Sean Doolittle comes to Jim Johnson’s defense regarding boos


OAKLAND -– Jim Johnson once again struggled and got an earful from A’s fans on Thursday, and one of his bullpen teammates expressed disappointment with the home crowd.

Johnson gave up two runs in the seventh inning Thursday against the Detroit Tigers; runs that proved critical as the A’s battled back before falling 5-4 in the finale of a four-game series.

After retiring the side, Johnson left to a chorus of boos, a scene that has marked his rough first season in green and gold. He’s now allowed nine runs over his last nine outings (8 1/3 IP), increasing his overall ERA to 6.55 in 22 appearances.

A’s closer Sean Doolittle maintains faith in Johnson, saying he believes the sinkerballer has the stuff and track record to turn his year around. Doolittle wasn’t as supportive of the treatment Johnson got as he exited the field.

“We spent all offseason telling the new guys about how great our fans were,” Doolittle said. “And from game one — game one — he got booed off the field. We’re sitting in the dugout looking around. I can’t remember that happening since I’ve been here. We went through some rough patches last year when we were pretty bad, but I don’t remember the boo birds coming out like that.”

Johnson had a large group of reporters gathered around his locker after the game.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” he said. “Balls are finding holes. I’m throwing pretty good pitches. I just feel like I’m getting a little bit of bad luck. I don’t think it’s as bad as it really seems, but I think everybody else thinks that way.”

Johnson has found success on the road –- a 3-0 record, 1.98 ERA and .208 opponents’ batting average in 11 games.

At home? He is 0-2 with a 14.05 ERA and .465 opponents’ average in 11 games.

Asked if the boos are affecting him on the mound, Johnson paused before responding: “What am I supposed to do?”

The reason for the home fans’ treatment of Johnson certainly was tied, early on, to him replacing a fan favorite closer in Grant Balfour. And though Balfour left via free agency — and Johnson was only acquired via trade after it was clear Balfour wouldn’t be back –- fans initially seemed to view the situation as a straight-up swap, Johnson for Balfour.

Then Johnson allowed two ninth-inning runs in an Opening Night loss to Cleveland and was serenaded by boos right off the bat.

[RELATED: A’s fall to Tigers, split four-game set]

“I would’ve booed me too,” he said that night.

In defense of the home fans, Johnson got an encouraging reception later in that season-opening homestand. Dealing with boos comes with the territory for professional athletes, and Johnson’s home stats aren’t doing much to win fans over during the first one-third of the season.

Entering in relief of Jesse Chavez on Thursday with Oakland trailing 3-2, Johnson retired his first batter before giving up singles to Don Kelly and Miguel Cabrera. Then Victor Martinez followed with a hard-hit two-run double down the right-field line that made it 5-2.

Still, Doolittle — a fan favorite and one of many A’s players who often speaks highly of the Coliseum crowd — doesn’t like the treatment Johnson is getting.

“I mean, we all take notice of it,” Doolittle said. “One guy was giving him the double-barreled middle finger above the dugout after one of his outings. That’s disgusting. That’s pretty ridiculous that he has to deal with that.”

After losing the closer’s role early in the season, Johnson finds himself pitching earlier in games and often when the A’s are already trailing.

“Guys have to respond to the opportunities they get,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “We’ll continue to try to find a good spot for him and get him going.”

Spending bill could exempt minor leaguers from federal labor laws

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Mike DeBonis of the Washington Post reports that, according to three congressional officials familiar with current talks, an upcoming spending bill could exempt minor leaguers from federal labor laws. This is an issue we have spent some time covering here. A bill proposed in 2016, H.R. 5580, would have amended language in Section 13 of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 which would have made it so minor leaguers wouldn’t be protected under a law that protects hourly workers. There is also an ongoing class action lawsuit over unfair labor prospects.

As DeBonis notes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is among the representatives backing the measure. The provision specifically concerning minor leaguers didn’t appear in any of the draft spending bills, but DeBonis spoke to officials familiar with the negotiations under the condition of anonymity who said it was under serious consideration by top party leaders.

DeBonis got a comment from Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner. He said, “We’re not saying that [minor league pay] shouldn’t go up. We’re just saying that the formula of minimum wage and overtime is so incalculable. I would hate to think that a prospect is told, ‘You got to go home because you’re out of hours, you can’t have any extra batting practice.’ It’s those kinds of things. It’s not like factory work. It’s not like work where you can punch a time clock and management can project how many hours they’re going to have to pay for.”

O’Conner said as much in an interview back in December. It’s an extremely disingenuous deflection. O’Conner also said, “I don’t think that minor league baseball is a career choice for a player.” This is all about creating legislation that allows Minor League Baseball to keep money at the top, which is great if you’re a team owner or shareholder. If they could get away with it, every owner of every business would pay its employees as little as possible, which is why it’s important to have unions and people keeping an eye on legislation like this that attempts to strip laborers of their rights in the dead of night.

Minor league players need to unionize. Or, better yet, the MLBPA should open their doors to include minor leaguers and fight for them just as they would a player who has reached the majors. Minor leaguers should be paid a salary with which they do not have to worry about things like rent, electricity, food, and transportation. They should be provided healthcare and a retirement fund. And if anyone tries to tell you it’s not affordable, MLB eclipsed $10 billion in revenues last year. There’s plenty to go around.

The owners are banking on this legislation passing and labor still coming in excess due to young men holding onto the dream of making the major leagues. According to CNN, “far less than 10 percent of minor league players ever get the chance to make it to the major leagues.” Some of these players have forgone college to work in baseball. They arrive at the park in the morning and leave late at night, putting in far more than your standard eight-hour work day. Since their bodies are their vehicle for success, they have to exercise regularly and vigorously off the field while maintaining a healthy diet. (And teams are still reluctant to invest even the smallest amount of money to ensure their young players eat well.) Minor leaguers make tremendous sacrifices to pursue their dream and now Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying Congress to legalize taking further advantage of them.