A U.S.C. photojournalism major, Randy Johnson broke the mold of ‘jock’ plumb in two early on. His publishing career is something to envy. This article focuses first on why he’s honored at the Cooperstown HOF for his pitching exploits.
The ‘experts’ say this southpaw’s career shouldn’t have happened. Hurlers nearly 7 feet tall don’t get power from their legs, but from their torsos and arms. And how do you control THAT? Johnson would finally figure it out with the help of Nolan Ryan in 1993, around age 30. The answer was in which part of his foot he landed on during delivery. The rest as they say, is history.
Some statistics and awards for the man dubbed ‘Big Unit’ include:
*Perfect Game in Last Start at Livermore High School
*Drafted by Atlanta Braves offered $50,000 to sign in 1982
*University of Southern California Full Athletic scholarship Fine Arts Degree
*1993, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 300 – plus strike-out seasons
*June 2, 1990 No Hitter Game
*May 18, 2004, Perfect Game (formerly known as ‘no hitter’ or ‘shut-out’), i.e. no one got to base.
*1990, 1991, 1992 Lead American League for Walks
*1992, 1993, Lead American League for Hit Batters
*1990, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2001, 2002, 2004 10-Time MLB All-Star
*1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004 Strikeout Leader
*1999 Warren Spahn Award
*1995 American League Cy Young Award
*1995, 1999, 2001, 2002 ERA Leader
*1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, National League Cy Young Award
*2001 Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year Award.
*2001 World Series MVP
*2002 Triple Crown for National League wins, ERA and strikeouts
*2002 MLB wins champion
*2004 Pitched the 175 Perfect Game in baseball history
(Here’s what that LOOKS like–highlights-wise: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ph3cn8IhJQ )
With stats like the above, it’s no surprise Johnson received the highest number of ballots cast by the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA). As with all of this year’s inductees, there was an ‘everyman makes good’ aspect to Johnson throughout his career and even today.
The Beach Boys were singing ‘Surfin’ USA the year ‘Big Unit’ was born (1963), one of six, in California.
His father, Bud, was first a 6 foot 6 cop and took a security job at Lawrence Livermore Labs. His mother,
Carol, did odd jobs but mainly stayed home to raise the kids. Bud, according to jockbio.com, would play
catch with his son when he could.
Randy pretended he was Vida Blue as a young kid practicing. Bud watched and then patiently handed Randy a hammer after accuracy practice at a target on the garage door. There were nails needing a drive back into place. The exercise helped. But it wouldn’t be until late season 1992 that Nolan Ryan told him to switch
his landing weight from the heel to the ball of his foot.
Emotional control would also come later. It’s hard to be the tallest kid in your age group. At age 8, his mother walked him back to the tryouts field for a little league. Other kids his height had seemed so much older.
By the next year he had advanced into a league for older kids. Nearing six feet tall by sixth grade, Johnson would soon no longer enjoy being on the tall side. People stared after he grew another 7 inches in junior high. Johnson retreated to the world of his camera, emerging in high school as a more shy, withdrawn starting player with great control in both basketball and baseball.
He set records.
He perhaps learned that adult fans and coaches can be what fellow 2015 Inductee Pedro Martinez might call ‘pendajos’. High school uniforms didn’t fit—ending at his knees. Fans laughed as his shirt came untucked with nearly every pitch. Coaches would try riling Johnson by pressuring umpires to tuck his shirt in several times an inning.
The scouts circled, saying a name “Ichabod Crane.”
Was that flattering?
His parents helped keep Johnson’s head on straight. He used his talent to get a degree at USC rather than take the tempting Atlanta offer right after high school. He loved college, blossomed with friends and shooting for both the school paper and a local rock magazine while playing his two sports.
He became openly angry, however, with his college baseball performance, and annoyed by such aspects of the game as fumbling outfielders and umpires he felt ‘squeezed’ the strike zone unfairly. Johnson was surprised the Montreal Expos picked him up before he’d finished his studies. He began in the New York-Penn League in Jamestown. Montreal would have called him up at the end of 1988, but Johnson, fearing his pitching wrist had been broken (it wasn’t) by a batter’s drive, punched his right hand into a wall, breaking it.
Next season, the Expos traded Johnson to Seattle, where he played from 1989-1998. Johnson often complained about a lack of support from teammates. Traded to the Houston Astros for two months before hitting free agency, the Arizona Diamondbacks acquired him for the seasons 1999 – 2004.
In 2001, Johnson’s 99 mph pitch collided with a pigeon flying at an average of 25 mph. At the time he said it wasn’t funny. (More on that later). Yet, a fan has garnered over three and a half million views from a ‘National Lampoon style’ youtube video regarding the incident. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qwpRHrAh3pk
In 2004, aside from all the pitching exploits, Johnson caught, barehanded, a ball hit back to him. A fan captured the moment, grainy but worth seeing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6iwd27-YX0
For two years, 2005 and 2006, he was the New York Yankees’ ‘16 million dollar man’. Thrown out of a game in Montreal for arguing with a squeezing umpire, Johnson acquired a ‘press agent’ of sort in the form of a catcher who cautioned the umpires to ignore Randy’s criticisms. It made the New York Times. You cannot find a video of it on the internet.
Johnson didn’t want to talk about it to writer Jack Curry. “”It’s not to say I won’t get thrown out again,” Johnson said. “I pitch with emotion. I did today.” This followed by two years his publication of a motivational book on pitching entitled “Randy Johnson’s Power Pitching: The Big Unit’s Secrets to Domination, Intimidation, and Winning.”
Johnson returned west after his brother’s death, playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2007 and 2008 and retiring from San Francisco in 2009.
Johnson says he took his first summer vacation in 26 years in 2010, when he returned to his first career–photography. He has traveled with the USO seven times, uses the phrase “God Bless Our Troops!” and uses a punk rock style dead bird icon on his photography web page. http://rj51photos.com/?page_id=3874
Guess that bird obliteration was funny after all. Or maybe one just needs a summer vacation after over a quarter century to find the humor. Look at Johnson’s photography as closely as you might have watched his game. Chances are he’ll also win some awards in his photography career.