David Wright had already eclipsed 30 stolen bases when he came to the plate in the seventh inning of a Sept. 16, 2007, game against the Phillies and deposited a Geoff Geary pitch over the fence for a homer. It was Wright’s 30th, making him the third player in franchise history to complete a 30-30 season, and the first since Howard Johnson in 1991.
Who came rushing out of the dugout to greet him? None other than Johnson, Mr. 30-30 himself.
“It was just cool,” Wright recalled in a recent telephone interview. “Crossing home plate, the first face I saw was the guy who kind of molded me into that type of player.”
It is of course fitting, then, that Wright will be among those on hand at Citi Field on Saturday, when Johnson enters the Mets Hall of Fame alongside Al Leiter, Gary Cohen, Howie Rose and Achievement Award recipient Jay Horwitz. A coach of Wright’s, beginning in the Minors and continuing through portions of his Major League career, Johnson spent years emphasizing to his protégé that blazing speed is unnecessary to be an effective base thief. Johnson encouraged Wright to focus on the mechanics of base stealing to squeeze the most out of his speed.
Few in the history of baseball were better at it than Johnson, who recorded 30-30 seasons in 1987, ’89 and ’91. Only three players -- Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonds and Alfonso Soriano -- logged more. The feat itself has become an endangered species, as only five players have accomplished it in the last decade.
“I’m very proud of it,” Johnson said of his 30-30 history. “I was always taught to play the game hard and do what you can. My passion was always stealing bases and getting on base and creating havoc and making the other team pay. I didn’t really consider myself a home run hitter. But the one thing that never really goes into a slump is speed. If you can get on base, if you can be valuable in that way, that’s something I learned at a young age. I wish guys would do it more.”
The other unique aspect of Johnson’s Mets Hall of Fame induction is the era in which he played. Although Johnson was part of the 1986 World Series championship team, his finest seasons did not occur until the late 1980s and early 1990s. That, of course, coincided with a downturn in overall results for the franchise.
As a result, it’s a dead era in Mets history. Plenty of Johnson’s ’86 teammates are already in the team Hall of Fame. The late ‘90s and early 2000s teams are likewise well-represented, with Leiter adding to that population. But the early ‘90s remain a dark patch, which Johnson’s induction should help correct.
“Getting a chance to represent that era now? I think it’s cool,” Johnson said. “It’s one of those things that until I’m actually out there, it’s not going to feel real. But I’m very excited. I’m excited for my family, my grandkids, my kids -- everybody.”