Flashback Friday: Cliff Johnson

Image courtesy of Mop Up Duty

In today’s roster construction, I think the art of putting together a great bench is a long-forgotten art. A short bench has come back to bite the Blue Jays several times this season, but back in the 80’s and 90’s, the men in the trenches went to war at the plate.

Cliff Johnson was one of those soldiers who dredged through the trenches with the Blue Jays, and he is the focus for this week’s Flashback Friday.

I’ll be honest, at first I didn’t know all that much about Cliff Johnson aside from his spectacular moustache. In fact, I started using a photo of him as my Twitter avatar last year and enjoyed it so much that I’ve kept it ever since.


It turns out that Cliff Johnson brought a lot to the Blue Jays squad in the 80’s. He made two tours with the Blue Jays, from 1983-1984 and 1985-1986. Heathcliff was used primarily as designated hitter and pinch hitter during his tenure with the Blue Jays.

During his very first season in Toronto in 1983, Bobby Cox used Cliff Johnson primarily as a platoon DH with Jorge Ota. Together they combined to slug 34 home runs and drive in 113 runs. Not too shabby for a two-headed DH, right?

In 1984, Johnson’s home run total dropped off a bit, but he managed to raise his batting average 39 points year over year to .304. Cliff Johnson saw very limited time on the field, as he started only 9 games over two years with the Blue Jays.

On August 5th 1984, Cliff Johnson set a new Major League record for pinch hit home runs as he picked up his 19th career pinch hit home run. He would later add to that record by hitting his 20th pinch hit home run in 1986, but Matt Stairs would break that record in 2010.

Cliff Johnson signed a one-year deal with the Texas Rangers in 1985 before being traded back to the Blue Jays on August 29th. Johnson would wrap up his career in a Blue Jays uniform, but as I alluded to, not before hitting his 20th career pinch hit home run.

An interesting set of circumstances lead to Cliff Johnson ending up with the number “00” when he returned to the Blue Jays in 1985. Johnson’s go-to number was 44, but it was occupied by Jeff Burroughs.

I guess Johnson’s second choice was 0, but that was used by Al Oliver. So instead, Cliff Johnson opted to go with 00, which meant the Toronto Blue Jays had players with both the number “0” and “00” on the roster at the same time.

And I can’t remember who exactly it was who brought this video to my attention on Twitter, but it also turns out one of Cliff Johnson’s hallmark is that he refuses to smile for his baseball card photos:


Ian Hunter

Ian has been writing about the Toronto Blue Jays since 2007. He enjoyed the tail-end of the Roy Halladay era and vividly remembers the Alex Rodriguez "mine" incident. He'll also retell the story of Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS to his kids for the next 20 years.

9 thoughts on “Flashback Friday: Cliff Johnson

  • August 24, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    1985 was the year that I really got into the Blue Jays and Cliff Johnson was one of my favourite players at the time because he always seemed to do well.

    He retired after the 1985 season stating that he never felt like he got the appreciation or playing time he deserved. Which is kind of tough to argue with considering he only had more than 400 at bats in a season once and that was 407, all that while putting up a career .815 OPS. And this from a guy who's main position was catcher when he first came up. He was basically one of the best hitting catchers in baseball, but never was an everyday guy.

    • August 24, 2012 at 8:41 pm

      Peter, CJ was a little before my time in Blue Jays fandom, but he seems like the kind of player I would gravitate towards as well. Plus, he has one hell of a moustache!

  • August 24, 2012 at 11:51 pm

    I too loved Johnson's style of play. I can still remember him sliding into third (someone commented that he went into third like a beached whale) in of the '85 ALCS.

    Hey Ian have you ever done a FF on George Bell's magnificent catch to win the AL east (in '85) against the Yankees?

    • August 25, 2012 at 2:20 am

      You mean "the" catch, where he hugged Tony Fernandez? That's a great suggestion – I was thinking of doing a full-blown Flashback Friday on the Drive of 85, so I'll see what I can do in the coming weeks. Thanks!

    • August 25, 2012 at 6:14 pm

      Yes indeedy that's the one. There are parts of the '85 season that I remember like they happened yesterday.

      You know George wasn't too far off the mark when he said the umpires didn't want the Jays to win because they were from Canada and had a lot of Dominican players. I was happy to read in the Star a couple of weeks ago that George is hitting instructing in Lansing. Good move to keep him in the fold plus he can properly teach how to karate kick a pitcher that gets too close.

    • August 26, 2012 at 10:52 pm

      George Bell is in Lansing? I had no idea! Good to know he's still in the Blue Jays organization.

  • August 25, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    Also known as the man who broke Goose Gossage's hand and killed the Yankee's chances in 1979. This done when Cliff was a Yankee.

    • August 26, 2012 at 10:53 pm

      So it sounds like Cliff Johnson was a double agent for the Blue Jays then!

  • April 15, 2014 at 6:03 pm

    CJ was a fun player to watch, he was notorious with bat tossing with a very animated swing. Still my one of my favs. Dave Stieb is my # 1 Blue Jay.

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