John Stearns, a combative four-time time All-Star catcher with the Mets, died on Thursday in Denver. He was 71.
The Mets announced the death, which they said came after a long bout with cancer.
Stearns, who was with the Mets from 1975 to 1984, died less than three weeks after attending Old-Timers’ Day at Citi Field in Queens. The event was held to acknowledge the Mets’ 60th anniversary.
“No one played the game with more spirit or determination than John Stearns,” the Mets’ president, Sandy Alderson, said in a statement. “He literally willed himself to attend Old-Timers’ Day last month so he could visit friends and old teammates. Despite his illness, he even managed to step into the batting cage to take a few swings.”
John Hardin Stearns was born on Aug. 21, 1951, in Denver. He played both baseball and football at the University of Colorado and was a late draft pick as a defensive back by the Buffalo Bills of the N.F.L. in 1973. The Philadelphia Phillies took him second overall that same year, and he opted to play baseball.
With Bob Boone behind the plate, Stearns never had a chance to play regularly for the Phillies after struggling early at the plate. After appearing in one game for the Phillies in 1974, he was traded to the Mets as part of the multiplayer deal that sent the relief pitcher Tug McGraw to Philadelphia.
Despite being frequently injured, Stearns was named to the National League All-Star team in 1977, 1979, 1980 and 1982. He had a career batting average of .260 with 152 doubles, 10 triples and 46 home runs in 810 games. Unusual for a catcher, he also stole 91 bases, including a team-high 25 in 1978.
Stearns, whose nickname was Bad Dude, could be feisty. The star Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Dave Parker sustained a broken collarbone in a collision with Stearns in 1978. The future star Mets catcher Gary Carter, then with the Montreal Expos, got into a fight with him after a collision at home plate in 1979.
In 1980, Stearns tackled one of two fans who ran on the field and eluded the authorities a little too long for his liking.
After retiring as a player, Stearns was a scout with Milwaukee, a bullpen coach for the Yankees, a minor league manager for Toronto and a scout and coach for the Orioles.
He returned to the Mets as a coach in 2000 for two years under Bobby Valentine. He was later as a scout and a minor league coach for the team.
“John was such a key part of our staff,” Valentine said. “He had a unique way of lighting a fire under the guys. Every time we spoke by phone, he kept telling me he was going to beat this thing.”
Stearns is survived by his son, Justin; his brothers, Richard and William; and his sister, Carla.