Blue Jays Throwback Thursday: Big Ol’ Cliff Johnson
The Blue Jays have had their share of pretty good DH’s: Dave Winfield and Paul Molitor come to mind. When the team was still growing they tried a few different names in there and then they got A name. A big man with a reputation for clobbering the ball and getting the big hit whenever the team needed it. Eventually, he would become the all-time leader in pinch hit home runs with 21 (later surpassed by the Canadian boy Matt Stairs with 23). Cliff Johnson came to the plate and pitchers would tighten up a bit. Staring across the near neon green turf of Exhibition Stadium, Johnson would lumber up to the plate staring down the opposing team and gently swinging the bat back and forth with one hand. One swing and you knew….you just knew.
In 1983 he and Jorge Orta would combine for 34 home runs and 113 RBI out of the DH spot. It was something manager Bobby Cox loved to have: Platoons in order to get the best matchups in each series and it worked. The .277 team batting average in 1983 led the American League. Johnson would play a huge role in their success which came in the form of the first winning season in franchise history.
Johnson left in 1984 to join the Texas Rangers but was re-acquired in 1985 from the Texas Rangers for Matt Williams (not that Matt Williams), Jeff Mays and Greg Ferlanda. He didn’t hit too much but he was there to watch George Bell fall to his knees and win the Blue Jays their first of many division championships. Number 0 was able to enjoy it with the group which would eventually include Terminator Tom Henke. Why is that a big deal?
When Cliff Johnson was a free agent and signed with the Rangers he was considered an Type A free agent. The Blue Jays selected reliever Tom Henke from the Rangers as their compensation. Terminator Tom Henke, went on to become the first truly premier closer in team history. So you can thank Mr. Johnson for giving us the reliever that would lead the team to many division championships and eventually the World Series.
Cliff Johnson was a great ball player and an even better guy. The Blue Jays certainly wouldn’t have reached the heights they did without his help. Thank you agent Zero.