Best Mets Of All Time: No. 20 Howard Johnson
While many expect this honor will one day go to Pete Alonso, and while you can make the case for Tommie Agee, especially with all that he meant to the 1969 Mets, the best Mets player to wear the number 20 was Howard Johnson.
HoJ0, as he was so lovingly called by Mets fans, came to the Mets via trade with the Detroit Tigers after the Tigers won the World Series. While he began his Mets career in 1985, it took him a few years to firmly establish himself. One of the reasons was his inconsistency, and another reason was Ray Knight standing in his way.
While his early Mets years may not have left much of an impression, Johnson would have some big moments. His first real big moment in a Mets uniform came in the infamous 1985 Fourth of July game against the Atlanta Braves. Johnson pinch hit for Rafael Santana in the top of the ninth, and he would come around to score the tying run setting off an epic game. Despite not starting that game, he was 3-for-5 with four runs, a walk, a homer, and an RBI.
In terms of HoJo, part of his story as a Met was his dominance over Todd Worrell. The dead red hitter just destroyed the closer hitting four homers off of him. The first of those homers came early in the 1986 season. In the opener of a four game set in St. Louis, Johnson homered off of Worrell in the ninth to tie the game. The Mets ultimately won the game and swept the series, which in some ways, all but wrapped up the NL East in 1986.
While HoJo was a utility player on that 1986 team, the Mets felt comfortable enough in his performance to allow the reigning World Series MVP Knight leave the team in free agency. It turned out to be the right decision as Johnson would make Major League history that year.
In 1987, Johnson would become the first ever switch hitter in Major League history to join the 30/30 club. To this date, he is the only switch hitter to reach this plateau twice. With Darryl Strawberry also joining the 30/30 club, Strawberry and Johnson became the only teammates in Major League history to go 30/30 in the same season.
During the 1988 season, Johnson played through some arm/shoulder issues which held him back a bit. Still, he would hit 24 homers marking a five year stretch where he would hit at least 20 homers. To date, he is the only Mets third baseman to accomplish that feat. Overall, Johnson was one of the reasons why the Mets did win the division for the second time in three years. In fact, his 25 intentional walks that year remains a Mets single season record.
That shoulder issue lingered into the 1989 season, but Johnson would soon get over it to have one of the great seasons in Mets history. In fact, according to that stats offensive WAR and OPS+, Johnson’s 1989 season was the best offensive season a Mets player ever had. In fact, it was a top 10 season any Mets player has ever had.
It was in this year Johnson became the first ever and only switch hitter and third baseman to have multiple 30/30 seasons. In that year, he would make his first All-Star team, win his first Silver Slugger, and he would finish fifth in the MVP voting. That marked the second time in three years he finished in the top 10.
By the time 1990 rolled around, we saw a pattern emerge where Johnson had a great season every other year, and in 1991, Johnson had another great season leading the National Leauge in homers and RBI. In fact, he’d become the first ever switch hitter to lead the National League in RBI.
He’d set the Mets single season record for sacrifice flies, and his 38 homers was the best mark in Mets history by anyone not named Strawberry. To this day, it remains the Mets third base record. At that time, the 38 homers were also a National League record for a switch hitter.
This would be the third time in his career where he had a 30/30 season. When he accomplished this feat, that was something only Bobby Bonds had accomplished. That made Johnson not only the first and only switch hitter to do this, but also the only infielder. It is a feat which has been since matched by Barry Bonds and Alfonso Soriano making Johnson one of only four people to ever do it.
For the second time in three years, Johnson was an All-Star, Silver Slugger, and top five in MVP voting. It was the third time in six years he was in the top 10 in MVP voting. That 1991 season was the last big year for Johnson.
After that, he would deal with injuries, and the Mets were moving him all over the diamond to try to shoehorn as much offense into the lineup as possible.
Johnson is now the eighth best position player in Mets history and the second best third baseman. He was passed by David Wright, a player he mentored in the minors. Johnson was also one of Wright’s first hitting coaches in the majors, and he would help Wright join him on the 30/30 club.
Johnson is on most of the Mets top 10 offensive lists. Notably, he is fourth in homers, RBI, and extra base hits. He is third in stolen bases. One of the last of his team records, single season extra base hits, was surpassed by Alonso this past year. However, as previously, noted Johnson still has the best single offensive season a Mets player ever had. That is why he is the best Mets player to ever wear the number 20.
3. Curtis Granderson
4. Lenny Dykstra
5. David Wright
6. Wally Backman
7. Jose Reyes
8. Gary Carter
9. Todd Hundley
10. Rey Ordonez
11. Wayne Garrett
12. John Stearns
13. Edgardo Alfonzo
14. Gil Hodges
15. Carlos Beltran
16. Dwight Gooden
17. Keith Hernandez
18. Darryl Strawberry
19. Bob Ojeda