A Fearsome Foursome for Johnson
Winning the Cy Young Award has become so much of an annual event for Randy Johnson that it failed to interrupt his golf game Tuesday.
In between putting on the second hole at Pebble Beach Golf Links and teeing off on the third, Johnson used his cellular phone to answer questions during a conference call with reporters after being notified he had won the National League award for the fourth consecutive year in a unanimous vote by a committee of the Baseball Writers Assn. of America.
“These guys I’m playing with have to be wondering what’s going on,” Johnson said of his Pebble Beach partners at one point.
That was before he handed the phone to one of them, who described his tee shot on No. 3 by saying, “He smashed it right down the middle.”
It isn’t known whether Johnson and his partners had some friendly wagers on the outcome, but the latest Cy Young translated to a Tiger-type payday of $4 million for the Arizona Diamondbacks’ 39-year-old left-hander.
By winning the award in each of his four years with the Diamondbacks, an accomplishment enhancing the opinion of many in baseball that Johnson is the best free-agent signing ever, he receives a $1 million bonus, and his option-year salary in 2003 increases from $12 million to $15 million.
Talk about reading the green.
“I’m honored to win the Cy Young again,” he said, “but it’s not something I try to do and I don’t think Roger [Clemens] does either. The goal is to reach the World Series each year.
“The award is simply a byproduct of my consistency, hard work and dedication, and the support I’ve received from my teammates.”
Johnson, who won the American League award with the Seattle Mariners in 1995, has won five in all to trail only Clemens, who has won six. Greg Maddux is the only other pitcher to have won four in a row, having done it in 1992 through 1995, and there is speculation that the Atlanta Brave right-hander, a Las Vegas resident, might be interested in joining Johnson in the Arizona rotation as a free agent.
“No one has said anything to me about that,” Johnson said during the unique conference call, “but if I was asked, I’d be willing to invite him out for some golf and see if I can persuade him.”
The writers’ committee, which voted between the end of the regular season and start of the playoffs in which Johnson pitched poorly and the Diamondbacks were eliminated in the first round, didn’t have to be persuaded. Johnson was listed first on all 32 ballots for a perfect score of 160 points.
Teammate Curt Schilling, who received 29 second-place votes and three third-place votes, was second with 90 points. Atlanta closer John Smoltz finished third, with Dodger closer Eric Gagne fourth, having received two second-place votes and two third-place votes.
The award, for most of the season, appeared to be another horse race between Johnson and Schilling before Schilling faltered in September (2-2 record, 6.19 earned-run average), removing some of the luster from his overall 23-7 record, 3.23 ERA and 316 strikeouts.
Johnson, who was 5-0 with an 0.66 ERA in September, became the first National League pitcher since Dwight Gooden in 1985 and the first in the majors since Pedro Martinez in 1999 to win pitching’s version of the triple crown by leading the NL with a 24-5 record, 2.32 ERA and 334 strikeouts. He also led the majors with 260 innings, eight complete games and a .208 opponent’s batting average.
Although he turns 40 next September, has experienced back problems and has raised expectations to a level at which “I’m not given much room for error,” a level at which one poor performance is enough to create skepticism about his future, Johnson said he still “enjoys the challenge” of meeting the expectations, still considers himself one of the game’s elite power pitchers and isn’t ready to say and doesn’t really know how much longer he’ll pitch beyond 2003, the last year of his Arizona contract.
“I’m still learning about pitching, and I suppose that when I stop learning it will be time to start thinking about retirement,” he said.
“I jumped from 10th to fourth on the strikeout list [behind only Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton and Clemens] this year, so I don’t really think I’ve lost anything yet.”
The acquisition of Maddux or another reliable starter would ease the pressure and expectations for Johnson and Schilling, who carried the Diamondbacks to an NL West title. Arizona was 55-15 when the Big Two started, 43-49 when anyone else started. Maddux, of course, would also provide Johnson with one more golf partner, someone to hold the cell phone.
NL CY YOUNG VOTING...D8