20 years later, former Clemson baseball standout reflects on record-setting offense

20 years later, former Clemson baseball standout reflects on record-setting offense


20 years later, former Clemson baseball standout reflects on record-setting offense


Michael Johnson appreciates it even more now.

And while he certainly played his part, the former Clemson baseball standout also considers himself lucky to come along at the time that he did.

“We had such a good hitting team,” Johnson recently reminisced to The Clemson Insider.

Two decades ago, the Tigers put together arguably the best offensive season the program has ever seen. Johnson, an All-American first baseman on Clemson’s 2002 squad, hit 25 home runs and drove in 81 runs that season, but he was far from the only Tiger doing damage. 

Johnson felt like he benefited from the fact there weren’t many weak spots that could be pitched around in a lineup that helped the Tigers win 54 games and reach the College World Series for the fourth time in then-coach Jack Leggett’s tenure, and understandably so. It also featured one of the best players to ever don a Clemson uniform, future first-round draft pick Khalil Greene, who set a program record with 27 home runs en route to National Player of the Year honors. Power-hitting third baseman Jeff Baker, who went on to be a fourth-round selection and play a decade in the big leagues, was also in that lineup.

Greene, Johnson and Baker combined to swat 77 home runs, but even the less impressive home run totals compared to theirs were still in the double figures. Jarrod Schmidt, a freshman All-American a couple of years earlier, went deep 11 times and tallied 54 RBIs, helping the Tigers tally a program-record 112 long balls that season.

“You have guys around you like that, Baker and Khalil,” Johnson said. “And Jarrod Schmidt had (11) I think. When you’re putting up those kinds of offensive numbers as a team, it’s just incredible.”

With that many bats that could leave the yard at any moment, Clemson had its fair share of strikeouts, too (447). But the Tigers’ offense was far from the feast-or-famine type. They posted a .324 average that season with the All-American trio leading the way. Greene led the nation with a staggering .470 clip, Johnson came in at .384 and Baker had a .325 average.

Only one of the Tigers’ regulars hit below .304 that season.

“It was just really fun to be a part of,” Johnson said. “Just loved every minute of it. We had so much fun.”

Clemson beat Arkansas in a super regional that year to get to Omaha, where the Tigers scored 20 combined runs in wins over Nebraska and Georgia Tech to start the CWS. Johnson, who was named to the all-CWS team, belted his final home run of the season in the Tigers’ next game to give them an early 3-0 lead on rival South Carolina before the Gamecocks rallied to win that one.

South Carolina later beat the Tigers again to end their CWS run, but the golden era of Clemson baseball was heating up. Clemson, which had also been to the CWS in 2000, returned to Omaha four years later and again most recently in 2010. Now the program is trying to get back to that level.

After missing out on the last two NCAA Tournaments – the first time the program hasn’t played in consecutive tournaments since the 1980s – Clemson recently hired former Michigan coach Erik Bakich, a volunteer assistant for that ‘02 team, to lead the program. Johnson is a fan of the hire and is hopeful Bakich can get the Tigers back to winning big, even if it will be tough for any future Clemson offense to surpass the success of 20 years ago.

“I loved it,” Johnson said of Bakich’s hire. “I’m excited for him, and I’m excited for the program. I think he’s going to do a lot of great things. He’s going to embrace the tradition of Clemson baseball, so I’m just really excited about it.”



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