Rafael Santana

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.


1.Mookie Wilson
2.Mackey Sasser
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


REMINDER: Mets Went To A World Series With d’Arnaud & Plawecki

One of the narratives which has taken hold of late is how the Mets catching situation is what has been holding them back. To a certain extent, there is a point. Travis d’Arnaud cannot stay on the field, and Kevin Plawecki has yet to fully maximize the chances he has been given to establish himself as even a clear-cut starter at the MLB level.

When looking at this offseason, there are plenty of players available who could be upgrades for the Mets. On the free agent front, there’s Yasmani Grandal and Wilson Ramos. On the trade front, there is J.T. Realmuto and Francisco Cervelli. Even if you argue all of these players are not definitively better than what a healthy d’Arnaud can give you, their ability to stay on the field makes them upgrades. More than that, it provides the Mets with depth at the catching position.

As we saw with the Mets playing Jose Lobaton and Devin Mesoraco, depth is vitally important at the catching position. More than that, the Mets need a real depth of talent on the roster. If you build a roster with talented players, an upgrade at catcher isn’t that desperately needed.

For those who don’t remember, the 2015 Mets were able to make it to the World Series with d’Arnaud behind the plate.  There were several reasons why. Daniel Murphy was just beginning to become the feared hitter he would become. Curtis Granderson was a leader on and off the field. David Wright was having that one last great stretch in a terrific career. Yoenis Cespedes was phenomenal. There was real depth with Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson, and Wilmer Flores.

Mostly, it was the pitching, and d’Arnaud played a big part of that with his pitch framing. This path to the World Series isn’t an anomaly either. Just this past season, we saw the Red Sox go to the World Series with Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez behind the plate. Much like the 2015 Mets, the reason the Red Sox were able to do this was because they had great players like Mookie Betts and Chris Sale in addition to terrific situational/platoon players like Steve Pearce and Brock Holt.

The overriding point is there are many ways for the Mets to go back to the World Series, and they don’t have to upgrade at catcher to do it. Instead, they need to look at the best possible players they can add to the roster.

They need to build on a pitching staff which already includes Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, Steven Matz, Edwin Diaz, and Seth Lugo. They need to add to a lineup which already features Brandon Nimmo, Michael Conforto, and Robinson Cano.

If building up the lineup and roster comes at catcher, great. If it doesn’t, that’s good too because we already know d’Arnaud and Plawecki behind the plate can bring you to a World Series. For that matter, Plawecki, d’Arnaud, and Rene Rivera brought the Mets to the Wild Card Game.

In the end, there needs to be much less of a fixation on improving just one roster spot for the sake of another. For example, don’t trade Nimmo for Realmuto. Instead, the Mets just need to focus on getting better players on this team much like how they added Cano even though they already had McNeil.

In the end, if the focus is better players and a deeper roster, you will win games.  You see it time and again. The Yankees dynasty had a black hole in left field. The Red Sox had nothing at catcher, second, and third. The 1986 Mets had Rafael Santana. The 2018 Mets can have d’Arnaud and Plawecki behind the plate, a tandem we already know can get you to the World Series.