Nov 29, 2019

Howard Johnson "Hojo": (Part 2) The Nineties & Beyond

In 1990 Howard Johnson doubled his salary, earning one point six million dollars & with that, the expectations for him were very high. He hit a HR on Opening Day but finished April at .252 with just four HRs.

He began May with HRs in back to back games, & hit a third two days later, but didn't do too much more the rest  of the month. That June, he had one of his best games, having his first career five-RBI game. That day he also hit a grand slam HR in a 15-10 Mets win over the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.

On June 26th in St. Louis, his double in the top of the 10th inning, off reliever Ken Dayley broke the tie & turned out to be the Mets game winning runs.

When Kevin Elster went down at short stop with injury, Hojo moved into the position for the last two months of the season. On August 31st he drove in the winning run off Steve Bedrosian to beat the San Francisco Giants. In September he hit three HRs & drove in 14 runs as the Mets finished the season in second place, four games behind the Pittsburgh Pirates.

In 1990 he played 154 games, stealing 34 bases with 37 doubles (fourth in the NL) & 90 RBIs, but his HR production fell to 23 HRs and he hit just.244 with a .319 on base %. His 63 extra base hits were sixth in the league & his nine sac flies were 8th most. On the field he led the league in errors for the first of two straight seasons & struck out 100 times.

Trivia: Between 1987 and 1991, Howard Johnson hit 157 HRs. Only his Mets team mate Darryl Strawberry, along with Mark McGwire & Jose Canseco hit more HRs during that period.

In 1991 the Mets faded off to a fifth place finish & there wasn't too much left over from the '86 Championship team. Just six other players besides Johnson had been around that long & the face of the organization was certainly different.

Hojo returned starting out a bit slow in April, batting just .211 although he did hit fur HRs. On May 4th he hit a walk off HR off Mike Lacoss to beat the San Francisco Giants 4-3 at Shea Stadium. A week later he hit another HR off Lacoss in a 4-2 Mets win at San Francisco.

At the end of May he drove in runs in nine of twelve games & had 11 HRs for the season. In June he picked up his pace, as he hit six HRs in the month & passed Dave Kingman going into second place on the Mets all time HR list.

On June 8th, he won a game in Houston with a top of the 11th inning HR off Mike Capel. On June 18th Hojo hit a grand slam off the Reds Tom Browning at Shea Stadium. 

1991 All Star: Midway through at the All Star break, Hojo had 19 HRs with 63 RBIs & was voted to his second midsummer classic.

In August he hit six HRs, topped off by hitting a pair of long balls on May 31st in Cincinnati. That day he drove in three runs leading to the Mets 8-7 win. He finished out the year with a fantastic September, hitting 10 HRs with 28 RBIs, earning him his second National League Player of the Month award. He was one of the very few bright spots for a lowly Mets team.

It was possibly his best season of all, as for the first time in history a Mets player led the league in both HRs (38)& RBIs (117). Not only that but he is also the only Met to have ever have led the league in the RBI category. He also became the only player besides Barry Bonds to join the 30-30 club in three different seasons.

Hojo scored 108 runs, which tied a Mets club record, hitting 34 doubles while stealing 34 bases. He posted a .342 on base % & hit .259, while finishing fifth in the league's MVP voting. He was so bad in the infield that, that season he began to play some outfield (30 games).

In the off season, the Mets went out & bought a bunch of high priced free agents that all would pretty much all fail, especially as a team together. As the team went down strangely so did Johnson. 

In 100 games he hit only seven HRs with 43 RBIs batting a lowly .223 his worst average of his Mets career. Johnson's only bright spot was when he passed Ted Simmons for the N.L record with most HRs by a switch hitter (183).

The next year (1993) was even worse for him, as injuries limited him to 72 games and at age 32 he seemed washed up. The Mets let him go to free agency & he moved on, signing a one year deal in Colorado with the Rockies.

All Time Mets Leader Board: In his nine year Mets career, Howard Johnson ranks high in many offensive categories. He is fourth all time on the Mets list in HRs (192) RBIs (629) runs scored (627) & walks (556).

Hojo is third in stolen bases (202) sac flies (50) & strike outs (827). He is fifth in doubles (214). He is seventh in Mets games played (1154) tenth in hits (997)  & has posted a .251 batting average.

In 1994, Johnson signed with the Colorado Rockies & in the strike shortened year he batted a career low .211. He signed with the Chicago Cubs in 1995 hit only .195 and retired at age 35.

After a 14 year career he had batted .249 with 1229 hits 228 HRs 247 doubles 231 stolen bases 692 walks & a .340 on base % in 1531 games played.

With his glove he made 163 errors on the field. He played 1031 games at third base (98th all time) posting a .929 fielding %. Johnson played 273 games at short, 217 games in the outfield eight games at second & five games at first base.

Retirement: In 2001 Johnson was named the batting coach of the Mets' new minor league A ball team, the Brooklyn Cyclones. He became their manager the following season. He was then the hitting coach for the St. Lucie Mets, winning the Florida State championship in 2003. The next year he moved up to the AA Binghamton Mets. 

In 2005 he was the Norfolk Tides batting instructor & had the team hitting their best in six years. In 2007, he returned to New York as the Mets first base coach and eventually became their hitting coach in 2008. He served two years in that capacity but was not asked back in 2010 although he still was working in the organization.

Hojo joined the Seattle Mariners organization in 2013, starting out as coach for AAA Tacoma. In 2014, he became the Seattle Mariners hitting coach under Manager Lloyd McClendon. In 2015 he was replaced by Edgar Martinez

From there he was A ball coach for the Eastwood Ducks (2017) then the AAA Round Rock Express (2018) & the AAA Nashville Sounds (2019). 

Honors: He remains a popular Mets figure & was on hand for many of the recent team celebrations. He was on hand at the 20th & 30th anniversaries of the 1986 team in 2006 & 2016. He was also at the closing ceremonies of Shea Stadium in 2008.

Family: Johnson & his wife have three children. His daughter Shannon is a figure skating coach in Florida & his son Glen plays pro baseball. He was offered a contract by the Mets in 2007 being drafted in the 37th round but did not sign.

In 2011 at age 50 HoJo returned to pro ball, playing two minor league games with his son for the Rockland Boulders.

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