Johnson, 27, who shortly after Lasorda's comments was traded to Baltimore in a five-player, three-team deal that sent catcher Todd Hundley from the Mets to the Dodgers, spent the winter at home in Fort Pierce, Fla., working out and caring for his new son, Brandon. In four-plus major league seasons Johnson has established himself as perhaps the game's finest defensive catcher. However, his offense, which appeared to be on the upswing in '97, when he hit .250 with 19 home runs and 63 RBIs for the Marlins, has regressed.
In addition to hitting just .218 combined for Florida and LA. last year, Johnson has let his strikeout totals increase each season, whiffing 129 times in '98. He swings wildly and often without much thought Baltimore hitting coach Terry Crowley says his new pupil needs to focus less on hitting for power, more on going deeper into the count. "If Charles can have tough at bats and make the pitcher work," he says, "it'll be a successful year."
Ever the student, Johnson says he is excited by the challenge of playing in the American League. He's already making mental notes on the tendencies of the Orioles' pitchers. "At first I'll rely a lot on my instincts," he says. 'To really know a pitcher, it takes a year of working together. You're always learning. The thing I like here is that it's a veteran staff, so I can follow their lead and feel comfortable. What I worry more about is learning the opposing hitters."
It's good that he doesn't have much time to dwell on the past. Everything that happened to him in '98, including Florida's sending him to LA in the blockbuster Mike Piazza deal last May, still rankles. "I thought I'd be with the Marlins for life," says the Florida native and former University of Miami All-America. "It's a reminder that baseball is a business."
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