Tag Archive for Johnny Lewis

The Amazin’ Rise, the Sudden Fall, and the Painful Revenge of Johnny Lewis

Twenty-four was a meaningful number in New York long before the Mets came along.

Once they did, there were six Mets who played in 24 before Willie Mays, and three since. We’ve addressed the first two of the latter group already in Kelvin Torve and Rickey Henderson. Today is for the most Mays-ish of the former group, Johnny Lewis.

Like Mays, Johnny Joe Lewis was born in Alabama. Also like Mays, he was considered something of a five-tool player, hitting for power and average, throwing well, and running well. And while keeping things in perspective for the atrocious Met clubs he’d played for, Lewis was the Mets’ own Willie Mays in 1965, leading the club with 2.4 Win Shares according to Baseball Reference, and was the top scorer in a separate ranking of the ’65 club according to the Crane Pool Forum.

Lewis came to the Mets along with lefty Gordie Richardson in a December 1964 trade with St. Louis for pitcher Tracey Stallard and infielder Elio Chacon.

In his first season as a regular player in his career, the 25-year-old Lewis hit .245 with 15 home runs, 45 RBI and led the Mets in runs scored, walks, and on-base percentage. His 106 OPS+ was the only “plus” on the club that year but for rookie Ron Swoboda (103). Lewis was a lefthanded batter whom Casey Stengel often batted first, third or fourth in the order. Lewis split time in center field and in right, where he showed off a power arm.

On April 15 at Shea against Houston, Lewis caught a Jimmy Wynn fly ball with runners on first and third, and gunned down Walt Bond at the plate. Catcher Chris Cannizzaro then fired to second where Roy McMillan slapped a tag on the advancing Bob Aspromonte to complete a triple play. The game was won 5-4 on a walkoff 10th inning home run by Bobby Klaus.

Bill Gallo, New York Daily News

Bill Gallo’s Daily News cartoon said it best. Though Lewis and the Mets were on their way to their best start in their short history, they’d be buried by 47 games by the end of the year, and Lewis’ own fortunes would turn as well. As he slumped in August, the Mets had Lewis outfitted with eyeglasses; and by 1966, they were were tinkering with his batting stance.

According to John Stahl’s SABR bio, Lewis felt that manager Wes Westrum, who replaced Stengel late in 1965, may have had it in for him.

 “I had more homers and runs batted in than the Mets’ four other outfielders,” he said. “I only played when someone was hurt but I was always in there against the top pitchers. If (manager Wes Westrum) had something against me, or if I had done something wrong, I’d understand. I must say I didn’t get a fair shake by the Mets. But I’ll give them 100 percent.”

Lewis hit just .193 in 1966 when he was farmed out midseason. By the time he’d resurfaced in 1967, the Mets had given away his uniform number 24 to newly arrived third baseman Ed Charles. Charles however gave it back to Lewis when he was called up in May. (Charles took the No. 5 belonging previously to Sandy Alomar (Sr.) who was sent down when Lewis was recalled). When Lewis was sent back to Class AAA in June of ’67, his big-league playing career was over and the Mets were still looking for their Mays.

Lewis was not done with baseball, however, nor with ex-Mets. Cardinals GM Bing Devine, who crossed paths with Lewis in the Mets’ organization, named Lewis the Cardinals’ first-ever Black field coach in 1973. Lewis subsequently became Whitey Herzog‘s Cardinals’ hitting coach from 1985 through 1989. Lewis wore 48 in that treacherous stint, however, as 24 belonged to Herzog.


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Know Your O’s

We’re packing up and heading down to Charm City for the weekend to celebrate my birthday and wedding anniversary, and intend to catch Sunday’s Mets-Orioles game at Camden Yards with family down there. If you happen to run into a clown wearing Mets road jersey No. 70, it might very well be me. In preparation, I contacted my friend Kevin in Maryland, whose writing projects include NumerOlogy, an mbtn-like review of Orioles history by uniform number (the url is giving my browser trouble right now, so I hesitate to pass it along until I know the problem is fixed); a site celebrating various Orioles baseball cards; and an ambitous collecting project known as The Great 1965 Topps Project. (The Johnny Lewis card shown here hails from that iconic set. If any of you can help Kevin complete his his ’65 series via trade, please let him know at the site).

So Kevin knows his stuff, and though his team is having a rough go of it this year, he was a good sport in fielding the following series of questions which hopefully gets you up for the weekend series or at least hungry for steamed blue crabs with plenty of Old Bay (the seasoning, not the disappointing Met free agent). Take it away, Kevin!

MBTN:  Juan Samuel once entered in the middle of a Mets season and ruined it. How’s he done for the O’s so far?

Kevin: Ugh. Juan was our third base coach for the past few years, a job that he was quite suited for…as long as the primary goal of a third base coach is getting Melvin Mora thrown out at the plate by 20 feet. From what I’ve seen and read in the week since “Windmill” took over for Dave Trembley as interim manager, he’s making all of the same mistakes as his predecessor: bizarre hit-and-runs, a revolving door approach to the bullpen, batting Julio Lugo leadoff (as opposed to literally anyone else). If there’s a silver lining to the team’s continued failures, it’s that there’s little chance of Samuel being retained as manager. Speaking of ex-Mets though, I hear Bobby V is interviewing with the Orioles…

(ed note: This makes me happy for Bobby and sorry for myself, but is a lot better than his replacing Joe Girardi).

MBTN: Looks like R.A. Dickey will start Friday and Hisanori Takahashi goes Saturday. How do the O’s hit knuckleballers and lefty junk throwers, respectively?

This one’s easy: they don’t hit knuckleballers, lefty junk throwers, righty junk throwers, ambidextrous pitchers, flamethrowers, sinkerballers, sidearmers, submariners, or even batting practice pitchers. The O’s have scored 193 runs in 58 games (3.3 per game). They’ve been shut out five times, scored a single run 13 times, two runs eight times, and three runs 10 times. Not exactly a formula for winning baseball.

MBTN: Why is Ty Wigginton your best player? Don’t you have Markakis and Jones and Weiters and Tejada and Scott?

Kevin: I’m a big fan of Wiggy, from his whimsical name to his hilarious physical appearance to the fact that he’s been the only guy on the team who has been productive for most of the year. As fun as it’s been watching Ty challenge for the league lead in homers, I wish he had a little help.

Most of the young guys have taken a step backwards for one reason or another. It seems like Nolan Reimold never fully recovered from offseason ankle surgery, and now he’s at Norfolk trying to figure things out. Adam Jones was never a patient hitter to begin with, and without any protection in the lineup opposing pitchers are happy to give him junk to swing through. I have the most faith in Wieters, who Trembley gave a pretty heavy workload in the early going. Samuel has pledged to give him more time off, and he’s working on shortening his swing for better results. On Tuesday he had his first three-hit game of the season, so he may be turning it around. As far as the vets, I’m afraid Tejada is getting old and missing his vitamin B-12 and Scott is the very definition of streaky. Markakis is still getting on base, but again pitchers aren’t challenging him because the rest of the lineup stinks. Other than that, things are great.
MBTN: The Mets saw Matusz at least once this spring and couldn’t touch him. Guthrie scares me too. Why don’t these fellows have more wins?

Kevin: As impressive as Matusz has looked at times, he’s still a rookie. He’s had a couple rocky starts and he’s essentially learning on the job. But his chief failing is that he can’t drive in runs for himself. The same goes for Guthrie. After a nightmarish 2009 season, Guts is back to his familiar role as the de facto hard luck ace. Look at his last start against Boston, when he retired 16 batters in a row but let up two runs in the seventh inning. That was enough to pin him with the loss, along with another bullpen implosion. Are you sensing some themes?

MBTN: The Mets lose most of their games on the road by failing to score enough early then coughing up their slim lead in the 8th and 9th. Which Orioles relief pitcher(s) will come away with the win(s)?

I doubt that any Oriole reliever is stealing a win this weekend, but Will Ohman is as likely as anyone. He’s been a rare scrap-heap success for Andy MacPhail, a once-effective lefty specialist who was derailed by injury and had to make the club out of spring training on a minor league deal. He didn’t give up an earned run until Memorial Day weekend. Of course he’s appeared in roughly 90 games already this year, and hasn’t looked so good in the past week. Also keep an eye out for second-year pitcher David Hernandez. He was overmatched at times in the rotation, but he throws hard and has looked better since being moved to the back end of the bullpen.

MBTN: It’s my birthday/anniversary weekend, and we’re staying at the Hilton Garden on the Inner Harbor. Where do we:
a) watch World Cup games?
b) Get good steamed crabs?

Happy birthday and anniversary! For watching soccer, I know the Hilton has a nifty little bar called the Diamond Tavern. If you’re looking for a pub, there’s the James Joyce on President Street and Captain Larry’s on E. Fort Avenue. Both are within two miles of the ballpark. For crabs, LP Steamers (also on E. Fort) comes highly recommended.

(ed note: We have tentative plans for crabs at Obryki’s)

MBTN: Was Lee Mazzilli a good manager? He was once a hero here but can’t even get work as a broadcaster anymore.

To put it bluntly, no. The Birds have had their share of crummy managers (and crummy teams) over the past 13 years, but Mazzilli was the only one that I can remember who lost the support of the team. The front office supposedly hired him because he talked a good game, but rumor had it that he did zilch in the way of game preparation and wasn’t much of a communicator.

MBTN: What’s the most frequently issued number in O’s history?

It’s a three-way tie between 23 (think Chris Hoiles and Tippy Martinez), 37 (Stu Miller and a whole lot of nothin’), and 39 (Eddie Watt and more nothin’). By my count, each of those has been worn by 30 different guys.

Once again, I’d like to say, ‘Thanks, Hon’ to Kevin for sharing his knowledge of the enemy!

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