The first stop on our tour of the Marlins All-Time All-Star roster is catcher. A fan favorite that probably wasn’t even the third best all-time hitter at his position.
The backstop affectionately known as CJ represented the Marlins at the MLB All-Star Game in 1997 and 2001, widely respected as one of the game’s elite defensive talents. He was on the receiving end of the first three no-hitters in franchise history, and spent two tours of duty in Miami.
One from his 1994 debut until early into the 1998 firesale, and another from 2001 to 2002.
He was the first draft pick in Miami Marlins history, plucked right out of the University of Miami. In a personal bit of irony, the first time I saw him play wasn’t in Miami at all. Rather, it was in a small town in Illinois called Geneva.
Johnson, along with Mike Redmond and Edgar Renteria, played Single A ball for the Kane County Cougars- a minor league team just down the road from where my mother grew up. Five years later, I would be watching him play again, this time in Game 7 of the World Series.
Needless to say, he had quite the ride here in South Florida. For a touch more local flavor, be sure to check out the Miami Herald’s George Richard’s nod to the local legend here.
All-Star afterthought, Miami Marlins cornerstone
He would draw neither a start or a hit in either one of his Midsummer Classic appearances. His presence there was entirely on account of the respect his peers. Case in point: he batted .259 in 2001, and that was the better year of the two.
In fact, the most notable thing about his All-Star appearances was just who the starting catchers happened to be in those games. In both cases, it was Mike Piazza and Pudge Rodriguez taking the honors. All three would of course catch games for the Marlins.
Piazza came over in the trade that sent Johnson out of Miami. Rodriguez would win his own World Series as Johnson’s replacement after he was traded again in 2002.
Aside from those lackluster exhibition games, his Marlins career was a masterpiece. He might have never had a top notch career at the plate, but that didn’t stop him from hitting that Game 1 HR pictured above. Or a series of other timely hits that postseason.
He earned three Gold Gloves he earned as a Marlin, four if you count 1998, a standard of excellence no Marlins catcher has come close to matching.
CJ might not have Pudge’s Hall of Fame resume, or even J.T. Realmuto‘s speed. But when it comes down to consistently doing what the position requires, he’s a Marlins All-Star without equal.