Randy Johnson

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Note: This page is for Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson. For others with the same name, click here.


Randall David Johnson
(Big Unit)

Inducted into Hall of Fame in 2015

BR page

Biographical Information[edit]

"My God, what is he going to throw me now? I ain't seen nothing that big on a pitching mound." - Sean Casey's comments to a newspaper in 1999 about batting against Johnson with the count 2-and-2

Randy Johnson is, along with fellow Hall of Famers Lefty Grove, Warren Spahn and Sandy Koufax, among the greatest left-handers in Major League history. He stands 6' 10" tall, reached 300 wins in 2009 and is second on the all-time strikeout list, with 4,875.

He struck out 18 or more batters in a single game four times. He tied Roger Clemens' and Kerry Wood's nine-inning strikeout record when he fanned 20 Cincinnati Reds batters on May 8, 2001 (Byung-hyun Kim relieved Johnson after nine innings with the game tied, 1-1). He struck out 19 twice in 1997 as a member of the Seattle Mariners against the Oakland Athletics on June 24th and against the Chicago White Sox on August 8th. On September 27, 1992, he struck out 18 Texas Rangers over eight innings while pitching for Seattle. He also holds the record for most strikeouts in a relief appearance: on July 18, 2001, he took over on the mound for Curt Schilling in the 3rd inning in a game that was started the previous day but suspended. Facing a San Diego Padres line-up stacked with left-handed hitters, he breezed through, striking out 16 batters in 7 innings and not giving up a run as he picked up the 3-0 win.

Johnson is mostly associated with two teams, the Seattle Mariners and the Arizona Diamondbacks, although he pitched for a number of others. He was signed as a 2nd round pick of the 1985 amateur draft by the Montreal Expos and scouts Cliff Ditto and Bob Fontaine Jr. out of the University of Southern California. He drew mixed reviews from scouts during his minor league apprenticeship: he obviously had a major league fastball, that regularly approached 100 mph, but his control was poor, his secondary pitches below average, and many scouts felt that he was too tall to ever develop good pitching mechanics. Umpire Durwood Merrill famously compared him to a tarantula, because of his long and spindly limbs and awkward delivery in his first seasons in the majors. There were also questions about his make-up, especially after an incident that occurred on June 14, 1988, while pitching for the Indianapolis Indians of the American Association: he was hit on his pitching hand by a line drive and was taken out of the game for an x-ray; on his way out, he slammed a bat rack in frustration with his right hand, breaking it and forcing him to miss six weeks of play (tests on his pitching hand showed no injuries).

Johnson made his major league debut for the Expos that September, winning three of his four starts, including a complete game victory over the Chicago Cubs in which he struck out 11. When he made his debut, he was the tallest player in MLB history (he has since been passed by Jon Rauch). He made the Expos' starting rotation out of spring training in 1989, but lost his first four decisions and was sent down to Indianapolis on May 9th. On May 25th, the Expos traded him to Seattle along with Brian Holman (considered the team's best pitching prospect at the time, in front of Johnson) and Gene Harris for Mark Langston as the Expos geared up for an ill-fated pennant run.

Johnson was only 7-9 in his first season for the Mariners in 1989, giving him a 7-13 record for the year, but he would rapidly establish himself as one of the game's best pitchers after he developed an almost unhittable slider to complement his devastating fastball. His control eventually improved after leading the American League in walks from 1990 to 1992, topping out at 152 in 1991. He got help when Texas Rangers pitching coach Tom House, known for his unconventional theories, gave him some tips on how to improve his mechanics, and that in turn improved his control tremendously. He gave a first hint of his future devastating form when he threw a no-hitter against the Detroit Tigers on June 2, 1990. He won his first strikeout crown in 1992, with 241, then had his first 300 strikeout season in 1993, with 308. He won in double figures every season from 1990 to 1995 culminating with an 18-2, 2.48 season that last year, earning him his first Cy Young Award.

Johnson won two games in the ALDS against the New York Yankees that year, including a win in relief in the deciding 5th game, but was 0-1 in two starts in the ALCS against the Cleveland Indians. Still, he had put Seattle in the postseason for the first time in team history when he bested Mark Langston, now with the California Angels, 12-3, in a one-game playoff on October 1st. He then missed most of 1996 with injuries, still going 5-0 in his limited time on the mound, then came back to win 20 games for the first time in 1997, going 20-4. But he then lost both of his starts in the ALDS against Baltimore.

Johnson started 1998 slowly and was only 9-10, 4.33 when the Mariners traded him to the Houston Astros on July 31st for prospects Freddy Garcia, John Halama and Carlos Guillen as he was about to leave via free agency. At the time, he was the Mariners' all-time leader in wins, innings pitched, strikeouts and shutouts. There were rumblings that Johnson was deliberately tanking his season because of a contract dispute with team management, in order to force a trade.

With the Houston Astros for the last two months of the 1998 season, he put in a superhuman effort, going 10-1, 1.28, in 11 starts, with 4 shutouts. This pushed the Astros into the postseason, but there again he faltered, losing both of his starts although he gave up only 3 earned runs in 14 innings. After the season he became a free agent and was, not surprisingly, in high demand. He chose to sign with the newish Arizona Diamondbacks, who were coming off a 100-loss maiden season. His choice proved justified as the team turned its fortunes around immediately, making the postseason in 1999 on the back of Johnson's 17-9 season, with a 2.48 ERA. In a span of four games that year, he pitched three complete games and allowed only six runs. However, he was 0-4 during that stretch because the Diamondbacks were shut out in the four games. Two of the losses were 1-0 defeats at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals' José Jimenez, who threw a no-hitter and a two-hit shutout. Johnson won his second Cy Young Award, his first of four in a row, but once again was winless in his only postseason start.

In 2000, he went 19-7, 2.64, as the D-Backs missed the postseason, but Johnson had a season for the ages in 2001. It began on a weird note in Spring Training when one of his pitches struck and killed a dove that was flying in front of home plate. However, in the regular season, he went 21-5, 2.49 with a career-high 372 strikeouts. He needed just 130 2/3 innings to reach 200 strikeouts, which is the fewest in major league history. His Division Series skein continued, as he lost his one start, to give him a seven-game postseason losing streak, but Arizona made it to the next round thanks to the pitching of his teammate Curt Schilling. Johnson then was at his best in the NLCS against the Atlanta Braves, winning his two starts, including a complete game shutout in Game 1, after which he told the media that he was glad to "finally get the monkey off my back". His second win in Game 5 put the Diamondbacks in the World Series for the first time in team history.

Facing the New York Yankees, who were heavily favored by the media in the wake of the tragedy of September 11, Johnson was at his best: he pitched a complete game shutout in Game 2, started and won Game 6 when he gave up 2 runs in 7 innings in a 15-2 win, then in a thrilling Game 7 the next day, came on in the 8th to end a Yankees threat and pitched a perfect 9th inning, after which the D-Backs rallied from a run down to win the game, 3-2, giving Johnson his third victory of the Series and a share of the Series' MVP title alongside Schilling.

The Big Unit on a USO tour in Afghanistan

Johnson stayed with Arizona and continued to pitch well, going 24-5 in 2002 to earn his fourth consecutive Cy Young Award, but his team was swept by the Cardinals in the NLDS, as Johnson lost his one start. Bothered by injuries, he fell to 6-8 in 2003, then pitched very well for an awful team in 2004, ending with a record of 16-14 in spite of a 2.60 ERA and 290 strikeouts. That season, he threw a perfect game on May 18th against the Atlanta Braves. He became the oldest pitcher to ever throw a perfect game. He was also the oldest player ever to hit his first home run (at 40 years and 9 days), accomplishing the feat in 2003, but has since been topped by Bartolo Colon, who was almost 43 when he went deep for the first time of his career. After the 2004 season, with Arizona in a rebuilding mode, he was traded to the New York Yankees.

He pitched well in two seasons in pinstripes, going 17-8 and 17-11 in 2005 and 2006 respectively, but was still considered a disappointment as the Bronx Bombers failed to return to the World Series and he personally failed to record a win in the postseason (running his lifetime postseason record to 7-9, 5 of the wins having come in 2001). The fact that his ERA reached an even 5.00 that second year also wore out his welcome in New York, and in 2007 he returned to Arizona, where he was 4-3 in 10 starts as he was bothered by back problems. His career appeared over, but he did pitch well when healthy, and returned for another season in 2008, pitching effectively, going 11-10, 3.91. At the end of the season, he was only five wins away from the magic figure of 300, and he was second on the all-time list in strikeouts. It was expected he would return to Arizona for a last season, but instead he signed as a free agent with the San Francisco Giants for the 2009 season.

With the Giants in 2009, Johnson allowed a home run to another pitcher for the first time in his career; he had pitched 4,044 1/3 innings in the majors before allowing Yovani Gallardo's three-run shot on April 7th, costing him the game as the Milwaukee Brewers won, 4-2. Still, he kept on pitching effectively, and on June 4th, Johnson became the 24th member of the 300 win club with a win over the Washington Nationals. He was the first pitcher since Tom Seaver in 1985 to make it on his first try at #300 and the second-oldest to accomplish the feat, following Phil Niekro. He was hurt shortly after that historic win however, and spent two months on the disabled list before being re-activated in September, with the Giants trying to hang on in the wild card race behind the Colorado Rockies. He was at the time the second oldest player in the majors behind Jamie Moyer.

He played one game as a left fielder on October 3, 1993, replacing Brian Turang for the last inning of the last game of the season in Minnesota. While at USC he spent two years on the basketball team before quitting to focus on baseball. He received his nickname, "The Big Unit", from teammate Tim Raines while a rookie with Montreal in 1988; the smallish Raines coined the name to express his wonder at Johnson's gigantic height, and it caught on with the media.

Johnson announced his retirement on January 5, 2010 after 22 seasons in the majors. He finished his career with 4,875 strikeouts, second-most in major league history behind Nolan Ryan. On July 29, 2012, he was inducted in the Mariners' Hall of Fame alongside his catcher, Dan Wilson. He was elected to the Hall of Fame on his first try on January 6, 2015, receiving 97.3% of the vote while being named on 534 of 549 ballots. It was the highest vote total in a class that included three other inductees: Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio. His induction took place on July 26th that year, and on August 8th, the Diamondbacks retired his uniform number, 51.

In his spare time, Johnson is a passionate amateur photographer and music fan; in fact his major at USC was photojournalism. In 2015, he combined the two interests by following the Canadian rock ban Rush on their 40th anniversary tour as the band's photographer, a gig that came thanks to his friendship with the band's bassist and lead singer, Geddy Lee, who is himself a passionate baseball fan. The two had met 20 years earlier when Rush was giving a concert in Seattle, WA and Johnson asked to meet the band; they hit it off immediately, thanks in part to their shared love of photography and their common analytical approach to their chosen field.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • 10-time All-Star (1990, 1993-1995, 1997, 1999-2002 & 2004)
  • 5-time Cy Young Award Winner (1995/AL & 1999-2002/NL)
  • NL Pitcher's Triple Crown (2002)
  • 2001 World Series MVP
  • 4-time League ERA Leader (1995/AL, 1999/NL, 2001/NL & 2002/NL)
  • NL Wins Leader (2002)
  • 3-time League Winning Percentage Leader (1995/AL, 1997/AL & 2002/NL)
  • 2-time NL Innings Pitched Leader (1999 & 2002)
  • 9-time League Strikeouts Leader (1992-1995/AL, 1999-2002/NL & 2004/NL)
  • 4-time League Complete Games Leader (1994/AL, 1999/NL, 2000/NL & 2002/NL)
  • 2-time League Shutouts Leader (1994/AL & 2002/NL)
  • 15 Wins Seasons: 11 (1993, 1995, 1997-2002 & 2004-2006)
  • 20 Wins Seasons: 3 (1997, 2001 & 2002)
  • 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 14 (1990-1993, 1995, 1997-2002 & 2004-2006)
  • 200 Strikeouts Seasons: 13 (1991-1995, 1997-2002, 2004 & 2005)
  • 300 Strikeouts Seasons: 6 (1993 & 1998-2002)
  • Won a World Series with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001
  • Baseball Hall of Fame: Class of 2015

AL Cy Young Award
1994 1995 1996
David Cone Randy Johnson Pat Hentgen

NL Cy Young Award
1998 1999 2000
Tom Glavine Randy Johnson Randy Johnson
1999 2000 2001
Randy Johnson Randy Johnson Randy Johnson
2000 2001 2002
Randy Johnson Randy Johnson Randy Johnson
2001 2002 2003
Randy Johnson Randy Johnson Eric Gagne

Records Held[edit]

  • Strikeouts, left-handed pitcher, career, 4875
  • Strikeouts per 9 innings, career (minimum 1500 innings), 10.61
  • Strikeouts per 9 innings, left-hander, career (minimum 1500 innings), 10.61
  • Strikeouts per 9 innings, season, 13.41, 2001
  • Seasons with 300 or more strikeouts, 6, shared with Nolan Ryan
  • Consecutive seasons with 300 or more strikeouts, 5 (1998-2002)

Further Reading[edit]

  • Alyson Footer: "On Their Game: Randy Johnson and Geddy Lee: Base to bass: Hall of Famers are friends, and Big Unit rocks as a photographer", mlb.com, May 22, 2015. [1]
  • Jorge L. Ortiz: "Hall of Fame case: Randy Johnson towers above standard", USA Today, December 31, 2014. [2]
  • Phil Rogers: "Johnson sheds new height on Hall of Fame: Big Unit developed physical tools into one-of-a-kind experience, terrifying opponents", mlb.com, January 6, 2015. [3]

Related Sites[edit]