Introducing… Johnny Ray

A switch-hitting second baseman, Johnny Ray only played ten seasons at the Major League level but was a stellar player in his brief big league career.  The compactly built second baseman had a knack for doubles–twice leading the National League in the department and often leading his position peers by a wide margin. 

Originally drafted by the Astros in 1979, Johnny was traded to the Pirates with southpaw Randy Niemann for Scrap Iron Phil Garner before he made his Major League debut.  Ray took over Garner’s second base job late in 1981 and held the position in Pittsburgh through 1987.  The Pirates were World Champs in 1979 but when Johnny joined them, they were beginning their slide which would take them to the National League’s basement in the mid 1980s.

Although the Pirates were no longer a contending team, they had a gifted little second baseman in Johnny Ray.  In 1982–his first full season at the Major League level–Ray led National League second basemen in base hits.  He finished second to Steve Sax in Rookie of the Year voting and ahead of Ryne Sandberg–two contemporaries he would be compared with throughout his career. 

Johnny won his only Silver Slugger Award in 1983 when he tied for the league lead with 38 doubles.  A gifted all-round performer, Johnny was the most difficult strikeout victim in the NL that year–he had more doubles than strikeouts–and also turned in the excess of 100 double plays.  In ’84, he again posted 38 doubles–tied for the NL lead.  He and Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg were the only .300 hitting second basemen in the senior circuit. 

Striking out was something Ray just didn’t do.  In 1985, the switch-hitter was the most difficult strikeout victim in the National League.  He was called out on strikes just 24 times in close to 600 at-bats.  Also a fine run-producer, Johnny tied for the most RBI by an NL second baseman in 1986.  But the Pirates of the mid 1980s was a woeful franchise and they decided a youth movement was in their best interest.  Late in the 1987 season, they dealt Ray to the Angels for two failed pieces in what eventually became a solid roster restructuring in Pittsburgh, geared around trade pieces like Bobby Bonilla, Doug Drabek and Andy Van Slyke and draft picks like Barry Bonds.

Johnny settled in the American League, and now that he was out of Sandberg and Sax’s shadows, he was named a member of the 1988 American League All-Star Team.  Deserving of the honor, Ray led AL second basemen in batting average and was the only American League second sacker to hit more than 30 doubles–he banged out 42.  That season was Johnny’s best as he established career highs in hits, doubles and RBI. 

Johnny hit .289 in 1989 with 36 walks and just 30 strikeouts.  But the next season, his walk and strikeout totals were unflattering.  He uncharacteristically struck out twice as much as he walked, and since his on-base percentage was a weak .308, the Angels didn’t ask him back for the 1991 season.  He backed his bags and traveled to the Land of the Rising Sun and showcased his doubles-hitting talents in the Japanese League. 

THE NUMBERS

G 1,353/R 604/H 1,502/2B 294/3B 36/HR 53/RBI 594/SB 80/BB 353/SO 329/BA .290/SA .391/OBP .333

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