Johnny Ray was a 5’11” second baseman from Chouteau, OK. Born March 1st, 1957, he was initially selected by the Houston Astros in the 12th round of the 1979 amateur draft with the 294th overall pick. He made his first professional appearance later that season, splitting his time between the Gulf Coast League “Rookie” level Astros (37 games, .311, 35 RBI) and the “A” level Florida State League Daytona Beach Astros (24 games, .221, 25 RBI). 1980 would see him spend the season with the Columbus Astros of the “AA” Southern League, hitting .324 in 138 games with 10 home runs and 72 RBI.
In 1981, he earned another promotion, joining the Tuscon Toros of the “AAA” Pacific Coast League, and hitting a blistering .349 with 83 RBI and 19 stolen bases in 131 contests. On August 31st, the Pirates acquired him, along with Randy Niemann and Kevin Houston for Phil Garner.
Ray joined the Pirates right away for his first big league action, playing in 31 games to close out the season. He hit .245 while appearing at second base and batting second, third, sixth, seventh, and eighth. He had multiple hits in seven contests, and the Pirates finished with a 46-56 record, finishing the strike shortened second half with a sixth place 21-33 record.
1982 would see Ray join the Pirates right out of camp. He played in all 162 games, leading the NL and finishing second in the NL Rookie of the Year Award voting. He hit .281 with seven home runs, 63 RBI and 16 stolen bases. He ranked fourth in the NL with 182 hits, and fifth with 138 singles. He also showed patience at the plate, striking out once every 19 at bats (NL third). His .977 fielding percentage at second base allowed him to rate highly in defensive WAR, with 1.7. He had five four hit games, nine three hit games, and 45 multiple hit games in total. His best performance may have been on May 15th, when he went 3-for-4 with a home run and five RBI in a 12-9 win over the Cincinnati Reds. Pittsburgh finished with an 84-78 record, stranded in fourth in the strong NL East.
In 1983, Ray led the NL with 38 doubles and with one strikeout every 22.2 at bats, also earning a Silver Slugger, appearing in 151 games and hitting .283. He also ranked highly in defensive WAR, finishing with a value of 2.8, third in the NL. He batted mostly second in the order, playing exclusively at second base. He had his first five-hit performance on August 2nd, going 5-for-5 with a run and three RBI in a 10-3 win over the Philadelphia Phillies. The Pirates finished with another 84-78 record, in second place by six games behind Philadelphia.
1984 would see Ray post a career high and NL fifth best .312 batting average, again leading the NL with 38 doubles. He appeared in 155 games, scoring 75 runs and knocking in 67. He ranked second with 17.9 at bats per strikeout. He batted everywhere from second through seventh in the order. On September 18th, he hit a triple and a home run, knocking in four in a 6-2 win over the Chicago Cubs. The Pirates record dropped to an NL East sixth place 75-87.
In 1985, Ray hit .274 with an NL ninth best 33 doubles and 70 RBI in 154 games. He led the NL with a career best one strikeout per 24.8 at bats. He batted out of the top three spots in the order, also making three starts batting sixth. He went 3-for-5 with two doubles and four RBI in a 5-0 win over the Phillies in the second game of a doubleheader on October 5th. The Pirates finished in last place at 57-104, 17.5 games behind next to last place Philadelphia.
Ray appeared in 155 games in 1986, hitting an NL seventh best .301 with an NL ninth best 33 doubles, 67 runs and 78 RBI. The Pirates used him out of the three slot. He hit two doubles and three RBI in an 8-0 win over the Cubs on April 13th. A week later, he went 4-for-7 with two runs, two RBI and a walk in a 17-inning, 10-8 win over the same Cubs. The Pirates finished 44 games behind the pennant winning New York Mets, at 64-98.
1987 would be Ray’s last season with the Pirates. He hit .273 in 123 games with 54 RBI. Pittsburgh sent him to the California Angels for Billy Merrifield and Miguel Garcia on August 29th. In three and a half season with California, he hit .296 with 16 home runs and 203 RBI, earning his first and only All Star selection in 1988.
All-Time Statline: Seven seasons, 931 games, .286/.334/.390, 1009-for-3525, 414 runs, 202 doubles, 26 triples, 37 home runs, 391 RBI, 68 stolen bases, 259 walks, 207 strikeouts, 17.6 wins above replacement.