"We didn't know if that thing would last a day, a year -- who knows how long?" Johnson said. "Being a rookie, I wasn't really set with cash or anything, so I started transcribing flipcharts and did some typing for a [consulting] firm."
Baseball, of course, returned the next season. Johnson played for six teams over eight years, two of which took place in San Francisco.
In the minds of Bay Area faithful, the journeyman catcher always will be celebrated for his late-game heroics in a mid-September duel with the rival Dodgers. With nine games remaining in the 1997 season, Johnson's walk-off dinger in the bottom of the 12th inning set the Giants on a streak that culminated in a National League West crown.
A Stanford alumnus and Oakland native, Johnson remembers that "pretty memorable" closing stretch of the season as fondly as any Giants player or fan.
But now he's building a reputation off the field, continuing the work he started when, as a rookie, he was afraid baseball might have gone away for good.
After retiring in 2001 with a career .248 batting average, he joined a team focused on business, not baseball. He was offered a full-time gig with JP Morgan Chase, where for five years he entrenched himself in the world of diversity training.
About a month ago, Johnson made another appearance on the business transaction list. He joined The Kaleidoscope Group, a national diversity firm that specializes in business development. He evaluates companies, educates employees in age, gender and religious issues and helps squash any potential business snags.
ARI: Travis Lee | ATL: Mark Lemke
BAL: Chris Hoiles | BOS: Bill Lee
CHC: Randy Hundley | CIN: Eric Davis
CWS: Dan Pasqua | CLE: Dave Burba
COL: Curtis Leskanic | DET: Steve Sparks
FLA: Charlie Hough | HOU: Doug Drabek
KC: Mike Macfarlane | LAA: Rick Reichardt
LAD: Jim Gott | MIL: Don Sutton
MIN: Kevin Tapani | NYM: Ed Kranepool
NYY: Jim Abbott | OAK: Ben Grieve
PHI: Tommy Greene | PIT: Barry Jones
STL: B. Tewksbury | SD: C. Hernandez
SF: Brian Johnson | SEA: Henry Cotto
TB: Doug Creek | TEX: Dave Hostetler
TOR: Alex Gonzalez | WAS: W. Fryman
Johnson says he relishes his new responsibilities and feels almost zero tug to return to the game.
"When I got done playing, it was time to do something else," Johnson said. "I truly enjoyed baseball, but there were some interesting things that I wanted to do, and now I'm getting the chance to do them.
"I had some friends who had done a lot in the business world, and I almost felt like I had fallen behind them."
He's playing catch-up now, and he's doing so alongside his family. He lives in Detroit with his wife -- "My college sweetheart" -- two children, three dogs and two cats. He calls them his "seven kids."
Of course, the family and firm aren't his only goings-on. Johnson is part-owner of a company that manufactures baseball products; he founded a crisis management company for Major League and Minor League teams that helps guide players through their careers; and he's writing a book on race relations -- he grew up with a "unique look at life" as a white kid in a predominantly African-American Oakland neighborhood.
He occasionally recalls his days with the Giants. Johnson joined the club in July 1997 and "caught fire as soon as I got there." The "interesting" clubhouse -- with Barry Bonds, Jeff Kent, J.T. Snow, Bill Mueller and Roberto Hernandez -- left a lasting impression.
Returning to his hometown felt "very comfortable," Johnson said. "I felt a part of everything. The guys made me feel accepted."
At 40 years old, though, he's moved on. A decision he doesn't regret.
"When you get out of baseball, hopefully, you've still got 40 or 50 years to live," Johnson said. "I wanted to have a chance to explore other things.
"It takes a while to go from focusing on only baseball to living completely differently. But I've done that, and there's other stuff."
David Biderman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.