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HoJo Returns, Will His Bat Be Corked?

By Mike Silva ~ September 1st, 2011. Filed under: Independent Baseball, NY Baseball Memories.

The news about Howard Johnson returning to the diamond this weekend at the age of 50 to play with his son Glen for the Rockland Boulders conjures up memories of his career.

In case you are unaware, Johnson will suit up for the Boulders- a member of the independent Canadian American League- for a game this weekend against Newark. Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez reported during last night’s broadcast that HoJo will be playing first, and “hopes to make contact.”

Johnson is remembered for being the Mets hitting coach in recent years. Before his firing, he was criticized for the poor performance of the Mets offense and the decline of David Wright‘s production. What has been overlooked was a solid Mets career that took off after Ray Knight departed for Baltimore in 1987.

From 1987-1991 Johnson was second in the National League in home runs to Darryl Strawberry. He was a member of the 30/30 club three times (‘87, ‘89, and ‘91). The question becomes did HoJo do this while enhanced? No, I am not talking about PEDs, but the accusations about his use of a corked bat.

One of the more humorous scenes during that time was Johnson fighting with Tony Pena for his bat at home plate after a late inning home run at Busch Stadium. Whitey Herzog and the Cardinals were convinced HoJo was corking his bat. They claimed to have x-rayed it for the evidence. “Everybody in the league knows he is corking his bat,” Herzog said at the time. “And he’s not the only one on that club who is doing it. And they aren’t the only club in the league doing it.” Remember, HoJo hit 10 homers in 1986, and jumped to 36 in 1987. Both he and Strawberry were the first teammates to hit 30 homers and steal 30 bases. It raised suspicions in the Cardinals clubhouse, but eventually blew over at the ’87 season.

Fast forward to 2003, and former teammate Keith Hernandez is broadcasting Mets games for Fox Sports Net. Peter Botte of the Daily News recaps the on-air conversation Hernandez had with Howie Rose during a game against Milwaukee. ”I do know that HoJo was corking his bat,” Hernandez said. “His father corked his bats for him. . . . Howard did it kind of later in his career.” When Rose prodded Mex to explain how he would have such information, he replied by saying “Howard told me. He can’t keep his mouth shut!” Hernandez would not elaborate about his comments to Botte after the game.

Johnson has never publicly acknowledged cheating, although he came close after retiring after spring training in 1997. ”All I’ve ever said is that when they X-rayed my bats, they came up clean. But I know a few good carpenters, yeah.”

Mike Silva is a freelance writer and radio host since March of 2007. This website is his own personal "digest" of New York Baseball He's also hosts NYBD Radio on Blog Talk Radio and 1240 AM WGBB. Check out his sports media commentary at www.sportsmediawatchdog.com. Check out his official website, www.mikesilvamedia.com
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