With a cursory glance at Lance Johnson’s stats, one would think that he played in the Deadball Era. The swift center fielder racked up a Speaker/Cobb like total of triples every year and pilfered a Germany Schaefer amount of bases. But Lance played when the ball was alive and men were blasting it over fences at record numbers. Many men hit the long ball in Lance’s day, by the Mercury of the Pale Hose was content legging out those triples.
Originally drafted by the Cardinals in 1984, Lance had that Redbird look of the 1980s. Their outfield was full of speedsters like Coleman, McGee, Van Slyke and Lonnie Smith. Given that his path to the Majors was blocked, the Cardinals traded him to the White Sox for power-pitcher Jose DeLeon before Spring Training 1988. It took Lance two years to break into the White Sox everyday lineup. He became a regular with the team in 1990 but still had rough edges–he paced the AL with 22 times caught stealing–to smooth out.
During the 1990 season, Lance was a member of Major League baseball’s only all 30 stolen base outfield. But the personal accolades didn’t start coming until 1991. That year he posted the first of five triples crowns he would win over the course of his career. He matched the feat again in 1992 when he legged out a dozen three-baggers. Small and wiry, Johnson’s game was the speed game. Lance stole 41 bases in 1992.
The White Sox went to the postseason in 1993 as Lance led the AL with 14 triples. Never a big run-producer, he was at his RBI gathering best in that season’s ALCS. Lance drove in six runs during the series but the Sox fell to the Blue Jays of Toronto. But the ’93 season was more than just a taste of the postseason for Lance–he reached the .300 batting average plateau for the first time. The 1994 season was truncated, thanks to the player’s strike, but Lance still posted a league best 14 triples. However, his two best seasons were right around the corner.
Lance led the American League in base hits during the 1995 season. The scrawny center fielder was at his well-rounded best. He posted double-digit totals in all the extra base hit departments (the only time in his career he reached ten homeruns) while stealing 40 bases. Although he was nabbed quite often as a young thief, Lance honed his craft in the mid 1990s and was only caught six times in 46 attempts in ’95.
After his breakout year, Lance cashed in and signed a free agent deal with the New York Mets. Lance proved a boon to the New York Nationals. He led the NL with a whopping 227 hits and 21 triples. Named to his only All-Star team that season, Lance had his highwater mark for batting when he ended the season at .333. While hitting above .300 in 1996, the Mets traded Lance with Mark Clark and Manny Alexander to the Cubs for Brian McRae and two solid relief arms: Mel Rojas and Turk Wendell. Lance would get his last look at October play with the 1998 Cubs.
Beginning in 1998, injuries began to take their toll on Lance. He was limited to just 85 games in ’98 but was healthy for the postseason where the Cubs were trounced by the Braves. His 1999 season was also cut short thanks to injury. He played briefly for the Yankees in 2000 before ending his career.
G 1,447/R 767/H 1,565/2B 175/3B 117/HR 34/RBI 486/SB 327/BB 352/SO 384/BA .291/SA .386/OBP .334