Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Teams improved where Brian Johnson movedPosted by Dave Studeman
Remember Brian Johnson? There's really no particular reason you should. He was a semi-regular catcher during his eight-year major league career, bouncing between six different teams. There must have been an aura to Johnson, however, because flowers apparently bloomed everywhere he went.
- Johnson first broke in with the 1994 Padres, who were a lousy 47-70 in that strike-shortened year. On a pro-rated basis, however, that was about three wins better than their record in 1993. Johnson was just warming up.
- In 1995, the Padres improved to 70-74 in another short year. Pro-rated, that was an 11-game improvement.
- The next year, the Padres leaped to 91-71 and first place in the NL West. A 12-game improvement.
- There were other players on the Padre roster during this time, such as Tony Gwynn, so Johnson's unique talent evidently didn't stand out. The Padres decided to trade him to the Tigers.
- Good news for the Tigers, who had gone 53-109 in '96. In 1997, with Johnson on the roster, they improved to 79-83. Johnson batted only .237 for them, however, and the Tigers, not recognizing Johnson's true talent, sent him to the Giants in the middle of the season.
- The Giants had been 68-94 in 1996, far behind the Padres. In 1997, with Johnson on their roster for the second half of the season, they won the division with a 90-72 record. The Padres, without Johnson, sank to fourth place with a 76-86 record.
- It's hard to improve on a 90-win season, so even though the Giants kept Johnson on the team, they "fell" to 89 wins and second place in 1998. Disenchanted, they let Johnson walk as a free agent.
- Johnson signed with the Reds, who had been 77-85 in 1998. With Johnson on the team (albeit mostly in the dugout), they zoomed to 96-67 and second place in the NL Central. Inexplicably, the Reds released him after the season. They haven't won more than 85 games since.
- Johnson moved onto the Royals, who had been 64-97 in 1999. Johnson did his thing and pulled the Royals up to a 77-85 record, which is a mighty heady win total for that particular franchise. KC released Johnson in June, when they were just below .500.
- The poor guy played a bit for the Dodgers in 2001, but the magic was gone, unrecognized by MLB's braintrust and media. Even the bloggers missed him. Were there bloggers back then?
In the history of major league baseball, no one with at least 1,000 team games played has done what Johnson did. In total, his teams improved 104 games from the previous season, an improvement rate of 7 percent. I found this out through the research I conducted for an article in the 2010 Hardball Times Annual, called "The Luckiest Player Ever." At least, that's the working title.
Yet Johnson wasn't the luckiest player ever. Want to know who was? That's right, buy the Annual.
I'm such a tease.
Dave was called a "national treasure" by Rob Neyer. Seriously. Comments about this article can be sent to him through the miracle of e-mail.