Johnson rings in the new New Orioles catcher wears look of winner who's eager to repeat

December 05, 1998|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

New Orioles catcher Charles Johnson was wearing his World Series ring when he visited Camden Yards for an introductory news conference yesterday.

It sparkled brightly under the glare of the television lights, reminding everyone that the 27-year-old catcher has been to the World Series and returned with the goods.

"I know what it's like to win a championship," said Johnson, who was a major contributor to the Florida Marlins' world title run in 1997. "I want to have that feeling again."

Obviously, there are a lot of people in the Orioles' organization who would like to experience the thrill of a World Series victory, and -- if Johnson's track record is any indication -- their chances of doing so improved when the Orioles acquired him in a three-way deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets earlier this week.

"One of the things we wanted to do was address our catching situation," said Orioles general manager Frank Wren, who also owns a ring from the Marlins' '97 world title. "We had focused on Charles. We felt we might have what it took to get Charles. He adds a new dimension to our team."

About that there is little dispute. Johnson is a four-time Gold Glove catcher who is as good as anyone at cutting down the opposition's running game. He has thrown out 42 percent of the runners who have attempted to steal against him during his career. He is the real deal defensively and probably is better than the .218 batting average he carried away from a turbulent 1998 season.

He was uprooted early in the season and shipped out of Florida as part of that club's drastic downsizing. His wife gave birth to the couple's first child. He felt pressure to re-establish himself in Los Angeles after replacing superstar catcher Mike Piazza. It was a tough year all around.

"I was settled in Florida," he said. "That's my home. I was happy being there. It was a big change for me."

Johnson ended up with 19 home runs and 58 RBIs, but he was not the same player who performed so marvelously during the Marlins' surprising title run the year earlier.

"I think it's important that everyone knows that Charles was a big factor on our world championship team in 1997," Wren said. "Going into last year, for all the players who weren't traded, it was very difficult. Everybody -- Livan Hernandez, [Edgar] Renteria, Charles -- they all had difficulty. It was a tough situation for the team."

It was a tough adjustment in Los Angeles, too. Johnson had to step right into the starting lineup and learn a new pitching staff without the benefit of spring training. The deal this week presents another set of adjustments -- new team, new league -- but he said he's looking forward to the opportunity to start from Day One with the Orioles.

"It's nice to be here," he said. "The last time I was here [at Camden Yards] was with the '92 USA Olympic team. I never dreamed I would play here, so I'm thrilled about it.

"It's a move that I think is going to be good for me and my family. I think it's going to work out well."

The Orioles obviously feel the same way. Former everyday catcher Chris Hoiles had become a defensive liability behind the plate, enough so that reserve Lenny Webster ended up catching more games last season. Johnson is expected to play in 130-140 games next year, with Webster catching in reserve and Hoiles playing a multiple role at first base and as the right-handed designated hitter.

Johnson was acquired largely for his defensive acumen, but he said yesterday that he was not satisfied with his offensive performance last season.

"My goals are very high," he said. "I don't want to put it on myself that I'm going to get so many home runs and RBIs, but I believe that if I pick my average up, the home runs and RBIs will go up with it.

"My main focus will be behind the plate, handling the pitching staff. When I go out to hit, I just let my talent take over and try to have fun."

Comings and goings

The three players the Orioles lost to free agency (Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar and Eric Davis) collectively had better numbers than the recently signed Orioles (Albert Belle, Delino DeShields and Charles Johnson):

Losses ...... HR ... RBI ... Avg.

Palmeiro .... 43 ... 121 ... .296

Alomar ...... 14 ... 56 .... .282

Davis ....... 28 ... 89 .... .327

Losses ...... 85 ... 266 ... .300

Gains ....... HR ... RBI ... Avg.

Belle ....... 49 ... 152 ... .328

DeShields ... 7 .... 44 .... .290

Johnson ..... 19 ... 58 .... .218

Gains ....... 75 ... 254 ... .284

Pub Date: 12/05/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.