The Unlikely Hero Trots Again | The Process Report

The Unlikely Hero Trots Again

By R.J. Anderson //

A brief timeline of Dan Johnson’s career with the Rays:

April 18, 2008: Claimed off waivers from Oakland
April 22, 2008: Suits up for the first time
April 23, 2008: Designated for assignment to make room for Gabe Gross
April 25, 2008: Outrighted to Durham
September 9, 2008: Contract is purchased; hits game-tying home run against Jonathan Papelbon
December 21, 2008: Released/sold to the Yokohama BayStars of the Nippon League

January 11, 2010: Signed by the Rays to a major league deal
March 25, 2010: Outrighted to Durham after clearing waivers and agreeing to an assignment
August 2, 2010: Contract is purchased from Durham

I do not know what the future holds for Johnson. He’d stick around If the decision were mine. Not because of the home runs, but because I do think he can be an asset for the rest of this season and the next. The addition of Brad Hawpe certainly compounds Johnson’s chance to join the playoff roster as well – he missed that honor in 2008 as well.

I do know that the sequence of events that have placed Johnson amongst the franchise’s most memorable players is wholly improbable. Johnson had to pass through waivers not once or twice, but thrice between the original claiming and today. The first time came before Johnson ever took a game swing for the franchise. The next came when Johnson headed to Japan. Then finally, mercifully, this spring he passed through without a hassle.

All it took – all it ever took – was some team, one team, any team deciding Johnson would be a suitable first baseman; not even for years or months, but just a few weeks. Johnson had say in heading to the minors as well. Sure, Johnson is paid better than most minor leaguers – half a million – but since the Rays outrighted him before, he had the option to elect free agency – either at that point or at season’s end if he weren’t on the 40-man roster by then – and he chose to stay in the organization.

This is a common theme for the Rays. Winston Abreu chose the Rays over worthwhile cash (for a career minor league reliever) after the Tribe designated him for assignment by the Cleveland Indians. This season he chose against opting out despite having that right, as did R.J. Swindle. The Rays treat these minor league guys well. Maybe they have to because financially they can’t compete, but sometimes being treated with respect and like a valued member of the organization is more important than a few extra thousand per season. They are humans and humans are wont to desiring acceptance.

If Johnson is pushed aside within the next 48 hours, I think I will be heartbroken. Not because he is a ballplayer of great value or all-star potential. He’s not. He is what he is, a league average hitter with a strike zone the size of a phonebook as opposed to a phone booth. He’s not a franchise player and he never will be. There’s probably a dozen Dan Johnsons out there just ready to be gobbled up during any given offseason. But I don’t want one of them, I want Dan Johnson.

So yeah, maybe his time is running short. Nothing new for Johnson. This incident would be just another in a growing stack of times Johnson has been told (explicitly or implicitly) that he’s not good enough for this league. He was drafted in the seventh round as a senior without much in the way of defensive ability or flexibility. Those guys rarely reach the majors – it would be akin to someone like Michael Sheridan in the Rays’ system working out – and when they do it’s because they really mash. Johnson has mashed when given the opportunity – which more often than not has been in the minors. In Oakland he was viewed as the stopgap between Jason Giambi and Daric Barton. Here, he was the guy who would fill in while Carlos Pena went down. Now, he’s the guy Hawpe might replace.

I don’t think he knows what the future holds, and I think that’s one of the reasons he flashed wicked jubilation after that home run last night. For now, he is a starter on a major league baseball team. Nobody can take that away from him for now, even if the sands of time might take the title, he’ll always have the memory of last night and that September night in Boston.

We’ll always have those memories, and hopefully a few more.



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