TAMPA, Fla. - A week ago today Randy Johnson was scratched from his first spring training start with the New York Yankees because of a sore left calf.
Johnson, who instead will make his Yankees debut today, didn’t think it was a big deal.
The New York media thought otherwise.
A New York Times headline read, "Johnson, at 41, Is Showing His Age."
Johnson made the back cover of both tabloids, and a columnist in the New York Post wrote, "a tweaked calf is big news. A missed session of side throwing is an important developing story. Skipping the spring opener, as Johnson now will, is the kind of thing that raises eyebrows."
Yes, the Big Unit isn’t in Arizona anymore.
After six seasons, four Cy Young Awards, a World Series title, 4,000 strikeouts and a perfect game, Johnson is a Yankee, George Steinbrenner’s latest hired gun in his ongoing turf war with the Boston Red Sox.
Johnson has shaved his facial hair — it’s team policy — switched to No. 41 because center fielder Bernie Williams wears No. 51 and tried to quietly settle amid the chaos that’s the Yankees clubhouse.
As if that’s possible.
Johnson sat down with the Tribune Wednesday and talked about life as a Yankee, his messy departure from Arizona, his relationship with Curt Schilling, and why he would still be a Diamondback if Jerry Colangelo were running the organization.
Q: When you were traded to the Yankees everyone wondered how you would deal with the New York media. How has it been so far?
A: It’s been fine. It hasn’t been any different than Arizona. I’m not going to be asked to do any more here. Everything is bigger here. That’s the thing you have to understand. But I’m not going to get caught up in that. I already told everybody here, ‘I’ll give you as much time as I have,’ and I did that in Arizona. But when the season comes, yeah, then I have to be a little more focused and I won’t have as much time to give.
The one thing I’ve said is that it’s not that I don’t want to talk to people during the year but a lot of time that people want me to be talking, I need to put that time in the weight room to get physically ready. I can talk to everybody here (in spring training) and get my work done in the weight room because I have that kind of time. But during the year there’s not as much time to sit down. They understand that. I understand that.
Q: You did have the incident with the cameraman in which you shoved his camera out of the way as he filmed you walking to your physical. Since then, though, your relationship with the media has been cordial.
A: I think the one thing that’s been kind of amazing is that people are saying he’s getting along with everybody just fine. The little hand incident in New York, that was an isolated incident. The Gonzo thing (Johnson confronted Luis Gonzalez in San Francisco last summer when Gonzalez dropped a fly ball) was a heat of the moment thing, in competition. That doesn’t mean I’m a bad person. I would much rather have some fire than be someone who puts their head down between their legs and doesn’t show the backbone of wanting to win.
Q: As someone who appreciates baseball’s history, what does wearing the pinstripes of the Yankees mean to you?
A: It’s very much an honor and a great deal of responsibility when you put on a jersey. I’ve been very fortunate to do it for the Expos, the Mariners, Houston, Arizona and now New York. They’ve all been special in their own ways, but with that all being said, when you put on a Yankee jersey, the difference between all those franchises and this franchise is history. When you put on a jersey for the Yankees, you’re part of what represents the New York Yankees and the legacy of what they’ve done in sports.
Q: Did you always want to be a Yankee?
A: When I was growing up in Livermore, Calif., I emulated Vida Blue, who played for the Oakland A’s. The A’s were the team I watched when I was a young kid. It was being said here (in New York) I always wanted to be a Yankee. I was happy where I was. It’s been well-documented the Yankees were after me when I was in Seattle. Mr. Steinbrenner called me in 1998 when I was a free agent but it never worked out. I ended up going to Arizona.
Q: There was speculation that you told the Diamondbacks you’d only accept a trade to the Yankees. Was that true?
A: A lot of people thought it was the Yankees and nowhere else. It could have been the Yankees at the trade deadline (last July) but it could have been the Dodgers. I thought it would be the Dodgers. Now, when the season was over, if you’re going to trade me, yeah, there’s only one team I want to go to then. No disrespect to Kansas City and Milwaukee — the Diamondbacks might get better prospects from them — but I don’t want to go there. I want to win.
That’s not to say any of those other organizations don’t want to win. But this organization isn’t just talking about winning its division and making the playoffs. They’re talking about winning the World Series, and it’s a failure when you don’t do that.
Q: You put that same kind of pressure on yourself, don’t you?
A: That’s why it’s a great marriage. Once every five days I expect to win because that’s my responsibility when I go out there and this franchise expects to win every day and win a World Series.
There will be more talk, there will be more buildup, because there’s more media here. There will be more anticipation because it’s the New York Yankees, but in essence I’m not being asked to do anything more here than what I’ve done. It’ll just be magnified more.
Q: Did Curt Schilling winning a World Series with the Boston Red Sox have anything to do with your desire to join the Yankees?
A: I’m happy for what Curt did but if Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe and Tim Wakefield don’t have the success they have, they don’t win the World Series. To think that one person carried that franchise, that’s your opinion, but it wouldn’t be mine. And it won’t happen here, because they were expected to win a World Series with or without me.
Q: What is your relationship with Curt?
A: I’ve talked to him a couple of times since I’ve been down here. I talked to him a couple of times in the offseason. I don’t know why there has to be an umbilical cord because we were teammates for a couple of years. I was a teammate of Todd Stottlemyre and nobody makes a big deal out of that.
Q: But Stottlemyre won’t pitch for Boston on opening day this season.
A: I’m not going to get caught up in that. I would say that Curt and I are friends. We’re not great friends but we’re not enemies. I just get kind of tired of talking about it. You know that movie "Stuck on You," that comedy, that’s the way it was for 2 1 /2, three years. Now that we’re not teammates it’ll probably be built up for opening day that there’s some animosity between us. Curt has not given any indication that he’s going to say we’re not friends because it isn’t true and I’m not going to, either.
Q: As you look back on your six years with the Diamondbacks, how proud are you?
A: Extremely proud. That franchise did some great things, the fans were great. I’m very appreciative I had the opportunity to play for a great owner in Mr. (Jerry) Colangelo. That was one reason I went there (in ’98) because he took the time to come to my house during the offseason and showed interest in me. You don’t see that very often.
Q: If Jerry Colangelo still ran the club, would you be a Diamondback?
A: Without a doubt. Without a doubt. Because of my respect for him and his respect for me and what I did there. Without a doubt.
Q: You didn’t feel that way about the new ownership group, did you?
A: I didn’t get that kind of response at the end of the season from the new ownership. I talked to Mr. (Jeff) Moorad and Mr. (Rich) Dozer and I didn’t sense . . . there was a lot of talk that when Randy gets back from Japan and Scotland we’ll sit down and talk and see where we’re going with this but that never materialized.
Q: The Diamondbacks did offer you a two-year contract extension but you would have had to slash your salary this season ($16 million) in half. Were you insulted by the offer?
A: It shocked me that all I kept hearing people say is that I was demanding a trade, and nobody looked at what they were offering me in the extension. No one wrote at that time, what was the offer, what did he turn down. It was more of I was demanding this, demanding that.
I could have easily stayed there. In fact, two weeks before this (the trade) all went down my agent, Barry Meister, talked to (Diamondbacks general manager) Joe Garagiola one last time saying what will it take for Randy to be able to stay there? They said he’ll have to give back basically 50 percent, and we’ll give him a two-year extension.
I’m not saying it was all their fault. I would never do that. I just got tired of hearing that I was demanding a trade. I heard (Tribune writer) Jack Magruder talk to Joe Garagiola about the contract thing and Joe said, well, if Randy wanted to be here, he’d be here. Well, c’mon. If you wanted me to be there, I’d be there. It works two ways.
Q: Are you disappointed it didn’t work out?
A: Without a doubt because I felt I would end my career there, but new ownership came in and they wanted to go in a different direction. It worked out for the best. I’m here with a franchise that demands winning. They got arguably a quality arm (in Javier Vazquez) and there’s not too many franchises that could have given them $9 million in return. I suppose in certain regards I wish there could have been the communication there was with Mr. Colangelo, but there wasn’t.
It’s still the community I’ll live in, and I’m very proud of the moments I stepped foot on that mound and was able to do some nice things team-wise and individual-wise, but this is a new chapter in my career, possibly the last three chapters and then my career will be over.
Q: One of the reasons you signed with Arizona in 1998 was to be close to your family, which lives in Paradise Valley. Will it be difficult playing in New York?
A: Believe it or not, I enjoyed that drive from Tucson to Phoenix (in spring training). It’s a little bit longer of a commute from Tampa to Phoenix. I miss that. I miss being able to go home and be home for a night. A lot of times I chose to do that two or three times a week.
But they’ll be here opening night until they have to go back to school in the fall and I’m looking forward to that. That will be fun. I’ve come into this with an open mind, my family has, and the three years that I’m a Yankee will fly by. Last year was a frustrating year for everybody and it was a long year. This year will fly by because it will be a new experience and because we’ll be winning.
Q: How did you choose No. 41?
A: Fifty-one is Bernie’s number. There are not too many numbers available here because so many are retired. My oldest daughter said, ‘Why don’t you just be 41? That’s a good number.’ So that’s what I chose.
Q: You mentioned earlier that you might retire after your threeyear deal with the Yankees is up in 2007. Is that for certain?
A: I’m not looking that far down the road. I’ll worry about that when the time comes. But there are things beyond baseball I need to put as much energy into as I did in baseball, like being home and putting that same time and effort into my family.