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Cliff Johnson

Cliff Johnson

Position(s):
C, 1B, LF, OF, RF, DH
Nicknames:
Heathcliff
Born:
July 22, 1947
Bats:
Right
Throws:
Right
Height:
6' 4"
Weight:
215 lbs
Major League Debut:
9-13-1972 with HOU

Intro

A tall strongman from San Antonio, Cliff Johnson was drafted by the Houston Astros in 1966. A fastball hitter with great reflexes, Johnson terrorized pitchers with his power but the Astros never found a defensive position he could play on a regular basis. Traded to the American League, Johnson flourished as a designated hitter and pinch-hitter extraordinare. He belted a major league record 20 pinch-hit homers in his 15-year career spent with seven teams.

Factoid 1

In 1974, Cliff Johnson set a major league record when he belted five pinch-hit home runs for the Astros. That season, he hit .351 (13-for-37) with 13 RBI in the pinch-hit role.

Transition

June 7, 1966: Drafted by the Houston Astros in the 5th round of the 1966 amateur draft. June 15, 1977: Traded by the Houston Astros to the New York Yankees for a player to be named later, Randy Niemann, and Mike Fischlin. The New York Yankees sent Dave Bergman (November 23, 1977) to the Houston Astros to complete the trade. June 15, 1979: Traded by the New York Yankees to the Cleveland Indians for Don Hood. June 23, 1980: Traded by the Cleveland Indians to the Chicago Cubs for a player to be named later and cash. The Chicago Cubs sent Karl Pagel (June 30, 1980) to the Cleveland Indians to complete the trade. December 11, 1980: Traded by the Chicago Cubs with Keith Drumright to the Oakland Athletics for Michael King (minors). November 5, 1982: Traded by the Oakland Athletics to the Toronto Blue Jays for Al Woods. November 8, 1984: Granted Free Agency. December 5, 1984: Signed as a Free Agent with the Texas Rangers. August 28, 1985: Traded by the Texas Rangers to the Toronto Blue Jays for players to be named later. The Toronto Blue Jays sent Matt Williams (August 29, 1985), Jeff Mays (minors) (August 29, 1985), and Greg Ferlenda (minors) (November 14, 1985) to the Texas Rangers to complete the trade. November 12, 1986: Granted Free Agency.

The Gossage Fight

Cliff Johnson was a large man. Goose Gossage was also a large man. Not as large as Johnson (who carried 225 pounds on his 6'4" frame during his playing days), but large. Neither man was accustomed to being pushed around. On April 20, 1979, prior to a game against the Texas Rangers, some good-natured needling went too far, and the teammates ended up throwing haymakers at each other in the middle of the shower stalls. The incident helped define what became a frustrating and tragic season for the Yankees. It started, according to one teammate, when Gossage teased Johnson about his inability to hit his fastball when the two were in the National League. Johnson brought the subject up again in the shower (whatever happened to rinse and repeat?), and playfully shoved the Yankee reliever. Johnson, despite his size, had a reputation as a playful guy who liked to keep things loose in the clubhouse. He was known to sit on teammates until they begged to be released, and his bear-hugs were nearly inescapable. Reportedly, the first shove Johnson gave Gossage was playful, meant to get his attention and nothing else. But in short order, the two players were tossing punches, landing more than a few. In the scuffle, Gossage tore a ligament in his right thumb. He was unavailable for that evening's game against the Rangers, but the news got worse the next day. Team physicians determined that Gossage would need to surgery and would miss 6-8 weeks. 27-year old Gossage was distraught. "I can't believ it. I just screwed up, that's all. I've never had any problems in the clubhouse before. I don't know what happended, it just happended — boom boom. It happended that quick. As quick as it happened, it was over. I feel very awful about it. It's very depressing," Gossage said, nearly in tears. Johnson apologized, but the damage was done, and at the June trading deadline, he was traded to the Indians. Gossage returned to the Yankees on July 12, just weeks before catcher Thurman Munson was killed when the plane he was piloting crashed. The Yanks finished in fourth place, well behind the Baltimore Orioles.

Notes

Johnson hit .247 in 346 games as a pinch-hitter, with the record 20 homers, and a .485 SLG percentage. He also posted a .373 OBP in that role. He could arguably be considered the most productive pinch-hitter in baseball history.

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