He’s a fan favorite in Queens, and he has nothing to do with the chain of hotels. He ranks in the top three on the Mets’ all-time list in home runs, RBI, doubles, and stolen bases. Howard “HoJo” Johnson sat down with me in downtown Cooperstown in what was his first chance in several years to come to the historic town, as he just finished a four-year stint as the first base and hitting coach for the New York Mets.
“It’s pretty awesome (to be in Cooperstown) because I get to be around so much baseball history,” said Johnson. “I get to see players I played with and against.”
That he did. Johnson was sitting at the same table as the great Dale Murphy, former Braves outfielder and first baseman. Murphy, who won consecutive NL MVP awards during his playing days, was sharing laughs with Johnson and many others who were in Cooperstown for the Induction Weekend festivities to celebrate the enshrinement of Roberto Alomar, Pat Gillick, and Bert Blyleven into the Hall of Fame.
“I have a lot of respect for all of these guys,” Johnson said. “Having the chance to sit next to Dale Murphy and Pete Rose the last two days, you just can’t beat that for a couple days in Cooperstown.”
Now that Johnson has completed two separate stints with the Mets — one as a player and one as a coach, I asked him what the difference was like to be a part of the Mets organization as a coach compared to a player.
“When I was a coach, it was a little bit different because I had to learn how to deal with each guy’s personality and get the best out of them,” he explained. “When I was a player, I just worried about myself.”
Johnson knows that the structure of the coaching stuff and upper management looks much different now than it did when he coached his last game for the Mets in 2010, but he doesn’t seem to think much has improved.
“They’re playing .500 ball, which is probably about as good as they can be,” he said. “When I was a coach with them, we were above .500 every year until the last couple and the only reason we did that was because of so many injuries. It’s too hard to compete with the Phillies and Braves when there are so many injuries.”
Johnson also said he wasn’t sure where Mets shortstop Jose Reyes will end up after the season. Reyes, who is hitting .353 and leading the league in several categories, is expecting to cash in big as he becomes a free-agent this off-season.
“It’s hard to say where he will end up,” said Johnson. “He’s going to be getting quite a payday next year and nobody really knows where he will end up. He’s well deserving, whatever he gets and wherever he goes.”
Finally, I asked Johnson for an update on his own life these days now that he is finished with the Mets, and he said he’s doing some little things but nothing too big.
“I’m living down in Atlanta now,” he said. “I’ve been doing some work on amateur baseball there and just trying to stay busy.”
At the conclusion of the interview, Johnson wasted no time. He stood right up and asked everyone where Murphy ran off to. HoJo slipped through the nearby door in pursuit of his old friend Murphy as the two continued their weekend in Cooperstown.