By Barry Duchan
If Johnny Stephenson is remembered at all by fans of the early Mets, it's as the last out of Jim Bunning's perfect game. He was so overmatched in striking out, the Mets might as well have plucked a fan out of the stands at random and asked him to get a hit off Bunning. At the time, if I remember correctly, Stephenson was hitting a feeble .149 and it didn't get much better for him. Yet, almost amazingly Stephenson spent parts of ten years in the major leagues and was regarded as a decent lefty bat off the bench who could also fill in at a few positions by the time the Angels picked him up in the early '70's.
Stephenson came to the major leagues in 1964 solely because of the rule in effect at the time which required a big league team to carry second-year pros on their 25-man roster all season or risk losing them on waivers. To say that Stephenson was not ready is an understatement. He had a terrible "sweep" swing, the kind that's usually corrected in Little League, and although he was considered primarily a catcher, the Mets didn't play him there at all in the 1964 season. If Stephenson ever had a big hit for the Mets, I don't remember it. If ever there was a player I thought would never return to the majors after his one-year "trial", Stephenson was the one. But somehow after getting to the Cubs, his swing was reconstructed and he actually became kind of a threat as a lefthanded pinch-hitter. When you look at his lifetime numbers, a .216 average in nearly 1000 at-bats with little speed, and below average defense, you marvel at how he managed to have such a lengthy career. When anyone says it's a lot easier to get to the big leagues these days with more Major League teams and fewer farm teams, I point to the improbable career of John Stephenson, a player of minimal talent who managed to hang around for parts of ten years with four different teams.