Jim Johnson spent most of the day Tuesday at the Major League Baseball Players Association's annual executive-board meeting in La Jolla, Calif.
Hours removed from the news he had been traded by the Orioles to the Oakland Athletics, word was still filtering out. And all day long, while Johnson was in meetings, the former Orioles closer’s cell phone continuously filled with text messages from his now former Orioles teammates — some expressing shock, others sadness, but all wishing him well.
The night before, Johnson stepped off a cross-country flight to participate in the union meetings as the Orioles' player rep only to find out he had been dealt.
But receiving those messages of support throughout the day Tuesday made Johnson -- known for being cool and calm while under late-inning pressure as the Orioles closer for the past two-plus seasons -- give in to emotion.
“I wasn’t really emotional until I started getting messages from some of the guys and I saw some of the stuff they were saying,” Johnson said in a telephone interview Tuesday night, during which he became noticeably choked up at times. “It shows I did have a good impact on a lot of guys. … I’ve been in touch with a lot of my former teammates. There’s mixed emotions among a lot of people, and that means I did my job. That’s one way to look at it.”
An Oriole since he was drafted out of high school as a teenager in 2001, Johnson was one of the fixtures of the clubhouse. Beyond his 101 saves over the past two seasons, he was a well respected veteran and team leader.
Johnson didn't mask his frustration about being traded, and he expressed that he didn't know all the reasons behind the deal, which sent him to Oakland for infielder Jemile Weeks and a minor league player to be named later. He said spending too much time trying to figure it out would do no good. Johnson was projected to make about $10 million in his final year of arbitration.
“It’s sad, obviously, leaving because I’ve got great friends and I’ve had great relationships with a lot of people for a long time,” Johnson said. “I’ve been there since 2001, before a lot of people were there. I’ve been there through the bad days and all the way through [to] how things have gotten well. I take a lot of pride in that I was a big reason why the team is where it is."
Johnson reflected on his dozen years in the Orioles organization, a journey that saw him go from a starting pitcher in the minor leagues to one of the top closers in the game.
“I spent the same amount of years in Baltimore that I did going through school,” Johnson said. “It’s where I grew up, if you want to put it in perspective. You can put [it] in that context and understand it a little bit.
“There’s obviously sadness, but I had it good. I was fortunate compared to a lot of other people. There’s not too many relievers who stayed in an organization as long as I have and to be fortunate enough for the team to move spring training to where your house was [in Sarasota, Fla.]. … There’s a lot of that that factors into the emotion, that I had it so good, as far as all the extras. You have all those relationships you’ve made over the past 12 years; there’s a lot to really go through.”
Johnson said he received several text messages late Monday night when he landed in California, one of them from executive vice president Dan Duquette.
“I had a good suspicion what he was going to tell me,” Johnson said. “There were a lot of different emotions at one time. There were so many different things to consider. Honestly, I don’t read the papers. … The last couple days, people who wouldn’t normally talk to me about baseball stuff we asking me questions, so obviously it seemed like it was going to happen.”
Johnson said he immediately thought about his family and the adjustments it would have to make: moving to the West Coast, having spring training in Arizona and getting adjusted to entirely new surroundings.
As the players association meeting, Johnson talked to Oakland players representative Jerry Blevins, a reliever, and Athletics center fielder Craig Gentry, previously the Rangers’ players representative, who on Tuesday was also traded to Oakland. He also reported the meeting’s results to Orioles reliever Darren O’Day, who is the team’s alternate player rep.
Johnson said while he will relish his time in Baltimore, he now must turn his attention to helping the A’s build on back-to-back AL West titles.
“As far as the baseball stuff, baseball is baseball,” Johnson said. “That’s something I’m comfortable with. That’s not the hard part. I’m going to do the same things that I’ve done to make myself a successful Jim Johnson, just in a new uniform. I’m going to do everything can to help my new team. It’s a different chapter. It’s a new experience for me.”