Thursday, January 31, 2013

#212 John Stearns - New York Mets

This is a nice picture of John Stearns in his catching gear on his 8th Topps card.  The low bleachers in the background indicate a spring training location. 

Player:  John Stearns was drafted 2nd overall by the Phillies  in the '73 draft and went one for two in a September debut in '74.   Blocked by Bob Boone, Stearns got his break when the Phils traded him away to the Mets in the Tug McGraw deal.  With the Mets, Stearns backed up veteran Jerry Grote and saw action in 91 games over the '75 and '76 seasons batting .189 and .262. 
Stearns was the Mets everyday catcher for the next three years and also saw time at first and third base.  Over that span he batted .252/.347/.387 and averaged a dozen homers a year.  A natural athlete with good speed Stearns set a National League record (since broken by J.Kendall) for stolen bases by a catcher with 25. 
Beset by injuries, Stearns never made it back to full-time starter status and averaged just 90 games over the '80-'82 seasons.  He also changed his approach at the plate and became more of a slap hitter hitting just 5 HR over the three year span.  His average jumped up to .285, .271, and .293 and he made his 4th and final All-Star team in '82.
A gimpy throwing elbow limited Stearns to just 12 games over the '83-'84 seasons.  A comeback at AAA Denver as a firstbaseman in '85 never got him back to the majors and he retired at age 33.
Flipside:  It pains me to post a fuzzy pic like this but I'm having scanner issues again, and this is the best back I can find.  What is interesting about his mid-career change in hitting approach is that not only did he lose power but was he also seemed to abandon a patient hitting approach.  Over the '77-'79 seasons he walked in 11.8% of his plate appearances.  The next three years, 8.2.  Whether it was a conscious decision who knows?  Maybe pitchers no longer feared him and were more aggressive knowing he was a now a singles hitter.
Oddball:  Stearns was a Bad Dude.  No really, that is his nickname.  He played college football at the University of Colorado and in fact was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the 17th round as a defensive back.  Another multi-sprt star, Dave Winfield was also selected in both the MLB and NFL draft in '73.  Stearns was picked two picks in front of him in baseball and six picks in front of him in football. 
Stearns carried his football mentality over to the catcher position and was superb at blocking the plate.  In 1978 Dave Parker was making a habit of steamrolling catchers but Bad Dude got the best of him in a home plate collision on June 30.  Although Stearns gave up five inches and at least 50 lbs Parker came away with a broken cheekbone.
Other scuffles that cemented his image as a Bad Dude:  aggressively slugging Gary Carter after the "Kid" came in high with an elbow in a collision at the plate, tackled Bill Gullickson after brushing back a teammate, and tackled a drunk fan who got loose at Shea Stadium. 
History:  With Stearns' intensity he would have fit in with any early 1900s ball team.  He retired with a .260/.341/.375 line and 18.5 WAR in 11 seasons.  To be fair he spent three seasons as a regular, three more as a semi-regular, two more as a backup, and played in eight or less games in three other years. 
Stearns is currently the Mariners minor league catching coordinator. 

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