Jim Johnson's value goes beyond closing games for Orioles

ARLINGTON, Texas — Jim Johnson is on the move.

The new owner of the Orioles' record for saves in a season passes through the clubhouse with obvious intent, his eyes finding no others as he heads from one room to the next and — no doubt — some team-oriented task.

Apparently, a closer's work is never done.

It might be studying hitters on video or discussing some internal matter with manager Buck Showalter or maybe just doling out some fantasy football advice to one of his teammates. It could be just about anything except wasting time.

"I don't like sitting around doing nothing,'' he said.

There's already too much sitting in baseball, especially for the guy who has to wait eight innings for a chance to get into the game. There is always something better to do, somebody to help, some reason not to plop down in front of his locker.

It will be no different when this season ends, when he finally gets some real time to spend with his wife, Elizabeth, his two young children and a whole bunch of other kids back home in the Sarasota-Bradenton area of Florida who might not have an opportunity to fully enjoy baseball without him.

Johnson will spend a good part of his offseason working with the Miracle League, raising money and using his connection to Major League Baseball to create opportunities for players with physical challenges to play baseball. He also works with physically challenged players in the Baltimore area and has joined with the Orioles to host injured soldiers and other active military groups and families at Camden Yards throughout the season.

His efforts have earned him a nomination for the Roberto Clemente Award, given each year to a player who exemplifies the altruistic spirit of the great Pittsburgh Pirates Hall of Famer who lost his life while attempting to deliver relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. Johnson is certainly deserving, but he also is clearly uncomfortable with the accolades that come with a cause well advanced or a job well done.

"In the communities where I work and play, and obviously where I live and the situation I'm in, I think it's important to help out where help is needed,'' he said. "I'm glad to do it. I've met some good people. I've been able to help some people along the way. I'll continue doing it and look at options for years to come as far as doing some other things."

The Miracle League has touched his heart, but his involvement was not spawned by any personal or family connection. It just seemed like the right fit for a family guy with healthy kids and a level of celebrity that allows him to have a real impact upon whatever charitable endeavor he undertakes.

"The way things started with the Miracle League was, I wanted to do something, but I was looking at the charities in the Sarasota area that were in need and that was the one that just kind of stuck out,'' Johnson said. "It had a baseball connection. It had a kid connection. It seemed like we could help them out the most, as opposed to some of the other groups that [we considered]. It wasn't like one thing in particular. It just seemed like it was the right fit. It's been a lot of fun."

While outside observers might describe Johnson as quietly intense, his teammates marvel at where he gets all his energy.

"It speaks for what kind of person he is,'' said catcher Matt Wieters. "The work he does off the field on top of raising two kids, it shows what kind of person he is, and Jim's always about being able to use the platform of baseball to be able to help with different things in the world. He does a great job with that."

Of course, he also does a great job with his great job. He has been one of the most effective relief pitchers in all of baseball, leading the majors with 51 saves and anchoring an airtight Orioles bullpen that is the major reason why the O's have reached the playoffs for the first time since 1997.

Center fielder Adam Jones was elected Most Valuable Oriole in this year's voting by media members who cover the club, but he said on the day his second straight MVO award was announced that he thought it should have gone to Johnson.

"I had J.J., just because of the pressure situations,'' Jones said. "We lead baseball in [winning] one-run games. That falls on the closer. I actually would put the whole bullpen as [MVO]. Obviously, J.J. would get the award, but you've got to credit the whole bullpen, and the stressful outs that they have been able to get this year. That bullpen has been getting some huge, huge outs."

Johnson would tell you the same thing about sharing the praise. When he broke the team's single-season save record set by Randy Myers in 1997, he was reluctant to take credit for it because of all the things that have to happen to create the save opportunities that he has converted so consistently.

"Obviously, to have a good season you have to have guys having good seasons,'' he said. "It's a lot of different parts. It's never just me ... not even close. I'm not too worried about it. It's not a stat that one can really control. It's all based on how many times you're put in that situation."

Johnson has been in that situation 54 times this year and he has failed to get the save just three times, but that's not why his teammates rever him and consider him one of the true leaders in their clubhouse.

"Jimmy is an Oriole,'' Showalter said. "It's important to him. He does so many things. He likes being an Oriole. He likes when we do well. There is nobody more giving off the field and a better teammate. It's important to him to be a good teammate. It's important to him to do things right. On top of that, he's talented. You like to see good things happen to good people."

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.

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