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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Johnson says problems are in the past
The Yankees pitcher is working to address the issues of last season.
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published March 4, 2006
TAMPA - Randy Johnson laughed. He bantered. He defended himself.
The Yankees pitcher was about as accommodating as could be for someone already asked over and over to explain what went wrong last season.
"People say I'm getting old," the 42-year-old left-hander said while sitting in front of his locker at Legends Field. "But I'm still pitching at a level most people aren't pitching at."
He has a point. Johnson was 17-8 with a 3.79 ERA. He was fourth in the AL in wins and struck out 211 in 2252/3 innings. Not bad considering he was 7-6 with a 4.24 ERA through July 1.
But not even close to what was expected given that Johnson for more than a decade had been one of the game's most dominant and snarly pitchers. And he was making $16-million.
Johnson said it was a matter of mechanics. A faulty arm slot and a bad landing point with his right foot took the cut off his slider and affected his velocity.
But, really, that just added fuel to an already toxic situation.
Remember Johnson's near punchout of a television cameraman on the streets of New York on his first day in town, and the seemingly strained relationship with catcher Jorge Posada?
And just to make things more fun, Johnson wasn't best buddies with the unforgiving New York media, some of whom he called "standoffish."
"I didn't feel like I had a lot of breathing room," Johnson said. "I felt like I was walking on eggshells."
"I think he was uncomfortable," manager Joe Torre said. "It's the only way I can describe it.
"Part of it was dealing with things he never had to deal with before. I tell players when they come on board that this is what happens in New York. I sort of warn them, but they have to find out themselves."
Johnson makes his first start of the spring today at Legends Field against the Reds. And when he makes his 14th opening-day start against the A's in Oakland, he will lead active pitchers.
But a makeover already is well under way. Johnson has given reporters plenty of time, and he made a point of reaching out to Posada.
Their uneasy relationship last season was a matter of much rumor and made worse, Johnson said, by circumstances.
Posada last spring had to learn a slew of new pitchers. He also had his own daily routine. The result, Johnson said, was less time for the two to bond personally and as batterymates.
Johnson turned to backup John Flaherty, who eventually became his personal catcher.
"(Posada) didn't have as much time as Flaherty did to analyze what was going wrong with me," Johnson said.
With Flaherty gone to the Red Sox, Johnson and Posada said they have committed to being on the same page, something both admitted should have been a priority in 2005.
"That's the guy I want," Posada said. "He's the No.1. I'm going to make the effort of making him feel comfortable like Flaherty did."
"It's just a matter of let's work together and get the job done because the bottom line is winning ballgames," Johnson said.
Johnson did not say it outright, but 20 wins is his logical goal even if he no longer can strike out 300 or throw 100 mph. In fact, he said those stats shouldn't even matter.
Johnson pointed to last season's 34 starts and that he never was on the disabled list as a counterpoint to reports he was bothered by a sore back and bad knee.
He also said he is more comfortable.
"Last year was a good learning process," Johnson said. "I learned a lot about what I need to adjust to this coming year. That's why I'm coming into this year feeling a lot more relaxed."
But with the same expectations.
"I have to pitch well, not to redeem myself but to show I can still pitch and get the job done," he said. "Seventeen wins are good but I expect more."