I have no coherent thoughts about the team these days, so here is a collection of incoherent thoughts.
Archive for the ‘Howard Johnson’ Category
From here on out, it’s the David Wright/Howard Johnson show, so without further ado…
#5: Howard Johnson, 1991
Howard Johnson, like Bret Saberhagen, had a weird even year/odd year thing going. Every other year, he would have a great season, followed by a down season. It continued in 1991, following a disappointing 1990 season, HoJo bounced back with a huge 38 homer/34 double/30 steal season. Call it the 30/30/30 club, the second time he pulled off such a feat. Throw in a career-high 117 RBIs, and you’re left with a damned fine season on a team that went nowhere.
This season was the end of HoJo’s prime; he would spend another two more disappointing seasons in New York, not bouncing back in the odd year 1993 from a poor even year in 1992. He never played every day again and was out of the big leagues for good by age 35. In that way, he’s pretty similar to Edgardo Alfonzo, another Mets star who peaked early and was out of the majors only a few seasons removed from one of his best seasons. It is a shame that HoJo’s last great season wasn’t spent on a team that did anything, but blame management for tearing down the 80’s Mets dynasty brick by brick.
#4: David Wright, 2005
David Wright’s first full season in the big leagues…and it’s the 4th best offensive season at third base in Mets history. I’d say that’s pretty good. In fact, in 2005 this season would have ranked second in Mets history. You could start to see the traits that would make David Wright great develop in this first season. High number of walks, 40+ doubles, 27 homers, 100+ RBIs…there is a lot to love here.
Still, I want to use this season to (once again) point out Willie Randolph’s shortcomings as manager. Here is David Wright, having a phenomenal year; in 2005, he was unquestionably the best hitter on the team. Yet, for almost half the season, Willie had Wright batting 6th and 7th, behind a decomposing Mike Piazza, a light hitting Doug Mientkiewicz, and the atrocious Miguel Cairo. Wright batted third four times all season, all in games that Carlos Beltran sat out after crashing face-first into Mike Cameron, which brought Gerald “Ice” Williams into the lineup to play center field. Best hitter on the team, buried in the batting order. Willie Randolph, ladies and gentlemen.
#3: David Wright, 2008
No longer a rookie, David Wright put together another phenomonal year in 2008. He went over 40 doubles for the fourth straight season, batted .300 or better for the fourth straight season, and 100 RBIs for the fourth straight season. He was over 30 homers for the second straight season and over 90 walks for the second straight season. Basically, 2008 was another continuation of everything he had done since being brought up from the minor leagues, and that’s awesome hitting.
That is why, when you hear talk radio or newspaper writers talk about how there’s a David Wright on every team, laugh in their faces. David Wright is good for a consistent 25+ homers a season, 40+ doubles, 100+ RBIs, .300 or better batting average, .380 or better OBP, he will steal bases at a high percentage, and will draw 70 or more walks. That is the minimum of what he will do each and every season, and often he will surpass that. There are not 29 other players like David Wright playing major league baseball; there probably aren’t more than 5.
#2: David Wright, 2007
Here is where I suspect a lot of folks will be surprised. I argued vehemently that David Wright should have been the MVP in 2007. I still believe that. And I do believe that this season was truly excellent season. It was Wright’s first 30/30/30 season, another high RBI season…I hate ranking this season second. I truly do. But being that I’ve already written so much about David Wright’s 2007 season, I think it’s time I talked a little about…
#1: Howard Johnson, 1989
Howard Johnson set a Mets record in 1989; most extra base hits in a season. How can a season where a man hits 80 extra base hits not rank #1? Throw in 41 steals, and you have a hell of a season. Howard Johnson was really underrated, mostly because he played on teams that had Darryl Strawberry, Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, and other big hitters, and by the time HoJo became a regular, the Mets had already peaked and were settled into a series of second place finishes.
Still, you can’t blame those seasons on HoJo, he did what he could to keep the Mets in contention. He was second in the NL in homers, third in doubles, and fourth in stolen bases. Yet he finished fifth in the MVP race, behind former teammate Kevin Mitchell. I will happily concede that Mitch had a much better season than HoJo. I will not say the same about Ryne Sandberg and Pedro Guerrero. But what HoJo did that year, hit so many extra base hits in a league that favored pitching, is perhaps unique in Mets history. His 1989 season was special, and yet it feels like it is rarely talked about.
The Mets have been fortunate to have had some great years offensively at third base. Gifted hitters such as Howard Johnson, David Wright, and Robin Ventura, among others, have manned the hot corner extremely well over the past 46 years, a trend that should continue well into the next decade. While the Mets third base list was once a national punchline, the top ten hitting seasons at third base for the Mets match up well with any other team’s third basemen. Take a look at some of these seasons.
Honorable Mention: Ed Charles (1968), Howard Johnson (1988), Edgardo Alfonzo (1997)
Ed Charles was acquired from the Kansas City Athletics in 1967, had a pretty good season in 1968 in limited action, and lost his job in 1969 and was out of baseball. I am kind of surprised he never went to the Yankees, since they didn’t have a third baseman worth anything during much of the 60’s and Charles was stuck in the A’s minor league system during a time where the Yankees repeatedly raided their minor league stars. More on HoJo and Alfonzo below.
#10: Edgardo Alfonzo, 2002
Alfonzo is the first Met to make these lists at two different positions. While he was high atop the second base list, he just makes the third base list despite a good season. He moved to third base because of the Mets’ acquisition of Roberto Alomar the season before, plus Alfonzo had spent time in 2001 hurt, so it was thought that moving to third base may be beneficial for him defensively. The Alomar trade turned out to be a bust, of course, and Alfonzo was gone after the 2002 season, supposedly in part because Fonzie wanted to play second (though he would only play six more games there the rest of his career).
This was the last good season Alfonzo would have. In fact, five seasons later, Alfonzo was out of baseball. It is peculiar, because he was only 28 in 2002. At the final game at Shea, I was struck by how young Alfonzo looked when he was introduced, and how it seemed like he should still be playing ball. I don’t know what happened; it’s been speculated that he isn’t really 34, and that perhaps he had used performance enhancers during his prime. I don’t know if either are true, but I do miss Fonzie, he was a great player for some memorable teams.
#9: Bobby Bonilla, 1994
I had forgotten that Bobby Bonilla had even played third base for the Mets. Alas, he played all 107 games he played in the strike-shortened 1994 season at third base and was doing quite well before the strike. He hit for power, average, and drew walks at a high rate. From a hitting standpoint, Mets fans really couldn’t ask for much more from Bobby Bo in 1994, he had a terrific season.
I have to say, I do think Bobby Bo got a bit of a bad rap from Mets fans. Sure, he wasn’t the most likable player in the world, but his first go-around saw some good years. The problem was, he didn’t hit for a high average, and didn’t have a high number of RBIs. I’m not sure it’s fair, though; the Mets had some low-OBP hitters hitting ahead of him for much of his stay in New York. Bonilla was never the type who could carry an offense, but he could contribute to a good one. Unfortunately, most of the Mets teams Bonilla played on were bad hitting teams.
#8: Robin Ventura, 1999
I am sure Joeadig is going to give me flack for not ranking Ventura higher. Ventura was his favorite player from those teams. But hey, it’s not for any lack of love on my part towards Ventura; he was great in 1999, and as recently as four years ago, this would have ranked fourth on this list. Alas, it’s not Ventura’s fault David Wright happened.
Ventura is a weird case; this was the first year of a four year contract he had signed after the 1998 season, another piece added to the puzzle to put the ‘99 Mets over the top. He was great in ‘99, as was most of that team (you’ll notice that so far, every one of these lists has had a 1999 season, a streak that will end with shortstops). But after this season, Ventura became just an average hitter.
Three seasons later, Ventura was gone, traded to the Yankees for David Justice (who was then flipped to the A’s for Mark Guthrie and Tyler Yates) which in retrospect, was a set-up for the Roberto Alomar trade that was finalized four days later. It seems like a meager haul for a player who finished 6th in the MVP voting just two seasons prior, but nobody ever accused Steve Phillips of making good trades. Still, few Mets fans will forget the year where Robin Ventura was, well, Robin to Mike Piazza’s Batman.
#7: Howard Johnson, 1987
This was Howard Johnson’s breakout season, following the departure of Ray Knight after the 1986 season. At the time, it was thought to be a mistake, but Ray Knight was done and HoJo settled into a five year period where he was the one of the offensive leaders for the Mets. It would be a frustrating time for Mets fans; the Mets finished second four straight seasons from 1987 to 1990, before the bottom fell out in the 1991 season under Bud Harrelson.
Still, you can’t blame HoJo, and here’s one reason why. I’ve always felt HoJo was under-appreciated; he was always good for anywhere between 60-70 extra base hits when healthy. He would get criticized for low batting averages, but if you look at the difference between his great years and his off years, we’re looking at about 25 points of batting average; what we’re talking about is about a single every two weeks. Great hitter, an extra base machine in his prime. This list will do him justice.
#6: David Wright, 2006
Okay, here’s a spoiler: David Wright and Howard Johnson are the only two names you will see on the rest of this list. Objectively speaking, Wright and Johnson are far and away the best third basemen in Mets history, and now Johnson is Wright’s hitting coach. That’s a weird irony, no?
Strangely, the worst of Wright’s full seasons came in the only year he made the playoffs. But “worst” isn’t really fair, because it’s only in comparison to some other really great seasons. Just think; 40 doubles and 26 homers represent Wright’s low totals since his first full-time season in 2006. Seventy-one extra base hits represents Wright’s low totals. And this is with a high number of walks and a high batting average, too. But hey…listen to enough talk radio, and you’ll hear that every team has a David Wright. Sure they do.
Up Next: More Wright and HoJo…er, the top 5.