Johnson: ‘Did you ever see Barry Sanders celebrate a touchdown?’

I did a feature story up now on Orioles.com on closer Jim Johnson, who prefers to shy away from the spotlight and let his pitching do the talking. You can read that story here, which includes some insight on who Johnson is, his charity work and a memorable first meeting with manager Buck Showalter.

One thing I did want to point out and make sure it comes across, is how much of a team guy and competitor he is. Even in the Minor Leagues, Johnson’s biggest problem was taking things too seriously, a balance the 28-year-old seems to have finally found. He isn’t a guy you will hear in a lot of post-game interviews, but he’s one of the most respected members of the clubhouse who embodies a lot of Showalter’s no-nonsense approach.  Asked about his lack of celebrations on the mound –he has no exaggerated gestures or trademark moves– Johnson responded: “Did you ever see Barry Sanders celebrate a touchdown?”

As is usually the case with longer stories, there’s plenty of leftover quotes which I included below that didn’t make it in the story. Enjoy.

JIM JOHNSON

[on the maturation process from being drafted to now]

“I don’t know what people’s perceptions of me were or are. And honestly it doesn’t really make much of a difference to me. Responsibility factor wasn’t an issue with me I don’t think, I think I was a responsible person in high school. I always focused on baseball first. Some people might have thought I took it a little too seriously in the Minor Leagues, I don’t know. Maybe I was little more amped up, if things didn’t go my way I didn’t know how to handle them as well as now I do. That’s probably been the maturation factor.

It would bug me too much [if I failed], to the point of maybe it would affect me longer than it should have.”

Johnson cited the game in Fenway Park where he served up the game-tying homer –his first blown save of the year– but came back the following inning to pick up the extra-innings win.

“Maybe in years past, it bugged me too much. I mean it should bug you a little bit, obviously.”

[on his Major League debut in 2006, a three-inning start in which he allowed eight earned runs after making the jump from Double-A]

“They didn’t have a whole lot of options I think is why they brought me up. I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready to play in the big leagues. I got my brains beat in.”

[on having Showalter as manager]

“Obviously since he’s been here it’s been a culture shift, you know? The way guys, from top to bottom, everything has kind of been, I’m not saying it’s been a drastic change. But there’s been tweaks, from top to bottom, of how things go.

The big question is why. That’s a question  that gets asked  a lot with him, is why. Why are we doing this? And if it’s not a sufficient answer, he’s changing it.”

[on appreciating Showalter's approach, which is similar to Johnson's]

“I think we have the same kind of view on certain things. When we see something that doesn’t really make sense, the logical thing is –we’re logical people I think.  He’s probably more analytical and he’s obviously got a lot more knowledge than I do. But I pay attention, I pay attention to a lot of things he does. Some people don’t see certain things I see. He tests guys a lot. He will ask guys if they see certain things and he will know if they are just giving him the vanilla answer. So, I think he respects my opinion and I obviously respect what he does.”

[on the media spotlight]

“Some guys like it, some guys don’t. It’s just your personality. I like doing my job.”

“I don’t mind it. I don’t like having to give interviews constantly. But that’s part of the job description, so I really can’t complain. But I don’t look forward to my interviews, I don’t script my answers. Some guys use it as a platform for other things, and that’s just not me.  A wise man once told me, ‘Be vanilla in your interviews’. I liked it, so that’s what I do.”

[on the bullpen all looking to him]

“I don’t have a problem with the guys having confidence in me. I like that part of my job.  You know, knowing that when it gets to my point, that means the guys that pitched before me did their job, the guys at the plate did their job, the coaches did their job. All those parts. The trainers, getting guys ready. All of that comes down to that one inning. And if you get it done, everyone goes home with a smile, everybody goes home happy. So that’s fine. That’s the end. And I want to finish that out.  And I’m having fun doing that. I like being where I’m at.”

[on being vocal when needed]

“If I have to, I’d rather talk to a guy individually about certain things. Because I don’t want them to feel like I’m criticizing them. Because if you do that, in front of a group of people it can go the wrong way. They think you are just criticizing them just to put them down instead of them understanding you are trying to help them for a reason.

There are guys who are still learning, I’m still learning. There’s a couple guys  there in the clubhouse, if an issue pops up, there’s a couple guys we talk to. And obviously, those are guys that have been here longer or been around longer or been through certain situations. So, it’s not just one person. It’s kind of a core group of guys where if something comes up, we will take care of it. But we haven’t had a bunch of problems, guys know what’s expected of them. But every now and then you have to make sure they stay in line.”

[on working toward a degree]

“I do want to do something, obviously. I can’t sit at home. Once this game is over, I cant play or do it anymore, I got to figure something else to do. I don’t know what that is, but you need to have some sort of an education.

Just trying to get my associates, just general liberal arts stuff. So that way when I do know exactly what I want to major or minor in then I can get all the general classes out of the way.”

[on his success in the 9th inning now versus his struggles there in the second half of 2009]

“Honestly I really don’t know what the big difference is. Obviously you learn a little bit from experience and you learn more from failures then stretches of success. I think it’s a combination of a few different things”

[on not being a typical closer]

“I pitch in the zone, throw strikes. Force weak contact. You have four guys in the infield plus yourself, play the percentages. When I try to strike guys out, I get myself into trouble. So knowing what I do best, is what I do best. Just trying to force contact, force guys into the ground.”

BUCK SHOWALTER

“I appreciate him. I remember when I first got here there were questions about if he could do it.

One of the things you ask yourself about a job like that is, can he handle the failure? And Jimmy can. he’s got more than one way to get you out, too. We are lucky to have him. He’s a good teammates, a good father, a good husband. He’s tough. He will call [BS] when it needs to be called. We are lucky to have him.  But there’s a process you have to go through to get to that point.”

[on if this year is a big coming out party for Johnson]
“Within baseball circles they already knew. For some reason a lot of people thought we didn’t know what we had. But, I don’t know. Jim Johnson. It’s a very common name. nothing overly striking about him. And he likes it that way. Jimmy just wants to be a teammates and when it’s his turn to pitch.”

[on naming Johnson closer this spring]

“I knew he was going to do it this year last year. I think Kevin [Gregg] did, too. But I had to make sure, if had jump-started it too quickly if wouldn’t have gone as well as it did this year. Just because someone’s delayed doesn’t mean it’s denied.

 He’s a driven guy. He’s a good man.”

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