Jim Johnson is known as a stoic figure on the mound and inside the clubhouse. Nothing seems to faze him. Not the pressure situations in the ninth inning or the blown saves or the fan criticism.
It wasn’t until Johnson began to talk about his tenure with the Orioles, which ended with last night’s trade to the Oakland Athletics, that the emotions bubbled to the surface.
Johnson choked up several times during a phone conversation while reflecting on the past two years and the role he played in the Orioles’ rise from the ashes of 14 straight losing seasons.
“It just hit me like five minutes ago,” Johnson said, joking that he normally isn’t an emotional person.
“Obviously, watching how things changed the last couple of years, being a big part of it... Obviously you’ve got to give a lot of credit to Buck (Showalter) and what he’s done since being there. It’s been great playing for him and with all my teammates. And then watching how the city transformed the last couple of years ... “
Johnson paused to compose himself and continued.
“I took great pride in that,” he said. “Obviously, I have special memories looking back.”
Teammates have been texting Johnson since news of the trade broke late last night, “which makes it even harder,” he said.
The Orioles sent Johnson to the A’s for infielder Jemile Weeks and a PTBNL. The industry is viewing it as a pure salary dump, though one that could enable the club to fill other holes later this winter.
“You’re asking the wrong guy,” Johnson said. “I think that’s something you want to talk to Dan (Duquette) about. I have my own theories, but I’ll keep them to myself.
“I had a great time, a great run. Everything that I had there was great, but now I’ve got to focus on helping Oakland. They’re the team that wanted me. There’s a reason why. Now I’ve got to shift my focus.
“I’ve heard good things about their pitching coach. Obviously, they’re a great team, very competitive. I am excited at the same time, even though it probably doesn’t sound like it.”
Johnson became aware of the rumors yesterday afternoon that he could be traded - first to the Dodgers, then the A’s. His flight landed in San Diego, where he’s attending the players union meetings, and he was met with a slew of text messages.
“Up until two days ago, I didn’t really hear much about it,” he said. “Then, people who know me were asking questions about this and that. They were paying attention to it. It’s not like I’m on the internet or follow the blogs or whatever. No offense.”
“Obviously, it was a big shock. This is the only organization I’ve been with. Its going to be tough, but I’m not really concerned about the baseball stuff. It’s the family stuff that my mind goes to. My wife, kids, all that stuff. But we’ve got great friends and family. We’ll let the baseball stuff work itself out. That’s the easy part for me, the baseball stuff.”
Johnson leads the majors with 101 saves over the past two seasons. Unless there’s another trade in the works, he will replace Grant Balfour as the A’s closer, while the Orioles search the free-agent market for a replacement.
“I’m going to do my end of the bargain, everything I can to help the team win and get to the playoffs and win a championship and all that,” he said. “You guys have known me a while now. You know what I do. I take it serious. I’m not going to change anything other than the uniform.
“This is just a new chapter. It’s something that’s obviously new to me. I’ll be fine, but I’m also very thankful for my past.”