Sunday, February 7, 2010
#493) LANCE JOHNSON
Lance Johnson became a member of the New York Mets when he signed as a free agent on December 14, 1995. The high energy center fielder became available when the Chicago White Sox deemed him too expensive during a payroll reduction. "I think that the Mets made a great decision." Lance said the day of his signing, "I think the people in New York are going to love me. I play hard old-time baseball. I'm a blue collar player. And I've got a great personality. I'm going to help build a winner here." The 1996 season did not prove to be a winning one for the Mets team, but was an astounding one for the man known as "One Dog". He seemingly did everything from the lead-off spot in the batting order. Johnson lead the National League in hits (227), triples (21), and at-bats (682). He added to that 50 stolen bases, and a .333 batting average that was fourth best in the National League. His 117 runs scored, 327 total bases, hits, triples, and at-bats all established New York Mets single season team records. Lance was quite deservedly selected to the 1996 National League All-Star team. "He has certainly exceeded our expectations." assistant general manager, Steve Phillips was quoted, "...he has thrived in New York."
The second year of Johnson's career with the Mets began differently. He was hampered by shin splints that forced him to play on sore legs throughout spring training and the month of April. Lance was eventually placed on the disabled list May 3, 1997. "The most important thing to the team is whether I am here for the last three months." Johnson responded to inquires about the date of his return. He would come back to the lineup on June 16th, and post a batting average of .301. At the same time the Mets began to see the real possibility of winning a Wild Card entry into the post-season. So in an effort to address a dire deficiency with the bullpen the Mets made a trade. Now general manager, Steve Phillips sent Johnson along with Mark Clark and Manny Alexander to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for Turk Wendell, Mel Rojas, and Brian McRae on August 8, 1997. The move was not popular with Lance or his teammates. "Lance meant a lot to this team." Bernard Gilkey said at the time, "People didn't really see how much. Seeing him traded makes it hard." Johnson's personal disappointment was obvious when he was quoted, "I came in with class. I left with class. You just go away and let people live with their mistakes." The Mets would finish in third place of the National League Eastern Division and once again miss the playoffs.
Lance owned One Dog Records, a label that recorded rap artists, during his playing career. In the past Johnson often returned to the University of Alabama to work out with his alma mater's baseball program. While there he tutored fellow major leaguer, Juan Pierre. "He always preached being a lead-off hitter, not a lead-off man." Pierre said, "You are not up there just trying to walk, but you should try to do damage." Today Lance is focusing on his family. Ironically, Johnson (the man of the three base hits) and his wife welcomed triplets in 2005.
Lance Johnson beautifully signed his card from the set for me from an autograph request sent to his home on February 17, 2009.