Some of the best seasons in New York Mets history came from guys who only spent a short time in Queens. Lance Johnson’s first year in New York was one of those years.
In the winter before the 1996 MLB season, the New York Mets went out and signed outfielder Lance Johnson to a contract. Coming off a year in which he led the American League with 186 hits in a season shortened by the player’s strike, the move was a big one.
Johnson’s 1996 season is filled with incredible numbers. It’s an outlier year in a career that quickly faded out shortly after.
Like many of his predecessors from the 1980s, Johnson helped his team with speed. Though he never led the league in stolen bases, Johnson averaged 37 per 162 games over his career. In 1996, he set a career-high with 50.
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It wasn’t only his legs doing the work. Johnson knocked an unprecedented 21 triples that same year. The total helped him win his fifth “triples title.” The 21 three-base hits on their own were great. However, the fact that he also legged out 31 doubles made it all that much more impressive.
Up and down his 1996 stat sheet, we find more numbers to gawk at.
For the second straight year, Johnson led the league in hits. This time, he did so with 227 of them. This helped him earn a .333 batting average for the year and aided him in making his first and only trip to the All-Star Game.
As the saying goes, the best ability is availability. Johnson gave the Mets this plenty in 1996. The speedy outfielder played in 160 games while making 724 plate appearances and amassing 682 at-bats. It comes as no surprise to learn both of these were league-leading totals.
Maybe my favorite statistic of all from Johnson in 1996 is a non-league leading one.
In all of those opportunities, the man only struck out 40 times. In fact, in his 5800 MLB plate appearances, Johnson saw strike three called on him only 384 times. Two decades later, many players pass this number in their second year.
Johnson’s time in New York didn’t last long. The following summer, the Mets traded him to the Chicago Cubs. Injuries took their toll and he was never able to play at the same level again.
When we think of modern baseball players with an old-school style, the name Lance Johnson should come to mind quickly. He showed this in 1996.
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I’m not sure anyone in Mets history will ever have the same type of year ever again.