TUCSON - The Diamondbacks’ split with Randy Johnson in late 2004 was hardly amicable. While the D-Backs committed a combined $78 million to free agents Troy Glaus and Russ Ortiz, they asked Johnson to play a year for free.
Johnson had one year and $16 million remaining on his contract, and the D-Backs offered to extend his deal to two years ... at the same total of $16 million. Only then did Johnson understand his immediate future might include temporary relocation.
On his first day back here after two years of exile in New York, Johnson chose not to rehash the past but rather to embrace his return, even though most of the faces (and the team color scheme) are new.
“Pretty exciting day,” Johnson said.
His workday was rather light. Still on a rehabilitation program, Johnson stretched and then played catch — 90 throws at 150 feet — with trainer Ken Crenshaw at the major league spring training facility while the rest of the pitchers and catchers worked at the minor league complex across the street.
Johnson then rode a stationary bike for 30 minutes and met reporters for another 28.
He said his surgically repaired back is “feeling really good” although he is not entirely pain-free, and that he could probably throw from the mound today.
At the same time, Johnson said he does not plan to begin his throwing program off a mound until late this week, a delay that could result in him opening the season on the disabled list.
“For me to jump on the mound and do things a week or two weeks before I should, could set me back,” Johnson said. “I busted my tail this offseason. I feel I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Johnson said he pitched in pain most of last season — he was 17-11 with a career-high 5.00 ERA in 33 starts — because he felt he was in a no-win situation in New York.
“If I didn’t pitch …’Well, see, we told you he had a bad back and he is old’ and all that. And if I did pitch with a bad back and pitched poorly … ‘Well, what the heck’s going on?”
“It (pain) is gone now. I’m on the road to recovery. I’ll be out there sooner than people think.”
At 43, Johnson is 20 victories from 300, but he said his primary focus this season is not to add to his gaudy numbers. It is simpler than that.
“To prove that I’m healthy,” Johnson said.
“I’m never going to satisfy people. I don’t think anybody in the game is ever going to strike out 300 (in one season) again. Not too many people are going to dominate the way I did. Nobody is going to do that, let alone myself.
“I will continue to say that I can, because that is my motivating factor. As soon as I come into this room and say I can’t do that, I would be giving up.”
For Johnson, who has five Cy Young awards, giving up — or giving in to advancing years — does not appear to be an option.
“I could easily start considering retiring, since I won a World Series here. I’ve got a lot of nice individual accomplishments. And I don’t need the money,” said Johnson, whose latest deal through 2008 is worth $26 million.
“But what I do need is that outlet to be competitive. In one way or another when we all go out and do something, we all want to win. That’s our outlet. For me, that’s a professional outlet.
“Eventually everybody will be right about me — he’s old and he can’t do it any more.”
Johnson does not plan to have that happen any time soon.