Chris Johnson's emotions got the best of him again Friday night. After striking out against Colorado Rockies right-hander Jordan Lyles in the second inning, the Atlanta Braves third baseman went down the tunnel of the Braves dugout and shattered his bat in a fit of frustration. Pieces of the bat ended up striking manager Fredi Gonzalez and teammate Gerald Laird, who had their backs to Johnson while standing on the dugout steps.
Neither man was injured — Laird actually drove home the winning run in Atlanta's 3-2 victory — but Gonzalez was officially fed up. He immediately yanked Johnson from the game and replaced him with Ramiro Pena.
Had it been an isolated incident, Gonzalez may have been a little more lenient. However, Johnson has had a history of losing his cool in the dugout. Last September, Braves bench coach Terry Pendleton got in Johnson's face and grabbed him by the uniform after being hit by Johnson's helmet, which was thrown in a similar fit of anger.
The Braves downplayed that incident, but according to Carroll Rogers of the Atlanta Journal Constitution there has been a pattern of this type of behavior from Johnson. Rogers notes Johnson was also benched for two games in April following a meltdown. He didn't receive the message then, but the Braves hope Gonzalez's quick hook on Friday finally gets through.
“I let my emotions get the best of me tonight in the tunnel and blew up a little bit, and it’s dangerous to do it,” said Johnson, who was eventually followed up into the tunnel by a group of Braves teammates and coaches. “There were some people down there that weren’t too happy about it…Up top (in the tunnel). That’s how somebody could get hurt, and I think that was the point of it, is to kind of teach me a lesson, that that could hurt somebody or myself. And I agree with them 100 percent. I let me emotions get the best of me tonight.”
“I apologized to the team about that after the game and to Pena for having to pick me up,” Johnson said. “I’m sorry to the fans, people who came out to watch me play today. That’s just one of my demons. That’s one of those things I’ve got to try to get through and get better at…. “It’s like getting tossed out of a game in the first inning. Pena has to go in and get ambushed and the team doesn’t know what’s going on and I let my emotions get the best of me. First and foremost I wanted to talk to the team and let them know that I was deeply sorry for that and that I was going to work my butt off to fix that part of my game.”
The game of baseball has a way of challenging players like no other sport can. Even those who excel at it, like Johnson — who finished 2013 second in the NL in hitting with a .321 average — go through stretches of futility with little explanation. Currently, Johnson is mired in a 4-for-26 slump, so that certainly qualifies as one of those stretches.
Still, the Braves have shown their confidence in Johnson long-term, rewarding him with a three-year, $23 million deal just three weeks ago. Now he'll have to show that he can keep his emotions in check and deal with on field adversity better.
“This has to be it for me,” he said. “I think that it’ll get to a point where (if) it happens again, people aren’t going to believe that I’m truly sorry for doing it. It just looks selfish I think. It was one at-bat. I should be able to just wipe it off. So yeah hopefully this is it.”
Admitting changes need to be made is a good start. Acknowledging the reality if he doesn't make those changes is even better. He'll need a little help and support along the way, but it all begins and ends with him. For everybody's sake, here's to hoping he's able to figure it out.
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