Tomorrow is a big day for the city of Cooperstown, it's residents, and four very special baseball players. On Sunday July 26th, at 1:30 PM EST, Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz will be formally inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame. At least 50,000 fans are expected to attend and listen to these gentlemen give their induction speeches. This is a Big Deal.
All of these players are certainly deserving of this honor, but none more so than The Big Unit. Randy Johnson is one of the top-two or -three left-handed starting pitchers in MLB history. He accomplished so many things during his 22-year career. Also, because Randy spent more time in Seattle than he did with any other team, Mariners fans have an understandably deep/strong attachment to him. Although his decision to go into the HOF as a D'back was kind of a bummer, it's certainly an understandable one. He was an absolute BEAST between 1999 and 2002 with the Diamondbacks. (Randy was recently quoted as saying that he had more fun during his time in Seattle, though - take that Arizona!) Below is a brief table showcasing just a few of RJ's absurd numbers, both for his career and during his time with the M's.
|Randy Johnson||GS||Wins||Win %||Strikeouts||K/9||Cy Young Shares||fWAR||rWAR|
|Career (rank*)||603 (21st)||303 (22nd)||0.646 (30th)||4875 (2nd)||10.61 (1st)||6.50 (2nd)||111.8 (5th)||104.3 (9th)|
|With Seattle (rank)||266 (3rd)||130 (3rd)||0.635 (3rd)||2128 (1st)||10.53 (1st)||2.23 (2nd)||44.7 (2nd)||39.3 (2nd)|
*From baseball-reference's career leaderboard.
A person could probably type up tens of thousands of words highlighting Randy's milestones and accomplishments, and I'm sure there are hundreds of such articles scattered around the internet right now. So I won't do that. Instead, I've asked a few of my Lookout Landing compatriots to share one of their favorite Randy Johnson-related stories/memories. These are included below. (I also encourage you to share why you love/appreciate RJ down in the comments.)
Bullpen Entrance, 9th Inning, Game 5, 1995 ALDS
The tricky thing about childhood memories is distinguishing your real recollection of the moment itself from the missing pieces filled in by years of retelling and myth-making. Most childhood memories fade because no record of the moment exists, apart from worn photographs or others' stories. Sports memories work a little differently. Defining moments are still subject to the telling of tales and the creation of Our Team's History, but they are supplemented by highlight reels.
I know my first real sports memory is watching The Double in 1995 with my stepmom. Less clear is how much of my memory of the Kingdome calling "RANDY! RANDY! RANDY!" (after Norm Charlton walked Randy Velarde) is a product of the moment and how much of it is the result of countless rewatchings of Game 5 in the years since. I remember getting goosebumps as he walked out from the bullpen with "Welcome to the Jungle" blaring. Even less clear is how much of the thrill of the subsequent strikeout is from that moment in the top of the 9th and how much of it is retroactively anticipating the joy of Edgar's double two innings (and 20 years) later. Ultimately, I'm not sure how much it matters. The Big Unit's entrance in Game 5 was one of the most spectacular moments in Mariners' history. His performance in those three innings did as much to save baseball in Seattle as The Kid's speed or Edgar's fateful swing. Those Yankees never stood a chance. And I'm going to remember that for the rest of my life.
For those of us who were lucky enough to witness the magic of 1995, Randy Johnson walking in from the ‘pen in Game 5 of the Division Series might be the lasting memory of his contribution to that miraculous postseason. For me, however, the memory that has stuck with me came a little more than a week later. It was a Tuesday and my dad had managed to score some tickets to the game that night—and I even got to leave school early that day.
The Mariners were returning from Cleveland with their tails between their legs, having lost two of three there. They were behind in the series, but the Kingdome was the house where they refused to lose. To top it all off, Randy Johnson was pitching on short rest to ensure that the series went to Game 7; everyone was certain there would be another game. In my mind, he was the greatest, most intimidating starter of all time—hair and arms and legs flying wildly with each pitch. There was no way the Indians would be able to beat him.
Our seats were in right field, way back in the upper deck. At that elevation, the sound of the stadium shook your bones—and the Kingdome was rocking with each strikeout. And then everything fell apart. In the eighth inning, the Indians scored three runs capped off by a home run that chased Randy. I was devastated. I couldn’t believe that the most incredible pitcher I had ever seen allowed himself to get beat by the stupid Indians.
The loudest cheer he received that day was as he walked off the mound, defeated. The magic had run out. I was sad—Joey Cora channeled the emotions of an entire city that night—but I was not defeated. I knew that it was only the beginning of something special with Griffey, Edgar, Jay, and Randy at the center of it. To this day, I’m still holding on to that feeling of hope I walked away with that one night in October.
Randy Johnson was late. He was late but he made it. He made it and he made it worth it.
June 30th, 1990 saw the Mariners, as always, scuffling around .500 and hosting a bad Milwaukee Brewers team. For a year and half, dating back to Spring Training of ’89, the two teams had been feuding over who was the best enforcer of The Unwritten Rules of the game.
Finally, in the 8th inning, it all spilled over when Bob Sebra drilled Tracey Jones in the ribs. This was the kind of fight that baseball doesn’t really see anymore (thanks to people being able to settle all beefs on Twitter). Nonetheless, 45 seconds in, things appeared to be winding down... but then suddenly everyone started to run for 2nd base. There was Randy, taking on all comers. Four men were ripping at him, Lilliputians to his Gulliver, but they only succeeded in tearing off most of his jersey.
The saying is you never punch down. But where does the water flow from Everest? There was, is, and never will be an equal to Randy. And while there may be wisdom in saying "just don’t punch in the first place", that was not him. He had The Fire. So while he was late, he came in swinging. Hard. He got his money’s worth that day, and every day.
When MLB announced that Interleague play would start in 1997, I was so excited. Not only would it be neat to get to know players from NL teams a little better, I would also have the opportunity to follow along as my beloved Mariners pitchers hit. And that meant getting to see what Randy Johnson could do with a bat. I avidly scoured probable pitching matchups, trying to calculate ahead of time which game(s) in an NL stadium would be started by Randy. Unfortunately, the schedule lined up just wrong and RJ didn't start any away games against NL foes.
The time for Randy to pick up a bat finally came at the beginning of June in 1998 when the Mariners faced-off against the Giants down in San Francisco. Randy had three at bats in that game, but was (surprise!) held hitless. I don't know why I was so convinced that he'd get a hit, but I was fairly disappointed by his performance. Fortunately, just two weeks later, Randy got another chance to swing the bat against the San Diego Padres. This time he did not disappoint.
As was often the case during evening games in the summertime, I was out in the front yard throwing a tennis ball back and forth with my dad. We would usually go out for awhile after dinner and toss until it got too dark to see. Randy was pitching a heck of a game that evening. I remember pausing, just holding the ball for a few minutes, to listen intently as Randy came to bat in the top of the 8th inning. He ended up smacking the ball into center field for single. My dad and I both laughed and laughed, imagining the absurdity of Randy pumping his arms and legs as he trotted down to first base.
That one hit, because it was his only hit in a Mariners uniform, stands out in my memory a lot more than many of the wins/punch-outs/beanballs/dominating performances that I witnessed because it was so bizarre and so damned perfect. Thank you for the wonderful memory, Randy. (I couldn't find any video evidence of Randy's hit, so here is footage of him hitting a home run in 2003 instead. Click it if you'd like to see a gangly, 6'10" behemoth mash a HR.)
I will always remember Randy Johnson’s 1997 All-Star game appearance, even though the memory is more the hilarity of Larry Walker’s antics. It is one of my favorites though, because I was in Cleveland at the time visiting my mom’s side of the family and watching the game alone; no one else in my family really enjoys baseball.
The broadcast has just finished showing an old Big Unit clip where he'd chucked the ball over John Kruk’s head four years prior. Pretty much right after that, Johnson chucks one over the top of Walker’s head. Then Walker, proving why he is also one of the coolest players ever, turns his helmet around and bats from the other side. I was dying laughing, and I was the only one in the room.
Like most of us who grew up in the Pacific Northwest during the 1990's, I have a fair share of Randy Johnson memories, from the bullpen appearance to the dead bird or even just the entire aesthetic. However, my favorite Randy Johnson Thing came to me recently, while talking with a professor here in grad school on the East Coast.
While getting ready to propose our final papers for a particular class, we were instructed via our professor to sign up for one-on-one meetings with him in his office. Of course what he didn't mention is that he had instructed all of his students, in all of his classes to do the very same thing, producing an awful traffic jam of waiting students lined up outside his door amidst infuriating realizations that they had all signed up for the same time slot. Somehow I got in quickly.
Because I wear a Mariners hat every day, he quickly took note and revealed that he was also a bit of a baseball fan. After telling him about the site (he henceforth has referred to me as "One of those H.M.S. Mariners guys"), he quizzed me as to why the recent Franchise Mt. Rushmore did not include Randy Johnson. I tried to explain what Felix means to us, why Ichiro was akin to a solitary light shining on a broken storefront, Griffey, and the like. He would not let me finish, because he had this one, single memory of a Baltimore Orioles game he attended in the mid-nineties where the terrifying Mariners were trotting out Randy Johnson amidst a playoff hunt and he knew his team was screwed. He was just mortified.
Anyway, I guess the story goes that Randy got totally lit up and pulled early, and it just blew his twenty-something brain in half. As a result, he's remembered it until now: that day when the Greatest Pitcher Alive proved he was made of blood and flesh rather than computer code. As I walked out of the office in between furious stares from the students who had overheard our long conversation, I realized that someone memorializing Randy via a loss is just the most Mariners thing ever. He has the ring, he has the perfecto, and now he has the HOF plaque. But none of that takes away from the fact that he spent time playing for this stupid team.
When I got home I tried to look up the game on BR, but I quickly realized that wasn't the point. And as stupid as it sounds, I learned something about this team that day that twenty years of fandom close to the chest had never allowed me to see. Forest for the trees, or something. Randy was a monster. But he will always, to his own detriment, be a Mariner.
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Note: I asked people to send me a short entry containing between 100 and 200 words. Peter was the only one who listened. I guess we all just love Randy too much.