- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
"He showed management he was going to do things his way," said Outfielder Billy Cowan shortly before the suspension, "and he's still in the lineup. It looks like he has a point to prove, and he's proving it."
Now Alex Johnson is no longer in the lineup, and his point, whatever it was, may now be irrelevant. But the mystery of his behavior and the destructiveness of it persist.
"It's tragic," says Walsh, who had unsuccessfully tried to deal Johnson away before the June 15 trading deadline. "Here is a man with so much talent going to waste. And careers are so short in this field. Alex Johnson just isn't motivated by some of the things that motivate other people."
Motivation, let it be said, docs not seem of the least concern to this moody, unpredictable man.
"I'm in baseball," he said, "because it is a healthy activity. It associates itself with creativeness and is a source of refinement.... To put money above everything is wrong. You've got to put things in perspective. Baseball is not first. The individual is first. A lot of people forget that. A ballplayer is under contract for his ability on the field, not as a human being."
It is as if Johnson were groping for respect of a different kind, for an appreciation of the person, not the athlete. And in his groping he has developed a super-sensitivity to any slight, real or imagined.
"Last year when I won the batting championship on the last day, the guys shook my hand," he says. "But some guys didn't want me to win and they gave me the weakest handshakes I've ever felt."
Conspiracies spring up for Johnson like clover in an outfield. No area is immune. Take the batting cage.
"Batting practice is supposed to be for hitting. But on this club, guys don't pitch so you can hit. I'll stand up there and say, 'Ball one, ball two, man on first, call the bullpen.' Then in the shower you hear those pitchers say, 'Hear what that Johnson was saying? Hear what that Johnson was saying?' On a good major league team pitchers would accept what I said so they could help the hitters. On other clubs I say, 'Ball one,' and the pitcher says, 'O.K., O.K., I'll get the ball over for you.' "
What other clubs? In fewer than eight seasons in the major leagues, Johnson has played for Philadelphia, St. Louis, Cincinnati and the Angels. Walsh nearly shipped him off to Milwaukee for Tommy Harper last month, but Harper, dormant most of the season, suddenly sprang to life and the transaction was called off. One general manager, says Walsh, seemed hurt by the suggestion that Johnson might be a valuable acquisition for his team.