Monday, September 23, 2013


A text message summation of Cliff Johnson on cardboard might be :(

The Cliff Notes version: Cracking a home run came easier than cracking a smile.

And that mustache went a long way to accentuate his sourpuss, like underlining "I Love You'' three times in a Valentine's Day card.

Guess it's wise to remember that a frown is just a smile turned upside down. 

But he happily would come off the bench to hit. With the Blue Jays in 1984, Johnson established a major-league record for pinch-hit home runs in a career with 19 and added one more in '86. Matt Stairs broke the record of 20 three years ago.

Overall, Johnson jacked 196 homers during his 15-year career, but he might be best remembered for his role in a heavyweight fight with closer Rich Gossage in the Yankees' clubhouse shower room in '79. That bout was preceded by some playful ribbing that went too far. 

See what happened when Johnson let his guard down? 

"The Glower in the Shower.''

Certainly, Johnson had the scowl of a prize pugilist. More than the soap, gloves and uniforms dropped that day. "Heathcliff'' (217 pounds) knocked "The Goose'' (210 pounds) out for two months with a torn right thumb ligament. Johnson had a one-way ticket punched out of town soon after. 

If you were traded to Cleveland in '79, you wouldn't be smiling much either.

Coming up to the majors with the Astros in the early '70s, Johnson eventually would benefit from the advent of the designated hitter. He truly was a man without a position in the NL. He was first a catcher with the arm of a parking gate, then a first baseman with the range of a cadaver. A trade to the Yankees in '77 should've put him in a good mood, even though he came off the bench more. In two-plus seasons, he clubbed four pinch homers before clubbing Gossage.

The Yanks welcomed his bat as long as he chucked that glove in the Harlem River (if he could hit it). While Johnson probably never winked, he did have a good eye and could draw a walk, which resulted in an on-base percentage nearly 100 points higher than his batting average (.355-.258).

Johnson played a key role in breaking the team's 14-year World Series drought in his first season, hitting 12 homers in 142 at-bats. As a pinch-hitter, he was 5-for-11 with one homer and three RBI.

Happy days were here again in New York, even if Johnson was likely smiling only on the inside.


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