Tuesday, April 16, 2013

What Ever Happened to Charles Johnson?

With all the discussion of the lack of African-American ballplayers in the MLB, a particular African-American player came to mind. I remember this person being a very dynamic catcher in the National League. Even though I thought he was a very good catcher will always be known for the trades that involved him and other players. The player that I'm thinking about is Charles Johnson.

I first remember seeing Charles Johnson while he was playing for the Florida Marlins. I always thought his style was reminiscent of Tony Peña who is currently a bench coach for the New York Yankees. Johnson was originally drafted in the first round of the 1989 draft and was picked by the Montréal Expos with the 10th pick. He declined to sign with Montreal choosing instead to attend the University of Miami. He once again was drafted in the first round this time in the 1992 draft with the 28th pick in the draft by the Florida Marlins. He decided to sign within a couple months after being drafted.

Johnson's potential was so promising that he spent a very short time in the minor leagues. Johnson spent the 1993 season playing for the Kane County Cougars of the Single A Midwest League. He was promoted to the Portland Sea Dogs of the Double A Eastern League for the 1994 season where he continued to impress. The impression made by Johnson even got him a call-up to the parent Marlins team where he played in 4 games before the players strike halted and eventually ended the 1994 season. Johnson would play in 2 games for Portland in 1995 before getting the permanent call-up to the majors. Johnson would by-pass Triple A entirely. To show you the impact made by Johnson in the minors, here is a description of Johnson from the article Charles Johnson to Return to Portland on April 18th from the Portland Sea Dogs website:
Johnson was a member of the Sea Dogs' inaugural team in 1994.  He opened the season as the Florida Marlins top prospect and he did not waste any time in making an impact in Portland.  In the Sea Dogs' inaugural game, Johnson belted two home runs including a game winner in the 14th inning as the Sea Dogs defeated the Reading Phillies 2-1.  The catcher hit .264 with 28 home runs and 80 RBI for the Sea Dogs in 1994 and was named to the Eastern League All-Star squad.  His 28 home runs led the league and were the most by an Eastern League catcher since Tony Peña hit 34 in 1979.
In making the jump to the Marlins, Johnson would be the first Marlins minor leaguer to reach the majors. In his rookie season of 1995, Johnson would end up 7th in the National League Rookie of the Year voting by hitting .251 with 11 homeruns and 39 RBI. He also made only 6 errors in the field and threw out 43% (38 of 89 runners) of would be basestealers earning the 1st of 4 straight N.L. Gold Glove awards for the catcher position. Johnson's performance would steadily improve during his seasons with the Marlins. Here is when things get a bit hectic for Johnson.

As part of the salary purge of the 1997 World Series Champions Johnson would be traded on May 14, 1998 with Manuel Barrios, Bobby Bonilla, Jim Eisenreich and Gary Sheffield to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Mike Piazza and Todd Zeile (Piazza himself would be traded by the Marlins on May 22, 1998 to the New York Mets for Preston Wilson, Ed Yarnall and minor leaguer Geoff Goetz). Johnson would finish out the 1998 season with the Dodgers and once again get traded.

On December 1, 1998 Johnson would be part of two trades. In the first transaction, Johnson was traded by the Dodgers with Roger Cedeno to the New York Mets for Todd Hundley and minor leaguer Arnold Gooch. Then he would be traded to the Baltimore Orioles for reliever Armando Benitez. You would think that being traded to the American League would afford Johnson the opportunity to grow some roots with the Orioles. Not so. After spending the 1999 season with the Orioles where Johnson hit .251 with 16 homers and 54 RBI while throwing out 38% of would be base stealers, he would be traded once again.

On July 29, 2000 Johnson would be traded with Harold Baines to the Chicago White Sox for Brook Fordyce and minor leaguers Jason Lakman, Juan Figueroa, Miguel Felix. Finally after being traded four times in three seasons, Johnson would be granted free agency and re-signed with the Florida Marlins. Johnson's homecoming would be temporary.

In two seasons with the Marlins, Johnson would average 12 homeruns with 56 RBI while hitting .245 and throwing out 42% of base stealers in 2001 and 40% of base stealers in 2002 with his second All-Star appearance in 2001. After the 2002 season Johnson would once again be backing his bags. On November 16, 2002 Johnson would be traded by the Marlins along with Vic Darensbourg, Pablo Ozuna and Preston Wilson to the Colorado Rockies for Mike Hampton, Juan Pierre and cash (Hampton would be traded to the Atlanta Braves on November 18, 2002 for Tim Spooneybarger and minor leaguer Ryan Baker).

Johnson would spend two seasons in Colorado where he would find his career stalled by the Rockies pledging to play rookie J.D. Closser as their everyday catcher. After deliberations with a failed proposed trade with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Johnson would be traded for the last time in his career. Right before Spring Training camp broke on March 30, 2005 Johnson was traded by the Rockies along with Chris Narveson to the Boston Red Sox for Byung-Hyun Kim and cash. That same day Johnson was released by the Red Sox and would sign with the Devil Rays on April 4th. Johnson would only appear in 15 games for the Devil Rays before he was released on June 13, 2005 effectively ending his professional career.

In total of 12 season, Johnson had the following statistics:

Charles Johnson
475997610.330 .433.245 .762 
Johnson was a two-time All-Star, a four-time Gold Glove winner and won a World Series Championship with the 1997 Florida Marlins. 

Sisco Kid.

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