Newest Yankee sorry for dimming 'great moment'
NEW YORK -- Still a little stunned by all the attention, Randy Johnson stood up, stretched out his 6-foot-10 inch frame and pulled on those famous pinstripes.
As dozens of cameras clicked away in a stuffy room packed with reporters, the Big Unit then made his first pitch as a member of the New York Yankees: an apology.
Johnson opened Tuesday's news conference by talking about his confrontation on a Manhattan sidewalk with a television cameraman on the way to his physical the previous day.
"It was unprofessional and, obviously, I feel very foolish today, at such a great moment in my career, that I would have to sit before all of you, or stand before all you, and apologize for my actions," Johnson said.
He said he had seen the video and felt "terrible" and "embarrassed."
"Come to one of the biggest media markets, one of the winningest franchises in the history of any sport, and that's the way I enter? I'm sorry, I don't know how many more times I can say that," he added. "I hope I can move on and can get another chance to prove that I'm worth coming here."
All he has to do is deliver the championship owner George Steinbrenner demands.
In a trade in the works for more than a month and agreed to Dec. 30, the Yankees sent pitchers Javier Vazquez and Brad Halsey, catcher Dioner Navarro and $9 million to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Johnson.
The five-time Cy Young Award winner got a $32 million, two-year contract extension that runs through 2007, and the deal was finally completed when he aced his medical tests Monday. The 41-year-old left-hander even astounded New York's team doctor because his elbow and shoulder were still in such good shape.
The biggest concern about Johnson is his creaky right knee, which lands on the slope of the mound every time he throws a pitch. He took gel injections last season to keep pitching (he made 35 starts), but this year he thinks the knee, which he says does have cartilage, will feel better because he doesn't have to run or swing a bat in the American League.
|“||This guy is one of the premier pitchers of all-time. I personally feel that he's cost this organization two championships, more so than any other player. ”|
|— Yankees GM Brian Cashman|
So, with the Yankees in dire need of a dominant ace to counter Curt Schilling and the rival Boston Red Sox, Johnson could wind up being the biggest thing in the Bronx south of the zoo. He might even start against Schilling, his old Arizona sidekick, in the season opener on April 3.
"I just want to win so bad. That's all I've ever wanted to do," he said. "I'm not scared of any challenge."
The Yankees know that firsthand, one reason they pursued him so vigorously for the past six months. Johnson is 5-0 with a 1.65 ERA against New York in the postseason, leading Seattle to a first-round victory in 1995 and Arizona to a World Series title in 2001.
"This guy is one of the premier pitchers of all-time," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "I personally feel that he's cost this organization two championships, more so than any other player."
Mussina is 36, Brown will turn 40 in March and has a bad back, and Wright has a history of shoulder problems, so staying healthy is a big concern for everyone. But the addition of Johnson should ease the burden on the bullpen and all the other starters.
"In more ways than one, a huge addition to our pitching staff," manager Joe Torre said in a statement. "His accomplishments speak for themselves, but he will also make everyone around him much better."
The deal that brought Johnson to New York fell through several times, in several forms. Turning to the pitcher on Tuesday, Yankees president Randy Levine, told him: "We've been trying to bring you here for a long, long time. ... But sometimes, to put a Big Unit in place takes a little longer."
Blessed with a blazing fastball and a nasty slider that he worked hard to master, Johnson has a 246-128 record with a 3.07 ERA in 17 major league seasons. He also ranks third on the career strikeout list with 4,161.
He was runner-up to Roger Clemens for the NL Cy Young Award last year, but Johnson said the Diamondbacks wanted him to take a 50 percent cut in his 2005 salary -- $16 million -- if they were going to extend his contract. Still one of the best pitchers in baseball, he didn't see why he should have to.
Johnson said he had a close relationship with former Diamondbacks chief executive officer Jerry Colangelo, but never even sat down to talk with the new regime headed by incoming CEO Jeff Moorad.
Now in the Big Apple, Johnson pledged to accommodate the New York media as much as possible, though he acknowledged he's usually surly on days when he's pitching. He appeared Tuesday on CBS's "Late Show with David Letterman," playfully covering a camera lens with his hand as he walked out on stage.
The Yankees aren't so concerned with all that. They're just happy they finally have the elusive piece that finishes their pitching puzzle.
And it's a big one.
As Johnson slipped on his new cap in the Stadium Club, with paintings of Yankees greats adorning the walls all around him, he towered over the diminutive Cashman in front of the podium.
"Probably not a good picture for me," Cashman said.
But just what the Yankees were looking for.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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