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Tom Verducci
April 27, 1998
Even for a catcher who's a defensive whiz, like Charles Johnson of the Marlins, working with a Triple A quality pitching staff is a health hazard
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April 27, 1998

Help!

Even for a catcher who's a defensive whiz, like Charles Johnson of the Marlins, working with a Triple A quality pitching staff is a health hazard

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Johnson also practices his footwork several times a week. It's only during this drill, which he does at half speed, that one can see that the quick motion he uses to position himself to throw is actually a series of three moves: a jab step with his right foot back and to the left, a turn of his left shoulder toward second base and a jab step with his left foot so that it is under his left shoulder. Johnson gets his feet in perfect position "quicker than any catcher in baseball, and he does it right every time," Zaun says. This explains Johnson's uncanny throwing accuracy in the same way that Greg Maddux's consistent mechanics explain his impeccable control.

"I scouted Florida for two weeks at one point last year," says New York Yankees director of scouting Gene Michael. "I must have seen Charles throw to second base 25 times—and 24 of them were right here." Michael holds an imaginary glove inches above the ground next to an imaginary base. "I've never seen anybody like him when it conies to accuracy."

Johnson's arm is so powerful that he can stand on home plate and heave a ball over the leftfield wall at Pro Player Stadium in Miami. He maintains his arm strength with daily 10-minute sessions during which he throws a ball from the right-center warning track to a teammate on the leftfield foul line, a distance of about 250 feet.

Still, his psyche may be more tested than his arm this year. He's a quiet sort who almost never takes his mask off on the field, and he rarely raises his voice. When his teammate and close friend leftfielder Cliff Floyd was asked if he had seen Johnson snap, Floyd said, "Only once this year. He struck out with a guy on third and one out. He was muttering to himself. That's it. Just muttering."

Johnson makes infrequent visits to the mound and in between innings is more apt to be thinking about his next at bat than talking shop with one of the young pitchers. "It's not really fair to ask him to do more," Leyland says. "We're trying to avoid that. This game's tough enough."

The Marlins could supplant the 1991 Cincinnati Reds, who lost 88 games, as the worst defending champion ever. "There's no way around it," one Marlins veteran says. "This is going to be ugly." Johnson insists he won't allow himself to be worn down psychologically. Asked to explain his defense for that position, the Gold Glover replies, "I just remind myself that it's a long season."

No tune he ever played rings more true than that.

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