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Grumpy Johnson has been a bad fit in the Big Apple

Grumpy Johnson has been a bad fit in the Big Apple

On Christmas Day in New York, the Grinches were on the run.
First there was Tom Coughlin, head football grouch, trying somehow to recover from his sixth loss in seven games.
And then there was something more unexpected on Monday, a ray of light from the general direction of the West Coast. Was it possible? Were there really several teams out there willing to excise Randy Johnson from the Bronx, to make his scowl and his ever-slowing fastball disappear?
The very thought of such philanthropic organizations, of an amicable divorce here in New York from the Big Unit, was enough to bring smiles to children of all ages. Here was proof that it is often much better to give than to receive, especially in the case of an underachieving, 43-year-old grump.
The most recent report had the Yankees talking trade for Johnson with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Forget for a moment the US$16 million left on Johnson's contract. Even better would be to dump the ancient, fading arm, and the failed strategy it embodies.
Such foolishness on the part of other franchises is still hard to believe, if only because the guy is coming off back surgery for a herniated disk and off a season in which he managed only a 5.00 ERA. His spring training status remains questionable, his mood swings probable.
But then, the West Coast is baseball's new boom town. Money long locked away in safety deposit boxes is suddenly being withdrawn, strewn about the country. This is no longer just a Boston-New York binge. The Dodgers, Angels and even the Padres have discovered the joy of spending. Welcome them to the mall.
The Diamondbacks are also in the picture, apparently. One-hit wonders like Arizona have a way of romanticizing the past. The Diamondbacks may be yearning for a piece of their own history, a happier, Yankee-killing October.
From Brian Cashman's point of view, Johnson is now extremely disposable. The Bombers have two lefties coming to town - Andy Pettitte and Kei Igawa. The GM is trying to get younger, even if there have been some compromises along the way. He is shedding payroll, sort of. Coincidentally, Pettitte will get about US$16 million, the same as Johnson is due. If this were the NBA, Pettitte might be filling Johnson's salary cap slot.
Johnson does not just pale in comparison to Pettitte. Whenever we think of Johnson around here, we also think about Pedro Martinez, and about what it means to be a New York athlete. They were both future Hall of Fame pitchers on the downside when they came to New York in 2005, at extremely high market prices and at a great gamble to the buyers.
Few will complain about Pedro, who pitched his heart out and helped to change the whole tone of the Met clubhouse. Martinez brought light and fun to Shea, before he fell apart. The Big Unit has brought only his dark disposition. He has won 34 games - 10 more than Martinez in two seasons. But somehow, he looks no better than a No. 4 starter behind Wang Chien-Ming, Mike Mussina and Pettitte.
Johnson's agents say they are unaware of these trade talks. Players have been known to seek prohibitive incentives in exchange for waiving their no-trade clauses. We can only hope that Johnson has been as uncomfortable in New York as he's appeared, that he wouldn't mind ditching the media masses around his locker.
From Day 1, that infamous cameraman incident of January 10, 2005, this has been a strained relationship. Joe Torre tried to cover for his pitcher. He often said that Johnson was just trying too hard, or that Roger Clemens had been proof how even a great pitcher required a full season to grow comfortable in pinstripes.
It has now been two years of a bad fit. Both sides labored hard to make this work. Give Johnson credit for pitching through pain on many occasions, at risk to his health. Give the Yankees credit for those 34 victories, because many of them came despite the Big Unit, not because of him.
He will always be the guy struggling in pivotal Game 3 against Detroit, giving up five runs in 5 2/3 innings, and then telling everyone again he had pitched just fine. Just some bad luck, he said.
He couldn't have believed his own words that day. We certainly didn't.


Updated : 2021-03-04 07:39 GMT+08:00