Thursday, January 11, 2007
"Honey, I'm home!" Not so fast, Unit.
I’m all torn over what to do about Randy Johnson.
I used to like the Big Unit when he pitched for the Expos, Mariners and even the Astros.
And I loved him when he pitched for the Diamondbacks, especially when we beat him multiple times in the playoffs.
In fact, I was about to build a shrine for Johnson in the baseball room after he sent the Yankees home weeping in 2001 after beating them in Game 6 then driving the stake through their blackest of hearts by coming out of the bully and nailing down Game 7.
Then the unthinkable happened. He became a Yankee.
And this wasn’t your garden variety got-stuck-on-the-Yankees-after-a-trade type of deal. No, the Unit practically forced his way into the Bronx by demanding the D-Backs deal him and limited the number of teams to which he could be traded to just one, that being the one known as the Evil Empire.
That’s bad on multiple levels. First, pledging allegiance to the demonic influences of the sport is justifiable cause for scorn in and of itself. But he also worked the Snakes over the coals on the way out because it’s not like they had a lot of leverage in the trade, or any at all.
I can’t help but think of all those poor Diamondbacks fans with their No. 51 jerseys lamenting that their scowling, mulleted hero was pining for the dark side and unable to stage an intervention.
So there was muted rejoicing in these parts when the Unit apparently forced his way back to the desert with the Snakes sending back a trio of C+ prospects to the Yankees.
It’s nice when someone sees the light, and we are supposed to offer second chances. But still, it’s not like you can wash off Yankee taint with a good shower. It sticks on you like a bad tattoo you discover after waking up in a haze in a Cancun motel on a spring break trip gone oh-so-wrong.
At best, you can cover it up and sheepishly admit that mistakes were made when people see you at the pool.
Now that the Unit is once again among the cactus, we can only speculate what went wrong and at what point Johnson realized he had made a terrible, terrible mistake.
1) Perhaps it was the introductory press conference where, after apologizing for his little scuffle with the photogs, he was handed a jersey that did not have his trademark No. 51.
Imagine the conversation.
“Hey, why can’t I have No. 51?”
“Bernie Williams has it.”
“Bernie Williams? He’s still playing?”
“Kind of. Technically he’s on the roster. It’s mostly symbolic. Sometimes Joe lets him wander around the outfield just for old time’s sake.”
“Ah, not when I’m pitching.”
At that point every staff member launches into a tirade yelling “Yankee pride! Twenty-six world championships!” which is what they are programmed to do when ever someone is less than complimentary of a Yankee player or mentions Jason Giambi’s alleged steroid use.
2) Perhaps it was the moment that Dae Koo, a seldom-used Mets reliever who batted even more rarely than he pitched, launched a triple off the unit’s sorry butt.
Yup, it’s hard to look intimidating to the rest of the Mets lineup when a guy who had to borrow batting gloves, a helmet and a bat and needed directions to the on-deck circle is standing there on third base asking that the ball be taken out of play so he can display it on his mantle, a souvenir of his only Major League hit.
3) Perhaps Johnson looked over his shoulder at the guy playing shortstop, and realized that despite the lavish praise heaped by Yankee fawners like Klapisch and Verducci, Derek “Freaking” Jeter has the range of a garden slug in a salt mine.
Or maybe it was sometime this past season when, well, everybody in the world – including the aforementioned Mr. Giambi -- was piling on ARod and Capt. Jeter rose to his defense by saying…nothing. So much for those “intangibles” Verducci mentions so often.
Unit must have figured that if the team threw ARod under the bus after an MVP season because of a little fielding slump, what would happen to Johnson in 2007 with his creaky back, 5.00+ ERA and playoff loss to the Tigers. Exactly, he’d have a prime view of the undercarriage of a Greyhound.
No, Johnson must have realized it was better to slink back to Phoenix, where photographers leave you in peace, the paying customers are happy in the rightfield pool.
But not so fast, Randy. If I walked back into the house after a two-year affair with a rich old lady and announced “Ta-da! I’m home, come love me!” the reception might not be so cuddly.