Free Agent Retrospective: The Lance Johnson signing

Mets v Padres
Mets v Padres / Jed Jacobsohn/GettyImages

Nobody was as good in as short of a time period for the New York Mets as Lance Johnson. I know there are a few candidates who can compare. However, what he did in 1996 and repeated for half a season in 1997 is unmatched in franchise history.

The Mets first picked up Johnson after a 1995 season where he led the American League with 186 hits and batted .306/.341/.425. Available on the open market, the speedy center fielder signed with the Mets and the record books would never be the same.

The Lance Johnson signing is one of the best in Mets history

It began on December 14, 1995. The Mets hadn’t competed for quite some time now. Their last trip to the postseason was in 1988. And while they wouldn’t bring Johnson along for the ride in their next visit to playoff baseball, he was a huge part in making the 1996 team an exciting one.

I learned about baseball through playing the 1996 version of Strat-O-Matic. In the days before smartphones, easy access to the internet, and my dad fighting over the paper bill with the kid down the street, the only way I could learn about baseball was through this game.

Johnson’s 1996 Strat-O-Matic card was one of the better I would encounter. He led the league with 227 hits and 21 triples. To go with it, he batted .333/.362/.479 and stole 50 bases.

These are the kinds of numbers you can only tell your children about. They don’t happen anymore.

Johnson continued to play at a high level in 1997 albeit with a few injuries mixed in. He batted .309/.385/.404 for the Mets in 72 games played.

His stay in New York would come to an end on August 8, 1997. Johnson would be traded to the Chicago Cubs alongside Mark Clark and Manny Alexander for Brian McRae, Mel Rojas, and Turk Wendell. It was an atypical August trade in a lot of ways. Both teams were getting some benefits and, in their minds, improving upon weaknesses.

For Johnson, the end was already nigh. He played in only 85 games in 1998, another 95 in 1999, and finished his career in 2000 appearing in 18 games for the New York Yankees.

Before it all came to an end, Johnson would part the big leagues with two Mets records that hold today and may never get broken. His 21 triples, 227 hits, and 166 singles will probably keep his name as a relevant one in club history for a bit more.

Next. 10 notable August Mets trades. dark