BOSTON - Orioles pitcher Jason Johnson, who reversed a traumatic 2000 season by becoming his staff's leading winner despite dealing with juvenile diabetes, was named co-recipient yesterday of the Tony Conigliaro Award presented annually to a major-league player who overcomes adversity in the spirit of the late Boston Red Sox right fielder.
Johnson, 28, suffers from an acute strain of the disease that must be monitored regularly. He adopted an insulin pump last season that he wore at all times except during games.
Johnson suffered a 1-10 record in 2000, was dropped from the Orioles' rotation in spring training and twice optioned to Triple-A Rochester. Working under a new pitching coach, Mark Wiley, with an improved focus and sharper mechanics, Johnson last season built a 10-12 record and 4.09 ERA. Johnson started the season 6-3 and briefly led the American League in earned run average before spotty run support and susceptibility to home runs left him winless in his last nine starts.
Montreal Expos reliever Graeme Lloyd shared the award with Johnson.
Previous winners of the award include former Orioles outfielder Eric Davis (1997), Bo Jackson (1993), Bret Saberhagen (1998) and Glen Burnie's Tony Saunders (2000).
The Red Sox began the award in 1990 to perpetuate the memory of Conigliaro, whose career was shortened by a beaning in 1967. Conigliaro suffered a massive heart attack in 1982 and died eight years later at 45.
"It's pretty cool to be put in the same line as that group," Johnson said yesterday. "Those are some impressive names."
Johnson's involvement with the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation has grown in the past two years and he has embraced his role as an example to children afflicted with the disease.
"Hopefully, this will increase awareness about diabetes and show that people can show it doesn't have to stop you from living your life," Johnson said.
Didier added to staff
Vice president for baseball operations Syd Thrift has added former Cleveland Indians major-league scout Mel Didier as a special assistant. Didier replaces Bob Schaefer, who accepted a job as Kansas City Royals bench coach earlier this month.
The Orioles also lost major-league scout Mike Ledna last month but have not yet filled the position.