Card-by-Yankees Card: The 1977 Topps Set, Cards #514, Cliff Johnson (Article 102)
by Paul Semendinger
May 3, 2022
(Continuing a series…)
Big Cliff Johnson.
First, I remember the good. The story was that this happened in 1977, I believe. Big Cliff came up and hit a pinch-hit home run on a check swing. I’m not sure if that really happened. If I did, I’m sure I didn’t see it. But I remember people telling the story about it and me, as a little kid, being in awe and hoping it was true.
Cliff Johnson played for the Yankees from 1977 to 1979. He was traded during that 1979 season because of my other notable memory of him, but first, it’s important to see how he performed in New York.
1977: 56 games, .296/12/31
That 1977 season was a great year for Johnson. That year he did hit have a pinch hit homer.
1978: 76 games, .184/6/19
In 1978, Johnson hit two pinch hit home runs.
1979: 28 games, .266/2/6
As a Yankee in 1979, Cliff Johnson did not have any pinch hit homers.
In his career, Cliff Johnson played for the Houston Astros, New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, Chicago Cubs, Oakland A’s, Toronto Blue Jays, and Texas Rangers. Over his 15 year career, he hit 20 pinch hit homers.
Johnson was 6’4” and very strong. He just might have hit a pinch hit home run on a checked swing. One thing is certain, he did hit a lot of pinch hit home runs.
Then there was the bad. My second Cliff Johnson memory was a bad one. It was something I didn’t understand, being a kid at the time. In those days, I thought teammates should be friends.
In 1979, Cliff Johnson and Goose Gossage got into a fight of some sort in the shower. Some reports said it started off as teasing, others seem to indicate it was more serious. The results were what mattered:
Gossage broke his thumb.
Johnson was soon traded away to the Cleveland Indians for pitcher Don Hood.
Cliff Johnson was a player made to be a designated hitter in many regards. He didn’t have a position in the field where he seemed comfortable or performed well defensively. In his career, Johnson played 189 games at first base, 179 games as a catcher, 57 games in left field, and 4 games in right field. Johnson served as a DH in 748 games. He appeared as a pinch hitter 277 times.
20 or 21?
The Cliff Johnson Baseball Reference page under Advanced Stats shows that he hit 20 pinch hit homers.
The BR Bullpen page says that he hit 21 pinch hit homers.
When one researches things, he often finds mistakes.
According to an old article in the USA Today, Cliff Johnson homered off Goose Gossage in an Old-Timers game. Goose then plunked Elliott Maddox, the next batter.
Like so much, I’m not sure how true that is. There seem to be so many stories like this, of the old time pitcher plunking a batter in an Old Timer’s Game that I’m starting to wonder how many are actually true.
Cliff Johnson’s last ever game came in Yankee Stadium on September 30, 1986. In that game, he appeared as a pinch hitter for the Toronto Blue Jays.
In the top of the 9th, Garth Iorg was sent up to pinch hit for Ernie Whitt, a left-handed-hitting catcher. Iorg batted right-handed. Dave Righetti was pitching for the Yankees. That all seemed to make sense.
But, for some reason Cliff Johnson then pinch hit for Iorg in the middle of the at bat. Maybe Iorg got hurt, or maybe he was thrown out due to a disagreement with the umpire. Whatever happened, Cliff Johnson batted and then struck out. The strikeout was charged to Iorg.