December 7th 1984 - Poking hot coals from Hot Stove History
The guy pitched well, but there were so many arms “on the come” throughout the Mets minor leagues and majors that Frank Cashen dealt away a good young arm in Walt Terrell on December 7th 1984.
Walt Terrell had arrived via a trade from April 1, 1982. I think the Texas Rangers organization and fans realize the “April fools” joke was on them that year. Walt was acquired with another young arm named Ron Darling for OF/1B Lee Mazzilli.
Mazzilli was the face of a Met franchise in total disarray at that time… A period of time I’ve heard dubbed as “The Dark Ages”…“Grant’s Tomb” around Shea. (’77-’83)
But with that deal at that time, Frank Cashen stabilized a need for good young pitching at the upper levels of the Mets minor league system, and continued with his “five year plan”. In Darling and Terrell, the Mets received quality pitching in exchange for a player on the decline. Darling was the Superstar.
Terrell wasn’t a superstar. But he was blessed with good ability, a bulldog mentality, and good control.
He made the majors in late ’82. In 1983, He started to establish himself as a viable, dependable starter. In 1984, he managed to go 11-12 with a 3.52 ERA, but more importantly he threw 215 innings.
The Detroit Tigers had just won the 1984 World Series. Sparky Anderson, the Hall of Fame manager, wasn’t happy with young 3rd baseman Howard Johnson’s streakiness during the season. Sparky went so far as to question his toughness and ability to handle pressure. He began rotating 3rd baseman in late ’84. He sat ‘HoJo’ for almost the entire playoffs with the exception of a single at-bat. Johnson became available when the Tigers, who were looking for starting pitching, swapped the young switch hitter for the young Terrell with the Mets.
Many Met fans were annoyed by this deal and questioned why the Mets had brought in another 3rd sacker. (Ray Knight and Hubie Brooks being the others) Met fans found out 3 days later when Brooks headlined a package that brought All-Star catcher Gary Carter from Montreal.
But I digress… to Howard Johnson…
Howard Johnson played for the Mets from 1985 until 1993. ‘HoJo’ turned out to be one of the best offensive players the Mets have ever had. An incredible athlete, he made the phrase 30/30 a regular occurrence around Shea in the late ‘80’s and gave it familiarity like it should happen for him and us that way every year… For 5 years, the 30/30 threat that was Howard Johnson helped lead the Met offensive attack.
Johnson became the starter at 3rd in the winter of 1986 when the Mets let World Series MVP Ray Knight leave via free agency. Ironically Knight signed with the Detroit Tigers who were searching for a new third baseman to replace Tom Brookens who had platooned in Detroit with ‘HoJo’ prior to his being traded to New York.
Johnson began the 30/30 talk in ’87 when he hit .265 with 36 HR 99 RBI and 32 SB. In subsequent years, he began alternating 30/30 seasons doing so again in 1989 and 1991. He made All-Star appearances in 1989 and 1991.
‘HoJo’s Met career was done soon thereafter. For his final two seasons in New York, Johnson seemed to fight injury after injury which he just couldn’t get through. After two sub-par seasons, one in Colorado another in Chicago with the Cubs, Howard gracefully stepped away. He was just 35. He made a brief comeback in 1997 with the Mets but, time, age, and injury had taken their toll. He was finished for good at 37.
Howard Johnson continues to be affiliated with the Mets today as their hitting instructor. He’s a favorite among many. He wasn’t the flashiest to play for the Mets but he was very good.
My best memories of Howard Johnson were and still are his battle with Cardinals closer Todd Worrell. I recall it was power vs. power and HoJo came through hitting a pinch hit homer off the hard throwing reliever. I know many others recall Howard in his heyday, and I remember some of his special days, but I remember the young Johnson vs. Worrell and recall it with fondness. It was when I realized in April of ’86 the Mets were better than anybody. They were special.
Howard Johnson’s acquisition by Frank Cashen on December 7th 1984 should be celebrated for multiple reasons. It gave the Mets a young, superior offensive player and enabled Frank Cashen to trade depth at 3rd base for Gary Carter. Walt Terrell went on to pitch very well for the Tigers; however he was never a top end starter. The trade was a heist for the Mets.