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Report: Nick Johnson chooses retirement at age 34

Jan 28, 2013, 6:15 PM EDT

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Former Yankees, Nationals and Orioles first baseman Nick Johnson, one of the great what-ifs of the last 15 years, has opted for retirement, WFAN’s Sweeny Murti reports.

A phenomenal hitting talent, Johnson missed his first full season in the Yankees system before even arriving in the majors. He hit .345/.525/.548 in 132 games in Double-A in 1999, then sat out 2000 because of a wrist injury that required surgery. He debuted with the Bombers in 2001, but he struggled to establish himself as he continued to deal with wrist problems. After he hit .284/.422/.472 in 96 games as a 24-year-old in 2003, the Yankees traded him, Juan Rivera and Randy Choate to the Expos for Javier Vazquez.

Johnson played 4 1/2 seasons for the Expo-Nats and had his best year in 2006, hitting .290/.428/.520 with a career-high 23 homers and 77 RBI in 147 games. Unfortunately, his season ended on Sept. 23, when he suffered a broken leg in a collision with Austin Kearns. He went on to miss the entire 2007 campaign, and although he returned in 2008, he played in just 38 games then due to a torn wrist ligament.

Johnson’s last hurrah came in 2009, when he hit .291/426/.405 in 133 games for the Nationals and Marlins. He finished second in the NL in OBP to Albert Pujols. After that, he played in 24 games with the Yankees in 2010, missed the 2011 season and then played in 38 games with the Orioles last year.

Johnson, now 34, finishes his career with a .268/.399/.441 line in 2,698 at-bats over 10 seasons. That .399 OBP is 62nd all-time for players with at least 3,000 plate appearances. Had Johnson been able to avoid his initial wrist problems and stay relatively healthy, it’s pretty easy to imagine him putting together a career in which he had a few .300 seasons, several top-three finishes in OBP and maybe 300 homers over 15-18 seasons. Maybe that’s not a Hall of Famer, but with the possible .420 OBP, some would have argued for him.

  1. Old Gator - Jan 28, 2013 at 6:21 PM

    Yup, he joins Mickey Mantle on that long list of what-if ballplayers whose careers were sidetracked by injuries.

    • nothanksimdriving123 - Jan 28, 2013 at 10:09 PM

      Yes, Mickey Mantle would likely have put up even more incredible numbers had he been injury-free and lived a healthier lifestyle, but sidetracked? When you end up in the Hall of Fame, with 536 home runs, few would call your career sidetracked. The late Mark Fidrych’s career might be called sidetracked, but The Mick, not so much.

    • dcfan4life - Jan 28, 2013 at 10:12 PM

      When thinking what if players, Mark Prior immediately comes to mind.

      • brewcrewfan54 - Jan 28, 2013 at 11:36 PM

        You can add Kerry Wood to that list even though he was able to have a nice career after his injuries, just not as great as what could have been. I’m happy I didn’t have to watch those 2 kick the Brewers asses for 10+ seasons its just unfortunate it was because of injuries.

      • 18thstreet - Jan 29, 2013 at 10:18 AM

        Tony Conigliaro.

    • badintent - Jan 29, 2013 at 2:46 AM

      Relax folks, this is in jest. Old Gator is just out Feeeeeeeeeeeshing for some real action. He’s out night hunting for crocs , using local comission board members for bait.

    • purnellmeagrejr - Jan 29, 2013 at 7:22 AM

      I hope his wife doesn’t mind taking him to the doctor’s offfice regularly.

  2. sfm073 - Jan 28, 2013 at 6:22 PM

    So he’s a great what if bc he had a good
    Double A season and a couple of average major league seasons?

    • hconnor2001 - Jan 28, 2013 at 6:31 PM

      Yup. Career .400 OBPs are ten-a-penny.

      • 18thstreet - Jan 29, 2013 at 10:18 AM

        I don’t know what the stats showed, but he was a pretty good fielder in his first year in DC, too.

        I really liked the guy.

  3. lyon810 - Jan 28, 2013 at 6:25 PM

    Failed to mention in the opening “Expos”….

    That being said, that’s another former Expo gone. Only a small handful remain active.

  4. seanatch - Jan 28, 2013 at 6:36 PM

    Last 3 stories detailing players all involved in same trade!

    • paul621 - Jan 28, 2013 at 7:06 PM

      I’m feeling a Randy Choate story right around the corner.

  5. mybrunoblog - Jan 28, 2013 at 6:52 PM

    Johnson was a great pure hitter but could never stay healthy. I heard he slipped walking up the podium on his way to his retirement speech. Pulled his calf muscle. He should be able to complete his retirement speech in 4 to 6 weeks.

  6. crankyfrankie - Jan 28, 2013 at 6:53 PM

    Any man who used “Return of the mack” as his walk out music is going to be missed.

  7. number42is1 - Jan 28, 2013 at 6:56 PM

    He came out to Miley Cyrus during his second stint as a Yankee. that is how i will always remember him

  8. tfbuckfutter - Jan 28, 2013 at 7:00 PM

    At least he has a second career opportunity as Porky Pig if they ever make a live-action Looney Tunes movie.

  9. sleepyirv - Jan 28, 2013 at 7:35 PM

    It’s a shame that he’ll be only remembered for his numerous injuries (it doesn’t help his most useful skill- a good eye – his much of an attention grabber.) He got the job more than done at the plate.

  10. vallewho - Jan 28, 2013 at 7:44 PM

    so the choices were retirement or the DL?

    • tfbuckfutter - Jan 28, 2013 at 8:09 PM

      Actually it’s kind of an honor.

      They are renaming the DL the NL.

  11. pisano - Jan 28, 2013 at 11:59 PM

    Smart move, this guy was a DL stint waiting to happen.

  12. mazblast - Jan 29, 2013 at 1:55 AM

    A first baseman of sorts whose claim to fame is that he drew lots of walks and got hurt an incredible number of times. Yay.

  13. blacksables - Jan 29, 2013 at 5:24 AM

    SoJim Rice’s actual numbers aren’t good enough for the Hall of Fame, but Nick Johnson’s “what if” numbers gets him consideration? Yeah, bloggers would do so much better than sports writers. Of courseOps is the only number that counts.

  14. xjokerz - Jan 29, 2013 at 6:17 AM

    What if Barry bonds hit 10000000 home runs ?

  15. buffalomafia - Jan 29, 2013 at 9:28 AM

    Good retire! Everytime I had him on my fantasy baseball team he was always hurt!

    Over paid & over rated!

    Like in the movie A Bronx Tale wasted talent!

  16. Detroit Michael - Jan 29, 2013 at 10:44 AM

    To put Johnson’s offensive prowess into better context, ranking 2001-2012 batters, minimum 3,000 plate appearances, by wRC+, Johnson ranks 40th, just below Carlos Beltran and Ryan Klesko and just above Moises Alou and Jorge Posada. [Hat tip to Fangraphs for allowing me to generate the rankings.]

    Even if Johnson was durable, that’s not a good enough bat to meet most fans’ Hall of Fame expectations for a first baseman. To make Johnson’s hypothetical “what if” career into a Hall of Fame caliber career, you’d also have to argue that the injuries limited Johnson’s productivity even when he was in the line-up.

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