John Stearns is one of the more unique catchers in New York Mets history.
There are a lot of interesting things that stand out about John Stearns whenever I read his Baseball-Reference page. Seeing four trips to the All-Star Game is impressive enough. As someone who wasn’t alive during his playing days, I can only judge him fairly on numbers and what older New York Mets fans have to say about him.
While four All-Star selections are certainly outstanding, there’s another number of Stearns’ I want to point out. It’s in the stolen base column.
Stearns, in case you didn’t know or simply forgot, was a legitimate base stealer.
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The 1977 season was Stearns’ first as a regular catcher. He played in 139 games for the Mets. It also happened to be the year when he made his first trip to the All-Star Game. I’m not sure how much the 9 stolen bases he stole that year had to say about it. If I had to guess, not much.
A year later, still suiting up regularly behind the plate, Stearns separated himself further from the stereotypical catcher. He wasn’t running on the bases like he had cement blocks tied to his ankles. In unprecedented fashion, Stearns ran wild in 1978 with 25 stolen bases in 38 attempts.
To put this into some perspective, Amed Rosario has never stolen 25 bases in a single season. And he’s the fast guy on the current Mets squads.
This wasn’t just some anomaly. Although he only stole 7 bags in 1980, Stearns came back with 12 more in 1981 and another 17 in 1982. When he hung up his cleats for the final time, he had successfully stolen 91 big league bases.
It’s not what we expect from catchers. Wilson Ramos has only one stolen base in his entire career—achieved in 2019 as a member of the Mets.
When I think of catchers who have separated themselves from the pack, one name from my childhood I often remember is Jason Kendall. Kendall played the game similarly to Stearns. Neither hit many home runs yet each managed to make multiple All-Star appearances.
Kendall stole 20+ stolen bases in three consecutive seasons from 1998-2000. About twice as prolific as a base thief as Stearns, his career-high was 26 in 1998.
Stearns, though, does fall somewhere within the top five. In my opinion the most unique of the catchers the Mets have employed, I’m left to wonder what kind of career he could have had at the plate if he played another position full-time.
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Of his 783 games in the field, 699 saw him put on the shin guards. Stearns played 49 games at first base, another 29 at third base, and managed to play left field in 6 of them. It’s obvious to many how much damage catching can do to an athlete over time. In a different life, Stearns may have had a chance to become a far more impactful offensive player in Mets’ lore.