Editor's note: When we were discussing who would be the next great Rays player to cover after re-living all the Aki memories, this name came to the top. No he's not retired, yes he could someday return, and yes the timing of this piece is a bit weird when we should be knee deep in Ben Zobrist trade news, but we can't resist. - DR
Player: Dan Johnson
Born: August 10th, 1979 (currently 35 years old)
Drafted: Drafted on June 5th, 2001 by the Oakland Athletics in the 7th round (#221) of the Amateur Draft from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln
Tenure: 2008, 2010-2011
Start of Tenure: Claimed off Waivers on April 18th, 2008 // Signed as a Free Agent on January 11th, 2010
End of Tenure: Purchased by the Yokohama Bay Stars on December 19th, 2008 // Granted Free Agency on November 3rd, 2011
Currently: Active, signed a minor league deal with the Houston Astros on December 17th, 2014
Rays Stat Line: -0.6 WAR, .168 AVG, .282 OBP, .618 OPS, 11 HR, 31 RBI, and 1 SB
Becoming a Prospect
Dan Johnson was drafted on June 5th, 2001 by the Oakland Athletics in the 7th round of the 2001 Amateur Draft. He signed on June 18th, and was assigned to Oakland's Single-A- team, the Vancouver Canadians. In 69 games for Vancouver, Johnson had a .283 AVG and led the team with 11 HR, 41 RBI, .494 SLG, and an .843 OPS.
In 2002, Johnson was sent to the Single-A+ Modesto A's, where he would the entire season. Johnson played in 126 games and again led the team with 21 HR, 85 RBI, .500 SLG, and a .871 OPS. In 2003, Johnson continued to progress, he was assigned to the Double-A Midland RockHounds, where he set career highs in almost every offensive category. When the season ended, Johnson had 23 HR, 96 RBI, and slashed .295/.364/.514 in 120 games. To see how much he had left in the tank, Johnson was sent to the Arizona Fall League and hit well there in 30 games, featuring 4 HR and batting .382.
In 2004, Johnson was named the 3rd best prospect in the Athletics system by Baseball America, behind #1, Bobby Crosby and #2, Joe Blanton. Johnson opened the season with the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats in the Pacific Coast League, where after a great season he was named the league MVP. Johnson once again led the team in numerous offensive categories, including 29 HR, which tied with Nick Swisher for the most in Oakland's Farm System. He finished the season with 111 RBI, and slashed .299/.395/.534 in 142 games. On September 18th, Johnson was called up to Oakland along with Blanton and Justin Lehr, but he would not appear in a game.
Playing in Oakland
Entering the 2005 season, Johnson was named the 4th best prospect for Oakland, behind #1 Swisher, #2 Javier Herrera, and #3 Blanton. Johnson was close to making the Athletics' Opening Day roster, but was cut on one of the last days of Spring Training. On March 28th, Johnson was reassigned to Sacramento, where he would begin the season. Johnson played in 47 games for the River Cats, and had 8 HR, 41 RBI, and a .324 AVG.
On May 27th, Erubiel Durazo was placed on the 15-day DL and Johnson was called up to replace him. Johnson would make his MLB debut that night at Jacobs Field against the Indians, batting 8th and playing 1B for Ken Macha. Johnson's 1st AB would come in the top of the 2nd, after Cliff Lee had made quick work of Eric Byrnes retiring him on 2 pitches. Swisher would follow that up with a double, to bring up Johnson. After a battle, Johnson would take his base on a walk after the 7th pitch of the AB. Johnson would not advance any farther though, and he'd go 0-3 in his debut, including a strikeout in the 5th against Lee.
Johnson would go 0-3 in his next game, the day after, and he would finally record his 1st hit on May 30th, against Jake Westbrook in the 6th inning of that game. Johnson would later drive in his 1st run on June 1st, against Tampa Bay, plating Byrnes on an RBI single into right field off of Jesus Colome.
On June 21st, Johnson finally connected for his 1st career HR. It came in the top of the 3rd inning, with the A's trailing the Seattle Mariners, 1-0 at Safeco Field. Joel Pinero was the starting pitcher for Seattle, and Johnson was the 1st batter to face him in the 3rd. After a 1st pitch ball, Johnson absolutely destroyed Pinero's next delivery, sending the ball deep into the seats in right, to tie the game at 1. Oakland would go on to win the game, 4-2.
Johnson remained on the Athletics for the rest of the season and finished the season with 15 HR, 58 RBI, and slashed .275/.353/.451 in 109 games.
In 2006, Johnson made the Opening Day roster and was used on Opening Day as pinch-hitter. Unfortunately, Johnson had an abysmal start to the year, and after going 0-27 to start the season, Johnson wouldn't record his 1st hit until April 14th. He batted under .100 for most of the month. In June, Johnson had an excellent month going .321 in the month with 4 HR, but again he fell into a slump towards the end of the month and on July 14th, when Milton Bradley was ready to return from a DL stint, Johnson was optioned to Sacramento.
Johnson wouldn't return to Oakland until rosters expanded in September, making his return to the starting lineup against Hayden Penn and the Baltimore Orioles on September 3rd. With the game already tied at 1, Johnson stepped in for his first AB with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 1st. Under a warm sun in Northern California, Penn took his delivery and on the first pitch, Johnson turned and drove the ball deep to right-center field, over the wall for a grand slam and an A's lead.
That was the high point of Johnson's 2006 season, where he finished with 9 HR, 37 RBI, and slashed .234/.323/.381. In 2007, Johnson's season again began poorly, this time because of a collision with Rockies' Catcher Yorvit Torreabla, which occurred on March 27th toward the end of Spring Training. As a result of the collision, Johnson had torn some hip cartilage, which was expected to sideline him for 3 months.
Johnson beat expectations though and returned on April 25th. Johnson batted above .300 until the beginning of June, then fell into another slump that lasted until the season's ended. Johnson finished the year with 18 HR, 62 RBI and slashed .236/.349/.418 in 117 games.
The Great Pumpkin Rises
Johnson was now out of options, and instead of testing waivers, the Athletics gave him a space on the Opening Day roster. Johnson made one appearance for Oakland as a pinch-hitter on April 2nd, but on April 9th, Johnson was Designated for Assignment so the A's could promote Greg Smith.
On April 18th, the newly minted Tampa Bay Rays claimed Johnson, designating Calvin Medlock to clear roster space. Johnson didn't appear in a game though, and was again DFA'd on April 23rd when the Rays acquired Gabe Gross.
Three days later, Johnson was out-righted to Triple-A Durham, where spent the majority of the 2008 season. Johnson put up great numbers for the Durham Bulls. In 113 games he had 25 HR, 83 RBI, and slashed .307/.423/.556. Johnson's season was good enough for him to named Durham's Player of the Year.
On September 9th, while Durham was advancing in their own post-season play, Johnson was called up to the majors and was expected to start that night's game in Boston in a crucial series against the Red Sox. The Rays and Red Sox had been exchanging blows all season, but the Rays had not won a game in Boston all year and were fighting to stay atop of the AL East.
When the Rays called up Johnson, they expected him to start at 1B that night in Boston, but problems with the weather in Louisville delayed a number of flights and made it improbable that Johnson would be able to make it in time to start the game.
When Johnson was finally able to board a plane for Boston, it was 20 minutes before the game was to begin. So Joe Maddon scratched Johnson from the start and re-slotted Carlos Pena at 1st.
Heading into the bottom of the 8th, the Rays held a 3-2 lead and Maddon called on Dan Wheeler to keep it that way. Wheeler got the first two outs quickly, but then he walked Kevin Youkilis to bring up Jason Bay. With a 1-1 count, Bay hit a laser to left, hitting the first row of seats on the Green Monster to give Boston a 4-3 lead. This set the stage for a dramatic 9th.
Cliff Floyd was due up with Hideki Okajima on the mound for Boston. Joe Maddon decided to pinch-hit for Floyd with Justin Ruggiano, which in turn caused Terry Francona to go to his closer, Jonathan Papelbon. Continuing the game of chess, Maddon then took a gamble, and called upon Dan Johnson to pinch-hit. He'd arrived in the dugout just moments ago. Papelbon's first three pitches were balls as he pitched around the zone, than a called strike and a foul ball brought the count full.
Papelbon attempted to blaze a fastball past the batter. Papelbon's target was low and away, but the pitch ran up and in over the plate and Johnson punished the mistake. He turned on the fastball and sent it deep into right-center field. Coco Crisp and Mark Kotsay gave chase, but there was no chance, as the ball cleared the Boston bullpen and landed in the first row of seats to tie the game at 4.
To finish the tale, the Rays would take the lead later in the inning thanks to back-to-back doubles by Fernando Perez and Dioner Navarro. In the bottom of the inning, Troy Percival came on to close the game out, but made it interesting with a leadoff walk of Kotsay. Jacoby Ellsbury pinch-ran and advanced all the way to 3rd thanks to a stolen base and a throwing error, but would be stranded. The Rays won the game, 5-4.
Johnson had seemingly come out of nowhere to deliver possibly the single-greatest HR in team history in his 1st ever AB for the Rays. An AB that was caused by a series of fortunate circumstances. This HR automatically made sure that every Rays fan would remember Johnson. simply, Johnson's heroics to destroy the right pitch at the right time in a game with the highest of stakes, made this the most famous home run in Rays history. The Rays blogosphere exploded with accolades for the red-headed slugger, deeming him The Great Pumpkin.
Thanks to Johnson, the Rays kept their lead in the division, the Rays would eventually go on to win the AL East crown and the pennant to cap off their miracle season, a miracle season that Johnson put an exclamation point thanks to his dramatic September HR against the hated Red Sox. He would finish the year on the Rays roster as the team went on to win the pennant. Excluding the pinch-hit appearance with Oakland, Johnson finished the season with 2 HR, 4 RBI, and slashed .200/.286/.440 in 10 games.
Land of the Rising Sun
On December 19th, the Yokohama Bay Stars of the Japanese Central League in Nippon Professional Baseball, purchased Dan Johnson's contract from the Tampa Bay Rays. On January 10th, Johnson agreed to a 1 year deal with Yokohama, and spent the entire 2009 season with them.
In 117 games in Japan, Johnson had 24 HR, 57 RBI, and slashed .215/.323/.462.
At the end of the NPB season, Johnson was a free agent. On January 10th, 2010 he signed a Major League deal with the Rays.
The Great Pumpkin Rises Again
Unfortunately, Johnson under-performed in Spring Training and was reassigned to Minor League Camp on March 25th.
Johnson would spend the majority of the year in Durham, and put up tremendous numbers for the Bulls. In 98 games, he had 30 HR, 95 RBI, and slashed .303/.423/.624. He was named an International League All-Star, the MVP of the International League, and also the Rays' Minor League Player of the Year.
On August 3rd, the Rays optioned Jeremy Hellickson down to Durham, the day after he made his MLB debut, and recalled Dan Johnson back up to the 25-man roster. Johnson was almost called up in May, due to Pat Burrell's poor performance, but the team chose to call up Hank Blalock instead. Johnson made his return on the evening of his promotion and went 0-2. True to form, he would struggle in most of his appearances, but Johnson had a knack for coming through for the team.
On August 28th, the Rays were hosting the Red Sox at Tropicana Field, looking to maintain a five game lead over them in the Division Race. The game was tied a two, thanks to a B.J. Upton HR off of Clay Buchholz in the 8th inning. Heading into the bottom of the 10th, with the game was still tied, Dan Johnson was due up, and Scott Atchison came on in relief of Daniel Bard.
Johnson battled Atchison for seven pitches on a 2-2 count. On the 8th pitch of the AB, Atchison caught too much of the plate, and Johnson belted it. As he was leaving the box, he raised his right arm in preemptive celebration. When J.D. Drew started closing in on the flyball in right, Johnson was just rounding 1st base and unleashing a glorious fist pump. It was a moonshot, and J.D. Drew tracked it until he ran into the wall, but the ball landed in the first few rows of seats to give the Rays a 3-2 victory.
The very next night, on the 29th, Johnson knocked an RBI single that broke a 3-3 tie in the 6th inning, off of John Lackey. The Rays would eventually go on to win that game, 5-3. A few weeks later, on September 15th, in a crucial game against the New York Yankees at Tropicana Field, Johnson would come through again.
At the time of the game, the Rays were a 1/2 game back, trailing the Yankees in the AL East. James Shields got the start for Tampa Bay and had a shaky 1st inning, allowing one run, but got out of a bases loaded jam with a double play ball from Lance Berkman. That was the only run scored by either team, until the bottom of the 5th inning.
Evan Longoria led off the inning with a single up the middle off of Phil Hughes, and Matt Joyce followed with a groundout that advanced Longoria to 2nd, to bring up Johnson. Longoria would advance to 3rd during Johnson's AB thanks to a wild pitch. With the count at 3-2, Johnson ripped the ball down the RF line and into the seats for a 2-run HR to give the Rays a 2-1 lead
In the 7th, though, the Rays gave up the lead thanks to an Oscar winning performance by Derek Jeter.
Entering the 7th inning, Shields was still in the game and had pitched terrific after the 1st. He faced Colin Curtis, who he got to lineout for the 1st out of the inning. After that, Chad Qualls came on in relief, and the 1st batter he'd face was the Yankees' Captain. Qualls' 1st pitch ran in on Jeter, and to the naked eye, looked like it nailed his arm.
The sound of contact was curiously loud and could be heard throughout the stadium, and replays showed it had hit the knob of the bat and never made contact with Jeter, yet after spinning away from the pitch, gesturing toward his arm, and going so far as to have the Yankees' trainer come check on him, he was awarded first base.
Joe Maddon came out to argue, but was ejected for his prolonged argument.
After Maddon was off the field and order was restored, Curtis Granderson came to bat. Qualls was struggling to find the strike zone, and the count got to 3-2. On the next pitch, Granderson golfed Qualls' delivery into the first row of seats in right field to give the Yankees a 3-2 lead. Qualls would get the following batters, but the damage had been done.
It was the bottom of the 7th, with Rays players and fans alike feeling dejected and angered, when Dan Johnson came up again.
Hughes was still in the game, and was able to get the first two outs of the inning after lengthy AB's by Carl Crawford and Longoria. Matt Joyce sliced a single into a left-center to set the plate for Johnson.
With Joyce on 1st and 2 outs in the frame, the count reached 2-1. When Hughes delivered his next pitch, it was meant to be low and away, but (as the story goes) it cut in towards Johnson. With a strong lefty swing, Johnson put the barrel on the ball and absolutely crushed it. This time it was a no-doubter, and the ball landed a few rows in front of the scoreboard in right.
Dan Johnson hadn't just given the Rays another 1-run lead, he was responsible for all 4 runs in the game, causing a swing in the standings. The Rays were able to preserve the lead. Grant Balfour pitched a scoreless 8th, after Randy Choate allowed a leadoff single, and Rafael Soriano locked down the 9th for the Rays to give them the victory, and the division lead, and Soriano's 43rd save, which tied a Rays record.
For his efforts, Johnson was given a spot on the Rays postseason roster.
Johnson played in all 5 games of the 2010 ALDS against the Texas Rangers, and recorded two hits in 9 AB's, but the Rays would lose the series to the World Series bound Rangers and the dealing Cliff Lee.
Johnson finished the regular season having played in 40 games and had 7 HR, 23 RBI, and slashed .198/.338/.414.
In December, the Rays and Johnson avoided arbitration and agreed to a 1 year deal. Entering Spring Training, he was going to compete with Casey Kotchman for the starting 1B job. Surprisingly, Dan Johnson was given the position and awarded an Opening Day start, despite Kotchman putting up an impressive Spring.
On Opening Day, an April 1st matinee, Johnson doubled in his first AB against Jeremy Guthrie and the Baltimore Orioles. Johnson then proceeded to go 0-24.
Not much was expected of the Tampa Bay Rays entering the season outside the organization, with several key players departed: Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett, Rafael Soriano, Joaquin Benoit, and Carl Crawford. There was some excitement to be had, the team had signed 2 big name free agents in Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez, and fans were thrilled with their new players.
Unfortunately, during the last days of Spring Training, Manny Ramirez tested positive for a PED, which was his 2nd offense. He'd have to serve a 100-game suspension. Rather that face the punishment, Ramirez retired on April 8th. Furthermore, during the 1st week of the season, Evan Longoria strained his oblique, resulting in a month-long DL stint. Kotchman and Felipe Lopez were called up to fill their vacant roster spots.
The Rays started out the season 0-6, never once holding a lead during those 6 games. It looked like they were heading for a 7th consecutive loss on April 8th in a game at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago against the White Sox.
Entering the top of the 9th, the Rays were trailing 7-4 when Matt Thornton came on to try and close the game for the White Sox. Elliot Johnson led off the inning with a single, and Lopez struck out after a long 10-pitch AB to bring up Sam Fuld. Elliot Johnson moved to 2nd on defensive indifference, then Fuld flared one up the middle. Alexi Ramirez was able to get to it, but bounced his throw into the Rays dugout to score Elliot Johnson. Damon popped one up to left in the next AB, and Juan Pierre charged it to attempt the catch, but the ball bounced off his glove, putting runners at 1st and 2nd with one out. B.J. Upton followed with a broken bat line drive into left that scored Fuld from 2nd, cutting the lead to a 7-6 game for Chicago.
Dan Johnson now stepped into the box, with Damon on 3rd and Upton on 1st. Thornton, pitching from the stretch, turned a fired a get-me over fastball. Johnson swung at it, and sent it flying into the easy night sky. It sailed over the right field wall and over the concourse for a 3-run HR to give the Rays their first lead of the season. Kyle Farnsworth came on and pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to secure the first Rays victory of the season.
Dan Johnson's production continued to slip, however, and on May 20th when the Rays recalled Justin Ruggiano and activated J.P. Howell from the DL, moves needed to be made. Rob Delaney was optioned to Durham, and Dan Johnson was DFA'd. Johnson cleared waivers and accepted his assignment to Durham on the 24th.
In Durham, Johnson didn't do as well he had in previous years. In 93 games, he had 13 HR, 52 RBI, and slashed .273/.379/.459. Nonetheless, just like in the years prior, Johnson was a mid-September call up to assist in the Rays playoff chase. Johnson didn't play all that much, and was mainly used as a pinch-hitter, but didn't have much success.
That is, until September 28th, the very last day of the regular season.
(September 28th, 2011)
On September 28th, 2011, the Rays were in a thrilling battle for the AL Wildcard with the Boston Red Sox. They were tied for the Wildcard lead heading into the last game of the season. The Rays were playing the Yankees at Tropicana Field, while the Orioles took on the Red Sox at Camden Yards.
If one of the Rays or Red Sox won and the other lost, the loser went home and the winner carried on; however, should both teams win or lose, there would be a one game playoff at Tropicana Field.
Both games began a little after 7 pm, but quickly had different circumstances. For the Rays it was a huge deficit, for the Red Sox it was a late game rain delay.
Under the dome, after an amazing comeback by the resilient Rays, Dan Johnson eventually stepped in the box to be another part of Rays History.
It was the bottom of the 9th. The Rays had scored six times in the 8th to make it 6-7, Yankees. The Red Sox were up 3-2 in Baltimore and play was just beginning to resume after a long rain delay, and it appeared that the Rays needed to win or they'e be eliminated.
Cory Wade, who the Rays had released earlier in the season, took the mound for New York. The first batter he'd face was Ben Zobrist, who he got to flyout to Center for the first out. Kotchman was the next batter up, and he launched a long drive deep down the right field line, but it hooked plenty foul. He'd eventually groundout on a fine play by Eric Chavez.
Two outs, down one run, and the season on the line.
Sam Fuld was due up, but Maddon decided to pinch hit with Dan Johnson. Everyone watching TV could see him walk past the camera and onto the field, visions of the 2008 HR flashing through everyone's mind. If anything, this had to be Dan Johnson's moment.
Wade started off Johnson, by dropping a curve in for strike one. The next pitch miss outside for ball one, followed by a pitch that was borderline on the outside corner for strike two. Wade bounced the next pitch for ball two. Wade's 5th pitch was fouled off.
On the sixth pitch, Wade hung a breaking pitch that looped back over the center of the plate. Johnson took a big rip at and lined it down the Right Field line. The ball soared just above the wall, wrapped around the foul pole, and into the first row of seats, to tie the game at 7. Kismet.
"Dan Johnson does it again!"
The HR sparked a massive celebration that lasted a couple of minutes. Johnson had somehow delivered a more dramatic, sensational, and more important HR than his pivotal one in 2008. Johnson's heroics in 2008 made him known to every Rays fan, this HR made him a household name. The Rays would eventually go on to win the game, moments after the Red Sox blew their lead. Evan Longoria followed by hitting the game winner into Crawford's Corner, now known as the 162 Landing, and sent the Rays to the postseason for the 3rd time in 4 years.
Full Game Below:
Although he was essential to helping them make the postseason, Dan Johnson was DFA'd and later released by the Rays on November 3rd. He finished the season having played in 31 games, with 2 HR, 4 RBI and a slash of .119/.187/.202.
On February 1st, 2012 Johnson signed a minor league deal with the Chicago White Sox. Johnson failed to make the Opening Day roster for Chicago and was sent to their Triple-A team, the Charlotte Knights. Johnson spent the majority of the season there, having 28 HR, 85 RBI, and slashed .267/.381/.492 in 137 games.
When rosters expanded, Johnson was called up and had 3 HR, 6 RBI, and slashed .364/.548/.818 in 14 games.
In another strange aligning of the stars, not only did all three homeruns come in his final game of the season against the Cleveland Indians, but Evan Longoria also had three homeruns on the final game of the Rays season. It was the first time since 1968, that any player had 3 HR in the final game of the season.
On November 30th, Johnson became a free agent, and would sign with the New York Yankees on January 24th. He spent the majority of the 2013 season with the Yankees' Triple-A team, the Scranton/Wikes-Barre RailRiders, playing in 133 games. He had 21 HR, 61 RBI, and slashed .253/.376/.447.
On August 29th, the Yankees released Johnson. He signed with the Baltimore Orioles the next day and played in 5 games for their Triple-A team, the Norfolk Tides. On September 13th, he was called up to Baltimore, but would go hit-less in three games for the division rivals.
On November 1st Johnson was granted free agency, and would sign with the Toronto Blue Jays on November 15th.
Johnson spent the majority of the 2014 season with the Blue Jays' Triple-A team, the Buffalo Bisons. He played in 107 games until July 11th, when Johnson was recalled from Buffalo. Unfortunately, on July 31st, he was placed on DL due to a Hamstring strain. On August 16th, Johnson was sent to Buffalo for rehab, and was eventually activated on September 2nd. He finished the season with Toronto. In 15 games, Johnson had 1 HR, 7 RBI, and slashed .211/.333/.342.
On October 1st, Johnson became a Free Agent, and on December 17th, Dan Johnson signed a minor league deal with the Houston Astros. He will compete with Jon Singleton at first base for the 2015 season.
Although Johnson never really performed well in a full-time role during his time with the Rays, his heroics and the aura that surrounds him will always give him special place in minds of fans of the team. Who knows what the future holds, but one day Johnson could be reunited with the Rays and the fans would welcome his back with open arms.
Career Stat Line: 3.4 WAR, .236 AVG, .337 OBP, .745 OPS, 57 HR, 201 RBI, and 1 SB