To Howard Johnson, the Mets aren't merely his former team, but family.
Author: Mike Puma
Published: 2022-08-19 08:40 am
Howard Johnson on returning to the Mets fold and how this team stacks up with his iconic 1986 champs
nypost.com

Howard Johnson spent nine seasons playing for the Mets, helping the team win its last World Series in 1986. The 61-year-old Johnson now resides in Nashville, Tenn., where he runs a baseball facility and works with high school players.

The former third baseman will be returning to Queens next week to participate in Old Timers’ Day. Post Sports+ recently caught up with Johnson, whose 3-year-old grandson Tanner was seriously injured in a lawnmower accident last summer. Tanner is scheduled to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at Citi Field before next Friday’s game.

You haven’t been visible with the Mets for several years. Was there a rift between you and the organization after they fired you as hitting coach in 2010?

Howard Johnson: There was a little bit for a while, but I felt like we had cleared everything up, [former team COO] Jeff Wilpon and I — he assured me that we did. But I really wasn’t around much, and wasn’t asked to come around much. But that has changed somewhat now. I’m very happy about that, to have some kind of presence at least, that I can come around and be around the team and see what’s going on a little bit more. And that’s what I’m looking forward to. I feel like the Mets are my family, and I want to be around it just to be around it because I love the organization. … I was at Mets fantasy camp last spring for about the first time in 15 years, so that was fun. It was good to get back in there.

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Howard Johnson kept his distance from the Mets after he was fired as the team’s hitting coach in 2010 but has grown closer again in recent years.
Neil Miller

How is your grandson Tanner following the accident?

HJ: He’s doing well. He went through and lost about one-third of his left foot — all of his toes — so he is going to be handicapped in that regard, but he’s got his first shoe filler that he can wear, and that’s going to allow him to walk almost full heel to toe normally. I’ve watched him in his shoe. He’s playing tee-ball. You would never know it, and when he’s running around barefoot, he pushes off the side a little bit, but he’s very active and he doesn’t know any better.

How would you describe the outpouring of support your family received after the accident?

HJ: It was crazy. The people responded [with donations]. I didn’t expect everything that happened, and my son and the family are all grateful for that because it’s going to be an ongoing thing with Tanner as he grows older. Parts of his foot are going to grow and parts will not, so it’s going to be physical therapy, probably surgeries down the road. It’s just a matter of trying to get the foot to where he can live a normal life and play sports and do all that stuff and just enjoy his life.

This Mets team is on pace to challenge the franchise record of 108 wins established by your group in 1986. How would you feel about these Mets challenging that record?

HJ: It would be great if they challenged it. That means they’re probably going to win the division and they have a reasonable chance to move on, so if it happens, it happens. You always have your records and stuff as a team and you want to see those last, but at the same time, I’m excited for the new team. I’m excited for the fans because they’re getting it after a lot of years, and it has happened so fast [under new owner Steve Cohen] and they’ve got a team that I think a lot of people can relate to.

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Howard Johnson (far right), with his son Glen, grandson Tanner and father Bill.
Courtesy of Glen Johnson

I think people really relate to [Pete] Alonso, and [Francisco] Lindor has been very good this year. Those two guys have kind of run the whole thing, but I like the pieces they have put together: [Starling] Marte, I like that a lot. [Luis] Guillorme has done really well and [Jeff] McNeil. A lot of those guys are good pieces. I remember watching them when I was with the Texas minor league system. I remember watching some of those guys with other organizations and realizing how good those guys are. [Mark] Canha is another guy. I’m familiar with them and I like them. They have a nice mix going on right now.

What will it be like to participate in Old Timers’ Day?

HJ: I’m really excited about it because I get to see my buddies again, put the uniform on again and just go back to those days where we were all together and just kind of relive some of it. I’m probably most excited that my grandson Tanner is going to be there. He’ll get to experience it and go on the field Friday [throwing out the first pitch]. Just going out there and seeing the crowd will be a blast. I’m not looking forward to playing. If there is one downside, that would be it. I prefer not to be out there. I would take my shot hitting, but that would be it.

Time a moving target for Mets

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Buck Showalter has decried the varied starting times the Mets have faced from series to series, and sometimes game to game, all year.
Getty Images

Baseball players are creatures of habit perhaps more so than professionals in any other sport, so Buck Showalter continues to carp for what he deems as a reasonable request: uniform starting times for day games and night games.

Instead, the Mets play 7:20 p.m. games in Atlanta before heading to Philadelphia for 7:05 p.m. games. Earlier this season, some of those games in Philadelphia started at 6:45 p.m.

On getaway days, start times that typically are 1:05 p.m. or 1:10 become 12:05 or 12:10. Then there’s the Peacock streaming games on Sunday that dictate that teams can’t play before 1:35 p.m. on the East Coast.

MLB’s central office establishes the schedule, but teams are free to set their own start times (with TV partners such as ESPN and FOX also having a say).

The Mets played a night game Thursday in Atlanta after which they were scheduled to travel into the wee hours to Philadelphia for a Friday game. According to the current rules, if a team is traveling less than 2.5 hours by air, a night game is permissible the day before. Rectifying that kind of scheduling would be much easier than getting a uniform start time for day and night games. Simply, all getaway games should by rule be played in the afternoon.

Patriot games

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Pete Alonso will join Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and others on Team USA in next March’s World Baseball Classic.
Jason Szenes

Pete Alonso was a perfect choice by Team USA for next year’s World Baseball Classic on multiple levels. Not only has Alonso earned the selection based on his All-Star-level play, but his sense of patriotism will likely help promote Team USA and the event. Alonso has helped raise thousands of dollars over the past few years for military families, including donating some of his own earnings. Alonso wearing stars and stripes will look quite natural.

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