAA the next year. In 2003 he was 6-4 getting promoted to the Mets staff a bit too soon.

Then the team hyped him up as the starter of the future and none of this ever worked out. He made his big league debut on June 26th at Shea Stadium taking a 6-1 loss to the Florida Marlins although he only allowed one earned run. He took another loss before getting his first win on July 21st against the Philadelphia Phillies. He went 2-7 in his first season, with a 6.74 ERA in 65 innings pitched.

The next season he spent fine tuning himself at AAA Norfolk going 7-10 with a 4.12 ERA, before getting a late August call up. In his first game the San Diego Padres knocked him out in the 4th inning as he took a loss allowing four runs. He went 1-3 the rest of the way, posting a 5.57 ERA.

In 2005 he pitched the fifth game of the season getting beat by the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. He got a surprise start in place of a scratched Kris Benson on April 15th against the Florida Marlins, pitching the game of his life throwing a one hit shutout while striking out seven. There was hope he may have finally come into his own, but it was short lived. He went 2-2 with a 4.37 ERA, with two no decisions as a starter before getting sent to the bullpen as a reliever in May.

He didn’t like the move & complained about it at first. But then things worked out for a while, he posted a 2.14 ERA in relief, posting the best ERA in the NL after the All Star break at 0.68. He earned five saves, striking out 106 batters in 106 innings.

In 2006 he was on a bullpen staff with a lot of good pitchers. In the first two months of the year he was credited with nine holds and two blown saves. In June he was credited with five more holds, but blew three saves & took a loss. The fans got restless & they were getting fed up with his walks (28) & HRs allowed (5).

On May 29th he blew a two run lead at Shea against Arizona giving up a three run HR to Chad Tracy. He was bailed out on David Wrights walk off base hit in the 9th. In June he blew two saves in interleague play, one against the Baltimore Orioles & the other against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. On the year he was credited with 26 holds and went 4-5 with a 3.62 ERA. In 87 innings he struck out a lot less batters than he had in the past (73).

2006 Post Season: In the NLDS he pitched in three games against the Los Angeles Dodgers allowing one run in three innings. 

2006 NLCS Disaster: In the NLCS he will forever be remembered for One fatal pitch, The biggest HR he ever allowed. It came against the St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina in the top of the 9th inning of Game #7.

It was what turned out to be the game winning run & Series clincher. Molina had hit just six HRs & batted .216 all season in 417 at bats. Overall in that post season Heilman allowed three runs in seven innings pitched. His fate was sealed as he heard boos, especially from me for the rest of his time in New York.

In 2007 he went 7-7 with a 3.03 ERA, allowing 8 HRs with 20 walks in 86 innings (63 strike outs).On June 6th he blew a Mets 2-0 lead against the Phillies at Shea Stadium allowing a three run HR to Jimmy Rollins, as he took the loss.

On August 16th he allowed three runs & six hits in two innings of relief at Pittsburgh taking his 5th loss of the year. He pitched a bit better only blowing one more save the rest of the way.

In 2008 manager Jerry Manuel attempted to make him the teams closer when Billy Wagner went down for the season. Heilman was terrible he blew five saves, went 3-8 with a 5.21 ERA on the year while allowing a career high 10 HRs. On May 30th he gave up five runs to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 8th inning blowing the lead & losing the game. On August 11th he blew a 9th inning save, against the Pittsburgh Pirates, allowing two hits & a walk before exiting to a tie game. Scott Schoenweiss came in & gave up a two run single sealing the loss.

On September 10th he allowed a 6th inning two run HR to Carlos Guzman tying the game and giving him his last blown save as a Mets pitcher. The only bright spots on his season was his 15 holds & 80 strike outs in 76 innings.

In December of 2008 the organization heard the fans boos, he was part of a three team, eleven player deal that sent him to the Seattle Mariners.
He was soon shipped to the Chicago Cubs where he went 4-4 with a 4.21 ERA in 2009. In 2010 he signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks going 5-8 while blowing eight save or win opportunities. On a positive note he did get credit for 12 holds.

In 2011 he was 4-1 but had an ERA of 6.88 and got released in mid July, as the Diamondbacks went to the post season without him. He signed with the Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, Seattle Nariners & Texas Rangers but was released by all teams.

In his nine year career he was 35-46 with 16 saves, 548 strike outs, 256 walks, 72 HRs  & a 4.40 ERA in 630 innings in 477 appearances.

Nov 28, 2018

1986 World Champion Mets Infielder: Howard Johnson- Part One (The Eighties)

Howard Michael Johnson known as "Hojo" was born on November 29, 1960 in Clearwater, Florida. The five foot eleven switch hitter was originally drafted as a first round, pitcher out of St. Petersburg College, by the Detroit Tigers in 1979.

In the minors he was converted into a third baseman due to bat & his strong arm. In his third minor league season he hit 22 HRs at AA Birmingham in 1981. In 1982 he hit 23 HRs while batting .317 stealing 35 bases at AAA Evansville earning a call up to the big leagues.

He came up to the Tigers in 1982 as a back up to Tom Brookens batting .316 with 4 HRs in 54 games. By 1984 he was being platooned with Brookens, starting out the year hot, driving in run in six of ten games in May. A strong June had him hit up at the .300 mark along with four HRs. But he tailed off as the year came to an end, and he saw less playing time in September after the Tigers rolled over the American League. Soon veterans Darrel Evans & Marty Castillo were getting more playing time, especially in the post season.

Hojo had 12 HRs 50 RBIs & batted .248 in 116 games, but only had one at bat going 0-1 in the post season as the Tigers won the World Series. After the season, he was traded to the New York Mets for pitcher Walt Terrell.

He arrived in New York as one of three third baseman, but Hubbie Brooks was quickly traded in a deal to acquire All Star catcher, Gary Carter. Hojo was the Mets starting third baseman on Opening Day1985, getting a hit & drawing an RBI walk in the 6-5 win over the St. Louis Cardinals. Hojo's debut went under noticed, since Carter was also making his debut & hit a walk off game winning HR.

Johnson struggled not getting above the .200 mark until July 4th, that month things got better for him. As Ray Knight struggled, hitting just .218 on the year, Johnson remained the teams main third baseman. He drove in 16 runs, raised his average thirty four points and hit four HRs. On August 3rd his top of the 10th inning HR in Chicago, off the Cubs George Frazier broke the 4-4 tie & was the game winner. On September 10th he hit a grand slam HR off the St. Louis Cardinals John Tudor, keeping New York in first place, one game up after the 5-4 win.

Three weeks later on September 29th, his three hit three RBI day, including a HR, helped the Mets beat the Pirates in Pittsburgh 9-7. Hojo hit, 242 with 11 HRs 18 doubles & 46 RBIs, posting a .300 on base %. For 1985 he played 126 games at third base posting a .941 fielding % making 15 errors in 253 chances.

In 1986 he started out well batting .357 in April. On April 24th Hojo hit a two run HR off St. Louis' Todd Worrell tying up the game in the top of the 9th inning. The Mets went on to beat the rival Cardinals 5-4 on George Fosters RBI base hit. From there he spent time on the DL miss most of the month of June.

Upon his return he struggled, losing his starting job at third base, to Ray Knight who would bat .298. On June 23rd he hit two HRs in a game against the Montreal Expos, even though the Mets lost 5-4. Johnson had only hit one HR going into mid June then went on a tear hitting 6 HRs during the next month.

One of his biggest blasts came during the legendary July 22nd game at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati. The Reds Eric Davis had slid hard into third base & Mets third baseman Ray Knight went crazy. He immediately took his glove off & threw a punch at Davis. A classic bench clearing brawl occurred as both dugouts & bull pen's emptied. Players were ejected & manager Davey Johnson had to fill spots on the field, including having pitcher Roger McDowell play outfield.

Johnson followed up with a three-run HR off Ted Power in the top of the 14th inning, which led to the Mets 6-3 victory. Hojo’s constant smile and good sense of humor was constant throughout the year.

He became Roger McDowell’s side kick in issuing the “hot foot” to Mets players in the dugout. The “Hot Foot” was when a matchbook was stuck with bubble gum to the back of a players shoe & lit on fire by either Johnson or McDowell.

This was demonstrated in the 1987 “Let’s Go Mets” video by Johnson & McDowell. He finished the 1986 Championship year batting .249 with 10 HRs 14 doubles, 39 RBIs & a .341 on base %.

Post Season: HoJo was shut out in the postseason, going 0-for-7 in the four games he played in. His only start was Game #2 of the 1986 World Series when he went 0-for-4 in the Mets loss. His only other at bat in the series was in Game #6 when he struck out in the ninth inning.

Trivia: Hojo goes down in Mets history as the first Met to greet Ray Knight at home plate as he scored the miraculous winning run in the classic World Series Game # 6.

At age 25 Johnson already had won his second World Series title. Ray Knight was gone after the World Series and Johnson became the Mets regular third baseman. He developed into one of the league’s top power hitters over the next two seasons. After a slow April, he went on a three month tear starting out with a five HR 15 RBI stretch from May 10th through May 20th. In June he had a stretch where he homered in three of four games & then three more HRs in three straight games the next week.

He had 20 HRs by the All Star break and in July he had a stretch of driving in six runs in a seven game span. From July 10th through July 16th he hit six HRs driving in eight runs. He started August with a grand slam in Montreal in the Mets 12-4 blowout win. During a thirteen-game span he had at least one RBI in all but one game. In mid August he homered in three straight games, driving in seven more runs in that span.

On August 31st he hit a top of the 10th inning HR off The Pares Keith Comstock for a game winning 6-5 Mets win in San Diego. Two days later his two run HR off Ed Whitson led New York to a 3-2 win, helping Dwight Gooden complete the three game sweep of the Padres. On September 21st he hit another grand slam, this one at Wrigley Field in Chicago helping the Mets to a big win. The win had the Mets keep pace with the Cardinals just 2 1/2 games back. They would fade away in the final week of the season & finish a very close second by just three games.

Hojo had always been a quick base runner as well. In the late eighties the trend became joining the & so called exclusive 30/30 club. Hojo did just that as he stole 32 bases & finished the year with 36 HRs (7th in the league). That year he set a HR record for NL switch hitters with his 36 HRs. He was overall a much a better hitter from the right side of the plate.

He had 99 RBIs, second on the club to Daryl Strawberry & tenth most in the league. He hit 22 doubles with 93 runs scored while posting a 3.64 on base percentage. He was now being recognized as a new Mets slugger as the careers of Gary Carter & Keith Hernandez were beginning to wind down. Johnson even earned 42 points in the MVP voting as well. The free swinging Hojo struck out 113 times (9th in the NL). It was the first in a five year stretch where he struck out over 100 times.

In 1988, Johnson’s numbers fell off, especially after he suffered a right shoulder injury. In April he batted just .171 with three HRs. On May 1st he helped Doc Gooden go to 6-0 as he hit a three run HR & drove in four of the Mets 11 runs in an 11-0 shutout. On June 2nd he hit a walk off HR against the Cubs Frank DiPino in the bottom of the 13th inning. In the final week of the month he hit four HRs & drove in runs in six of eight games. On June 29th he hit a bottom of the 9th inning HR at Shea Stadium, off the Pirates Jim Gott. The HR tied the game, in which the Mets went on to win in the bottom of the 13th.

He began July by driving in runs in the first four games of the month. hitting just .230 on the season. But he still showed some power with 24 HRs 24 doubles & 68 RBIs, setting a Mets record with 25 intentional walks. On August 27th, his first inning two run single, were the only runs Ron Darling needed in his 2-1 win over the San Francisco Giants Rick Reuschel. On September 8, 1988 at Wrigley Field he had the only five-hit game of his career, going 5-for-5 with a three-run HR & four RBIs.

As Johnson was struggling on the field, mostly due to his back issues, the Mets tried out the highly touted 21-year-old prospect, Gregg Jefferies at third base, Jeffries started out on a tear & had a hot September. The Mets clinched another NL Eastern title that season, as Johnson batted .230 with 24 HRs 21 doubles & 68 RBIs. He walked 86 times (fourth in the NL) posting another good on base % at .343%, while playing in 148 games.

Post Season: Johnson struggled in the 1988 NLCS going just 1-for-18 with six strikeouts. He did not help the Mets cause, in the losing effort to the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was benched in the final two games, with the exception of a Game #7 pinch hit role, where he struck out. Greg Jeffries played third base in both those games.

Trade rumors about Johnson were all over the news during that off season, but instead it was Wally Backman who got shipped out of New York. Jeffries took over second base & Johnson remained as the Mets third baseman. He would commit 24 errors at third, second most in the league in the position & fifth most out of all position players. Johnson committed a lot of errors in his career (163 overall), leading the league twice (1990-1991) & coming in the top four at third base four times.

Davey Johnson moved him up from sixth in the batting order to the number three spot in front of Daryl Strawberry in 1989. He responded by having an awesome year & the fact that he stayed healthy certainly was a difference. It began with a solo HR & three RBIs on Opening Day, as he helped New York beat the St. Louis Cardinals 8-4.

In May he hit HRs in back to back games at the start of the month, including a walk off HR against the Cincinnati Red's Rob Dibble. He went on a tear in June, as he hit 11 HRs driving in 24 runs, winning the NL Player of the Month award. He hit five HRs in the first eight games that month, and had a hitting streak where he hit safely in 16 of 18 games entering July.

That season he was name to his first All Star team & started at third base for the NL in the All-Star Game held in Anaheim. In his first at bat, he drove in a run with a single off Oakland's Dave Stewart. The AL won the game 5-3.

On August 20th he hit his 30th HR of the season & joined Bobby Bonds and Willie Mays as the only multi-year members of the 30-30 club. He hit five HRs in September but the Mets finished second that year, six games behind the Chicago Cubs.

He personally finished 1989 second in the NL with 36 HRs, (tying his career-high and his own NL record for switch hitters) He led the league with 104 runs scored, drove in 101 runs (4th in the league) hit 41 doubles which set a Mets club record & was third most in the league. Johnson stole 41 bases (4th in the NL) finishing fifth in the MVP voting.