Former Mets catcher John Stearns passes away at 71

September 16th, 2022

NEW YORK -- John Stearns, the firebrand catcher who spent a decade playing for the Mets in the 1970s and ‘80s, passed away Thursday following a long bout with cancer. He was 71.

Less than three weeks before his death, Stearns “literally willed himself to attend” Old-Timers’ Day at Citi Field, as Mets president Sandy Alderson put it, “so he could visit friends and old teammates.” Stearns even stepped into the batting cage to swing a bat before the game.

“His nickname, ‘Bad Dude’ couldn’t have been more appropriate,” Alderson wrote in a statement.

A four-time All-Star, Stearns hit .260 with 46 home runs over 11 seasons, breaking in with the Phillies in 1974 before coming to the Mets in the five-player trade that sent Tug McGraw to Philadelphia. With the Mets, Stearns became known as an active presence behind the plate, compiling more defensive WAR with the Mets than all but one catcher (Jerry Grote) in franchise history. Stearns was perhaps best-known for blocking home plate in a June 30, 1978 game against the Pirates, standing his ground to tag out Dave Parker for the final out of the game. Parker suffered a broken jaw in the collision.

“No one played the game harder than John,” said former teammate and manager Joe Torre. “He never came to the park in a bad mood. All he wanted to do was win. To be a four-time All-Star is something special.”

Also respected on the basepaths, Stearns holds the six highest single-season stolen base totals for a Mets catcher. His career tally of 91 is more than six times higher than the next Mets backstop.

In his later years, Stearns became a scout, coach and Minor League manager for the Mets and other organizations. He last appeared in uniform for a Mariners affiliate in 2013, before returning to New York for Old-Timers’ Day this August.

“As a coach, he always had your back,” former Mets closer John Franco said. “I saw how sick he was at Old Timers’ Day, and I think he was holding on just to get back to the ballpark and see some of the guys one more time.”