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.