To say that Dan Johnson is something of a cult figure among Rays fans and bloggers may be something of an understatement. Despite the fact that the 31 year old journeyman and former NPBer has only appeared in 42 games as a Tampa Bay Ray, he’s already earned his own nickname from the incomparable Jonah Keri: The Great Pumpkin. Why? Because of this:
Rises up once a year, kills the Red Sox, goes back into the ground. And he’s a ginger too.
Not only that, but now he’s getting his own holiday:
On this, the twenty-first day of September in the year two-thousand and ten, we, the DRaysBay staff, do heartily proclaim that henceforth, every September 9th shall be celebrated among the Rays’ Faithful as “Great Pumpkin Day”, in honor of Dan Johnson’s repeated heroic performances for the Tampa Bay Rays.
For in the Rays’ need, Dan Johnson (or as he is know in the Kerian tongue, “The Great Pumpkin”) has come forth from the great Pumpkin Patch of Obscurity to deliver blow after blow to the Great Enemies, the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. Great in might and long in pocketbook, these Enemies have plagued the Rays for many a year and have been immune to even the heartiest of assaults, yet none can withstand the stroke of The Great Pumpkin.
This may seem like an abnormal amount of fanfare for a player with a career wOBA of .336 at first base, and, as mentioned above, only 42 games as a Tampa Bay Ray. In those 42 games, Johnson has only accrued 141 plate appearances and 0.6 WAR. That’s hardly worth celebrating, much less creating a holiday out of.
Johnson’s performance, however, has been remarkable in context. In the 2008 season in which the Rays won the AL East and reached the World Series, Johnson received 28 plate appearances in September and compiled +.12 WPA, including a game-tying home run against Jonathan Papelbon in his first game back in the Major Leagues on September 9th.
It’s what Johnson has done in 2010 that has truly rallied the Rays’ fanbase around him. In 113 plate appearances since August, Johnson has posted a fine .374 wOBA and 0.5 WAR. More impressive, however, is his +0.88 WPA, in part bolstered by a solid +0.36 clutch score. Johnson has had more late game heroics this season, including a go ahead home run as part of this two home run game against the Yankees and yet another home run against Papelbon on August 28th, this time of the walk-off variety.
With Evan Longoria out for the weekend, Johnson will get an opportunity to play third base for the Rays against the Mariners. With how well the Great Pumpkin has played – and his minor league numbers back up this kind of performance – the Rays will likely try their hardest to get him in the lineup as the season ends and into the playoffs. By that time, it’s likely that opposing pitchers will understand to beware The Great Pumpkin.