A shift in tenses tells you the main difference between Chris and Paul Johnson: Chris' pitching career is past perfect; Paul's is A-OK now and has the look of future perfect.
So Paul, a senior at Redondo High, pitches his way to most of the school's records and awaits the pro draft. Chris, a senior at Pepperdine University, who has emerged as a solid everyday player and hitter, also awaits the draft, which passed him by when he came out of Redondo four years ago.
There was a time when Chris was regarded as perhaps the best athlete ever to play at Redondo, and Paul was always "Chris' little brother." But Paul has forged his own identity and career, and the two face the upcoming draft as nearly equals--no mean feat for a high schooler following in the footsteps of a famous brother.
Chris' fortunes changed when he broke right his wrist playing football in his junior year in high school. He had been an all-CIF pitcher as a sophomore, going 14-1 and leading Redondo to the CIF semifinals. But he never regained full mobility in the wrist and his pitches lost their zip.
Undaunted, he became a jack-of-all-trades with the glove and for the last two seasons has been knocking down walls for Pepperdine as its regular first baseman and infrequent third baseman and outfielder.
Chris was a football star, leading the CIF in interceptions one year, and says the broken wrist may have been helpful in guiding him to a career decision. He considered trying to play both before choosing college baseball over several football scholarship offers.
The broken wrist "changed my outlook," he said before a recent Pepperdine game. "It kind of got me wondering if football was the game I should play. It gave me some answers--the hard way."
Chris says the broken wrist may also have been helpful in stressing parts of his game other than pitching. "I think I was just a high school pitcher--I don't think I could've pitched at this level. I like to hit, too, and most pitchers don't hit in college. So it might've been a blessing in disguise."
Redondo Coach Harry Jenkins, who has had a long line of all-CIF stars, especially pitchers, isn't so sure of that. "Chris was all-CIF as a sophomore and if we'd won that semifinal (playoff) he probably would've been CIF player of the year," he said.
Of one thing he is sure: Paul is a standout pitcher--and getting better. Paul played basketball as a freshman and football as a sophomore but made his decision early to stick with baseball. He's 7-1 this year and will finish his four-year varsity career as Redondo's all-time winner. He set a CIF record as a junior with two straight no-hitters and has added seven miles per hour to his fastball this season.
"Compared to my other great pitchers, he's pitched on much weaker hitting teams," Jenkins said. "He's a polished pitcher, very smooth, has poise and an outstanding pickoff move to first, as good as you'll see for a right-hander. I consider right now he can go out and win at the four-year college level. Most aren't ready right away. But he just doesn't get hit hard."
Asked to compare the brothers, Jenkins says what's basically in the record books: Chris is the supreme athlete, Paul the consummate pitcher.
Paul's College Offers
"Paul's just a pitcher. He's a better pitcher. He's not a regular player like Chris," Jenkins said. "Chris was three-time all-CIF and all-league as a freshman. He led the CIF in stolen bases. He was all-CIF in football and led the CIF in interceptions. Paul is a little bigger than Chris. He's got offers (from the universities of Arizona and Hawaii) and he will be drafted. Chris didn't get drafted out of high school but he will this year."
Pitchers are meal tickets and Paul's stock continues to rise. Until last weekend he had shut out the Bay League through five games, including a 1-0 victory over league favorite Santa Monica, which he describes as his best game ever. Last weekend, in front of scouts galore, he beat South Torrance, 8-2, and struck out 12.
"I told him to tell the team that drafts him to draft me in a package deal," Chris said with a grin.
Chris Batting .331
Chris has a lot to smile about this year, though he has tailed off somewhat after a sizzling start. He was the Waves' second-best hitter last year at .329 with 42 runs batted in, led the team with 77 hits and 15 doubles and was third with six home runs.
Going into league play this year he was hitting nearly .400 and had a slugging percentage near .700. He has since come down to earth but still came out of the weekend hitting .331 with 9 doubles, 6 homers and 31 runs batted in, plus a slugging percentage of .514 in 41 games. He's looking forward to the draft.
"He's been an outstanding player, particularly the last couple of years," said Pepperdine Coach Dave Gorrie. "I don't think there's a better first baseman around. He's been a steady hitter, a steady RBI man. He certainly deserves to be drafted.