Talk about an entrance.
Tim Johnson rode in on a horse to be introduced Tuesday at Trail Dust Town as manager of the Tucson Toros, a new independent baseball team.
“Out of 40 years, that’s a first,” said Johnson, 59. “I’ve come on motorcycles but never a horse.”
The former major league shortstop and ex-manager of the Toronto Blue Jays is the first hire of Toros owner Jay Zucker and general manager Sean Smock. The Toros will begin play in the nine-league Golden Baseball League in late May.
For the last six seasons, Johnson compiled a 315-255 record as manager of the Lincoln (Neb.) Saltdogs of the independent American Association.
“Nebraska and Lincoln was wonderful and I’ll always love them,” Johnson said, “but it was time for a change. Starting from the beginning from the ground floor, it’s all brand new (here).
“This is going to be a long, successful situation. Jay and Sean have been wonderful. I haven’t been this excited in a long time. It gets your blood going.”
Johnson played shortstop for the Milwaukee Brewers from 1973-78 and for the Blue Jays from 1978-79, batting .223.
After coaching stints in Montreal and Boston, Johnson led the Blue Jays to an 88-74 record in 1998, only three games out of the wild card.
He was fired in March 1999 and replaced with Jim Fregosi over a controversy that Johnson told fabricated stories to Blue Jays players about his military record during the Vietnam War.
Johnson, who was in the Marine Corps Reserve during the war, admitted to Toronto newspapers that he never saw combat and later apologized to his players.
“It was his broad basic knowledge and experience,” Smock said of why the Toros hired Johnson. “He played and coached in the major leagues. He managed an independent team with great success.”
Johnson had other offers to consider but chose the Toros.
“This was the right fit for me,” Johnson said. “I love Tucson and the weather.”
• What: New independent team, Golden Baseball League
• Season starts: late May
• Home games: 40
• Stadium: Hi Corbett Field
• Tickets: 322-6989