The Braves’ Chris Johnson, master of the ‘total head spasm’

Atlanta Braves’ Nick Markakis, right, sits in the dugout with teammate Chris Johnson during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015, in Atlanta. The Giants won 8-3. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Atlanta Braves' Nick Markakis, right, sits in the dugout with teammate Chris Johnson during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015, in Atlanta. The Giants won 8-3. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

That’s Chris Johnson on the left, Nick Markakis on the right. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

So far as I can tell, Chris Johnson seems a nice enough guy. He answers questions in a thoughtful manner, and he does so without growling: If you’re a member of the media, that makes him a nice enough guy. Were I a salaried member of the Atlanta Braves, I’m not sure what I’d think of him.

Two days before the All-Star break, he didn’t run hard out of the box and got thrown out at second base on what should have been a double. That was a blatant case of Not Hustling, and Fredi Gonzalez showed his displeasure by benching Johnson the next day.

Last night Johnson was playing first base — not his first-choice position, granted — with the bases loaded in the sixth. Hunter Pence stroked a grounder that Johnson gloved and, cool as you like, trotted to the bag to record the out. (He even waved off pitcher Shelby Miller.) Johnson trotted a few more steps toward the dugout, whereupon he grasped what everybody else in the ballpark knew:

The out he’d recorded was the inning’s second. The run he’d allowed to score put the Giants ahead.

The Giants’ broadcast crew — the absolute best in the business, FYI — offered this commentary.

Mike Krukow: “He forgot there was (only) one out.”

Duane Kuiper: “Unbelievable. Unbelievable.”

Krukow: “That is a gift.”

Kuiper: “That’s likely a double play because it was hit so hard.”

Krukow: “(Johnson is) thinking, ‘All right, inning over, let’s go, let’s have a drink of water.’ ”

Kuiper: “If he’d have flipped the ball back to the mound, that would have really made it nice.”

Krukow: “Total head spasm from Chris Johnson.”

This wasn’t Not Hustling, not exactly. This was Not Paying Attention, and we can argue at length over which is worse. But the greater point is that another non-physical error (unless we count “total head spasm”) was committed by Chris Johnson, who barely plays anymore and who has made no secret of his desire to be in the lineup somewhere.

(To be fair, Johnson had two key hits in the Braves’ rally Monday night. Still, two big knocks don’t give you a lifetime pass on paying attention.)

If Johnson throws to second base — or to the plate — it’s probably (as Kuiper noted) a double play. Afterward Gonzalez sought to make half an excuse, saying it would have been “a hard double play,” but eventually the manager conceded the point: “There’s no excuse for not knowing how many outs.”

To his credit, Johnson admitted the obvious, calling it a “stupid mental error.” (Differentiating it, we assume, from smart mental errors.) But it gifted the Giants a run in a game they trailed 3-2 after seven innings, and had the deficit been 3-1 things mightn’t have unfolded– this is one of those we’ll-never-know deals — as they did in the eighth. The Braves would lose 8-3.

Johnson is in tonight’s lineup, again playing first base, but who else is there? Freddie Freeman’s on the DL. Kelly Johnson’s playing for the Mets. Joey Terdoslavich’s hitting .143. Fred McGriff’s 51 years old.

Chris Johnson has said he’d like to be traded — believe me, the Braves have endeavored to oblige — but stuff like this makes him radioactive to interested buyers, assuming any exist. He’s due to make $16.5 million over the next two seasons and he has compiled a WAR value of minus-2.1 since 2013 and — pause for effect — he’s also an airhead! (Remember when he bounced his batting helmet off Terry Pendleton?) Who’d want him?

We say again: The $75 million the Braves bestowed on Melvin (nee B.J.) Upton Jr. was a terrible investment. The three-year extension for $23.5 million the Braves’ then-GM granted Johnson last May was worse. Other teams were bidding for Upton’s services. Nobody in this world valued Chris Johnson that highly — except Frank Wren.

Reader Comments 1

38 comments
Russ5tide
Russ5tide

I like how you media folks compliment a guy for being nice to you in interviews and being respectful to you and than you turn around and bash him in the rest of the article. CJ made an inexcusable mistake. Period!

rgpat
rgpat

Not knowing how many outs was inexcusable by CJ. He blew a double play ball by not being mentally aware. With Freeman being hurt and Kelly Johnson being traded and Terdo not hitting that leaves FG not many options at first. It would be nice if Freeman could return soon.

HUDDYS1FAN
HUDDYS1FAN

Melvin, Uggla and Chris Johnson all received huge contracts from Frank Wren, who will never be part of any ML front office again.....ever.


That's on John Schuerholz and Terry McGuirk. Of course these are the same two who kept Bobby Cox around long after he should have retired, and are keeping Fredi Gonzalez in spite of his soon to be the proud manager of two consecutive losing seasons. Which hasn't happened since 1989-90.....Go figure?

nick1234
nick1234

When Wren made the deal and right after the guy was hitting .300 everyone thought this was a steal of a deal. HIndsight is always 20/20

reckingball
reckingball

@nick1234 CJ was still under team control for at least another season, and many MLB experts highly doubted that CJ would/could duplicate those inflated numbers, ever again.

Wren overvalued CJ, just as he did with BJ Upton.

Jerry916
Jerry916

Frank knew he was out, and wanted to stick it to the Braves before the door closed! 

-OBrien-
-OBrien-

Doesnt somebody above Frank Wren (Schuerholz?) have to sign off on the contracts Wren were giving out?  His boss didnt think to say, no Frank.  Lets wait until the end of the season before we give Chris Johnson an extension?  Since his one good year may be an outlier?

JeffCriswell
JeffCriswell

Johnson hit 100 points higher just two years ago. Now he can't get on the field. He's clearly a talent that's being wasted under Gonzalez, who, in my opinion should be let go sooner than later. Braves need only look to their pitching coach for their next manager. McDowell has the chutzpah and the "it" factor to build this retooled lineup into a contender. Fredi is dealing with a different situation than before - one that he's ill-equipped to manage. IMO. 

fez
fez

@JeffCriswell CJ is clearly a talent to you?  Lol.  IMO, you are very wrong. He got 582 at bats last season and was underwhelming.

AtlantaSportsVictory
AtlantaSportsVictory

@JeffCriswell @fez It was his career-best year, he hasnt come close to that before or since. He's had plenty of opportunities the last two years but has regressed. If other teams thought like you, then someone would have traded for him by now. 

DrPhill
DrPhill

Maybe Hart will bundle Johnson with Simmons or Freeman in another trade. The Braves have no one else to offer up. By the way, Vin Scully and the Dodgers have the best broadcast crew in baseball.

odelljones
odelljones

Frank Wren was the absolute best (sarcasm). He is the gift that keeps on giving. Not only did he give ridiculous contracts to players who didn't deserve them, he laid waste to our farm system both in terms of talent and chasing away talented baseball evaluators because of his lack of communication/social skills.

MackJones66
MackJones66

I wish you would write another column about pitching coach McDowell and the failure of so many young Braves pitchers. As for Johnson, perhaps he's on some medication. Didn't he almost win the batting title two years ago?

WTF
WTF

Bring back Sid Bream

reckingball
reckingball

I had lost count of the number of outs also, but I was in the kitchen cooking a batch of french fries.

kenstallings
kenstallings

He is the one player on this roster (Chris Johnson) whom I wished was traded.  He is the last of the Frank Wren horrible choices.  The reason he was not traded is because so far at least no other team wants him.  But, the worst of his recent offenses was the "play me or trade me" demand, which given his overall lackluster performance, combined with the excellent play of Juan Uribe, was a clear cut example of selfishness.

Canwehaveawinner
Canwehaveawinner

You can pick on Chris Johnson and that's easy. But the real question is why you can't be as strict on Fredi Gonzalez? Is there a double standard?

fez
fez

@Jetiredo I don't understand why you, and so many others, are hellbent on trying to pin this on Fredi.  He's not eligible to pick up a bat or glove and take the field.

patriotdog
patriotdog

A GM has to know his business in MLB, as contracts are guaranteed. Baseball would be helped immensely if the next CBA removed that from the equation. The players would gripe, understandably, but a couple more roster spots or a bigger percentage of the pie would bring them around, I imagine.

And once again, we see hard evidence of just how far back Wren set the franchise with his arrogance and ineptitude.

IlliniBrave
IlliniBrave

I'm sorry Mark, but although you are my favorite columnist and I usually agree with you, saying that Johnson's contract was dumber than BJ's is ridiculous. The $75M we threw away on Melvin will go down as one of the worst contracts in baseball history - right up there with Barry Zito, Mike Hampton, Mo Vaughan, Russ Ortiz, A-Rod, etc. At least CJ hits an occasional HR and can get on base - two things Melvin could never seem to do.

moboman
moboman

@IlliniBrave And lets not forget that CJ almost won the batting title two years ago.  Who knew what would happen after?  Hindsight is always 20/20.  His contract would seem like a bargain IF ( and its a big if now) he was hitting .320 again and providing some power.  If a guy doesn't run out a ball, or forgets the number of outs, you have to blame that somewhat on the manager or bench coaches.  He's the one responsible for seeing that his players have their heads in the game.  

gobraves333
gobraves333

@IlliniBrave That's very easy to say in hindsight.  If you mean that the BJ deal was costlier, then yes, you would be right.  I think -- and I could be wrong here -- that Mark meant that the BJ deal was more justifiable than the Chris Johnson deal.  Pretty much everyone in baseball knew that the Chris Johnson deal was stupid when it was signed -- Johnson had never shown that level of ability before and he is a really poor defensive third-baseman, so there was no reason to put up that kind of money or give that kind of a commitment to Chris Johnson.  The Chris Johnson deal was the kind of thing that a casual fan might come up with -- the same people who are constantly asking why the Braves don't trade their worst player for some other team's best young player -- but it made no sense at all.


BJ Upton, on the other hand, was coming off three consecutive seasons in which he had averaged 23 HR and 71 RBI, and he had averaged close to 40 SB over the prior five seasons.  There was a track record there.  Though it was pretty clear that Wren overpaid and probably committed too many years to sign BJ, there is not a single person who would have predicted that BJ would have averaged 8 HR, 23 RBI, and 13 SB to go along with a sub-.200 batting average over the next three seasons.


So the Chris Johnson deal was obviously stupid and unnecessary when it was made; the BJ Upton deal was an obvious overpay with some degree of risk when made, but the BJ deal is only atrocious in hindsight.

AtlantaSportsVictory
AtlantaSportsVictory

And Chris Johnson wonders why the Braves can't trade him away?????? 


Wren's Reign of Error put us back years. 

lithoman353
lithoman353

Johnson is in tonight’s lineup, again playing first base, but who else is there? Freddie Freeman’s on the DL. Kelly Johnson’s playing for the Mets. Fred McGriff’s 51 years old........Corky Miller???

JerseyGil
JerseyGil

Words in the League about Jonhson is threw a Slider Outside...way Outside and he's swinging...

mgunter
mgunter

Release him, eat th contract. Bring up a kid from AA ball

Polskidawg
Polskidawg

Really? Other teams were sincerely interested in BJ Upton? Or, perhaps the agents convinced the Wren brothers of that...


By the way, I'll take a 51-year old McGriff ANY time over Johnson. 

gobraves333
gobraves333

@Polskidawg It was reported at the time that the Phillies offered 5 years, $55 million for BJ.

BradleyBreeze
BradleyBreeze

Yeah Bradley, Johnson "STINKS" but the other options "SUCK"!

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

Well said Mark, but you made one mistake.  Melvin was absolutely the worst ever signing, Johnson's extension was bad but chump change compared to what they paid Melvin and Uggla, for that matter.  You have to blame the Braves to some extent for making Johnson's trade potential zero, by arbitrarily benching him for all people, Alberto Collapso.  Johnson didn't have that good of a season last year, but he put up much better numbers that Collapso.


No excuse for forgetting how many outs, period.  Why did Fredi not put Terdo in at the next inning?  Why is Johnson starting over Terdo tonight?  Stupid, stupid, stupid.  

joedavis
joedavis

I didn't see the byline at first, and thought..."Oh my God...David O'Brien has grown a set!"  And then I realized it was Mark Bradley.  Kudos to Mark.  This is the most honest Braves reportage I have seen in many, many years.

Home Team Critic
Home Team Critic

@joedavis 

In DOB's defense, Mark has a lot more leeway, as a columnist, to state his opinions.

DOB's job is not to knock the local team.

Mark's is.

And Braves' announcers would get fired if they were not always spinning everything positive.

I think Cubs announcer a while back, Steve Stone, did get fired for being negative and outspoken.

Home Team Critic
Home Team Critic

Do any GMs exist who know the value of a dollar (or a million of them)?

I was surprised the Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski got canned but the huge contracts he gave, without results this year, may be the reason.

There needs to be a three year limit or contracts similar to the NFL's to save fans from their GM's stupidity.

Some of the fun is lost watching players who are way overpaid with no way out of it like the NFL.

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