ATLANTA – Jed Hoyer talked on his cell phone by the dugout late Saturday night in an empty Turner Field. The Cubs general manager wound up in almost the exact same spot on Sunday morning, the phone pressed to his ear again.
Perhaps Hoyer had the closer controversy – Carlos Marmol out, Kyuji Fujikawa in – on his mind. Or maybe he needed some information as the Cubs map out the June draft and figure out who to take with the No. 2 overall pick.
Or was that Reed Johnson in disguise?
Having fun with the hype surrounding The Masters of the Parallel Fronts Universe, Johnson and Jeff Baker went as Hoyer and Theo Epstein for the “Superheroes” road trip from St. Louis to Pittsburgh last summer.
Johnson – who wore a wig on his bald head – and Baker went with the standard uniform in the front office: blue Cubs polo shirts, khaki pants, sunglasses and those cell phones.
[More: Out of patience with Marmol, Cubs make Fujikawa their closer]
Eight days later, the Cubs packaged Johnson in the Paul Maholm deal with the Braves to get pitching prospect Arodys Vizcaino just before the July 31 deadline. Baker – now a utility guy with the Texas Rangers – didn’t make it through the first week of August.
Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to mess with the bosses?
“We dress up like Jed and Theo and both of us get traded,” Johnson said. “Both of us probably at some point in the offseason tried to get back there. And I get drilled my first at-bat in the (bleeping) back.
“So, I don’t know, maybe they didn’t think it was as funny as they said it was. Maybe he’s like: ‘Yeah, yeah, that’s real funny. Yeah, we’ll see. You’re gone. We don’t want you back. And we’re going to drill you your first at-bat.’”
Johnson smiled and laughed at the prank, which went down as one of the more memorable moments during a rather boring, drama-free, 101-loss season. Rule 5 pick Hector Rondon hit Johnson with a pitch on Friday during Atlanta’s 4-1 win. Message received.
“He joked with me: ‘I really shouldn’t have done that costume, huh?’” Hoyer said with a laugh. “(Like) I talked to Rondon before the night started.”
[More: Hoyer sees No. 2 pick coming into focus]
Johnson became a glue guy in the clubhouse and a fan favorite on the North Side for his willingness to run into walls. He kept in contact with the Cubs but wound up accepting a one-year, $1.75 million deal – which contains a club option for 2014 – to stay in Atlanta and help a contending team as a pinch-hitter and play occasionally in an outfield dominated by The Upton Brothers.
“I’ve been on a one-year deal all 11 years of my career,” Johnson said. “So every time the offseason comes and I got a chance to sign a one-year deal, I’m always going to ask them if there’s any interest.”
Johnson remembered what it was like in 2008, when the team built by former general manager Jim Hendry won 97 games and a second straight division title.
There are much lower expectations for Year 2 of Hoyer and Epstein’s rebuilding project. But as the Cubs return home for Monday’s opener at Wrigley Field, Johnson believes they have the right guys in place. If he didn’t like them, well, he wouldn’t have put on that wig.
“Those guys are awesome, man,” Johnson said. “I just really enjoyed my time there. And I will always tell guys I’ve played with: If you get a chance to play in that city for a year or two, win or lose, you to experience what it’s like.”