Randy Johnson: Still Defying Conventional Wisdom

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.

Smolzie Takes the Charge

John Smolz Takes the Charge

A comedic foil, a voice of reason re: youth sports, and

the only pitcher whose 3,000 career strikeouts also

contributed to a whopping 200 wins and 150 saves. John

Smoltz is evolving as fast as anyone can write about

him, as one unlucky headline writer learned this summer.

‘Smoltzie’ as he’s allowed folks to address him, has a

good sense of humor. Sports fans know that. But many

others perhaps know him as the straight man in a Home Depot

ad a few years back. http://www.adforum.com/people/john-

Smoltz’s athletic career began in Michigan high

school baseball and basketball. He says he likes

basketball better than baseball. In 1986, he joined the

Detroit Tigers farm club system. Two years later Smoltz

was with the Atlanta Braves, and first came to prominence

by helping the Braves into the 1991 World Series—their

first since they’d moved to Atlanta in 1966.

His Major League Baseball (MLB) career included award-

winning performance both before and after injuries that

have ended many other professional baseball careers.

Some highlights:

*1989, 1992-1993, 1996, 2002-03, 2005, 2007
MLB All Star;

*1992 MVP National League Championship Series;

*1995 Braves win World Series (one year after Smoltz
had bone chips removed from his elbow);

*1996 National League Cy Young Award;

*1997 Silver Slugger Award for Pitcher

*pre- 2000 Season “Tommy Johns Surgery” (relocated
tendon from elsewhere to repair pitching arm elbow)

*2002 Rolaids Relief Man of the Year

*2008 16th player to achieve 3,000 career strikeouts

Those last two stats belie the extreme dedication

Smoltz brings to everything he approaches in life. For the

first time ever, five MLB teams have agreed to allow the

American Sports Medicine Institute help track the careers

and health of the 2014 amateur

draft pitchers.

Smoltz is weighing in on what he considers an uphill

battle to protect younger players’ arms, saying that

parents and those in charge of youth baseball need to take

the lead to protect young players.

“…I wouldn’t say a word if it was getting
better. It’s getting worse. Ever since we
discussed and became focused with the pitch count,
it’s gotten worse….The business of baseball and
youth baseball is so great the people feel like
they’re being swept up in a wave of ‘I’ve got to
catch up’. …We’re not developing pitchers the
right way to learn how to do their craft. We’re
asking them to go as hard as you can, as short as
you can, and that’s not good enough….these guys
are not given the proper time to figure out what
kind of pitcher they are….”

Perhaps it is no surprise Smoltz engages in political

work —for both Democratic (Andrea Cascarilla, State Rep for

MI’s 71st House District, 2012) and Republican candidates

(Ralph E Reed Jr. Lt. Gov, Georgia Primary 2006).

This work perhaps developed as a result of his award-

winning public service:

*2005 Roberto Clemente Award (Baseball, sportsmanship,
community involvement);

*2007 Branch Rickey Award (Community Service);

A renaissance man since leaving MLB, Smoltz has worked

as an analyst for various sports shows, first at Peachtree

TV, then at Fox Sports.

This summer, while preparing his golf technique for

the American Century Championship in mid-July, Smoltz

became the subject of am in-accurate headline:

“Smoltz to have Tommy John surgery.” John Smoltz is

evolving, certainly, and requiring a lot of contact to keep

up with his latest moves. Yet, with someone so openly

telegraphing even his inner thoughts–past and present ,

such a gaf is confusing.

In this interview, for instance, he admits to

‘plunking’ a batter intentionally, for instance, and

ENJOYING being the guy in casual basketball who takes the

charge and gets an opponent the technical foul.

Landing on the floor intentionally.

For no paycheck.

No wonder he was voted into the HOF.

Pedro Martinez: No Pasarán!

We have a lot of Cooperstown Dreams Park teams staying with us. This is the second of four profiles of this year’s winners for our younger readers, parents,coaches, loved ones, and onlookers.
Pedro Martinez’s Game
Brought No Pasarán! to MLB
(They Shall Not Pass.)

There aren’t many MLB pitchers who play 18 seasons, mainly as a starter, and peg the sheer number of statistical kudos as did Pedro Martinez. Consider his achieving the rarest goal for any live-ball era starting pitcher: the lowest WHIP. A low score is desired, because WHIP measures the Walks Plus Hits Per Inning Pitched.
Think about it.
This Dominican Republic native quietly telegraphed “No pasarán!.”
Meanwhile his pitching style was spookily inscrutable. Whether fastball, cutter, curveball, or circle changeup–all were well above average “out”-getters. He could also throw an occasional slider. Batters said Martinez’ pitches, hailing from a low three-quarters (practically sidearm) position, were difficult to assess until too late.
According to Joe Posnanski of Sports Illustrated: “There has never been a pitcher in baseball history–not Walter Johnson, not Lefty Grove, not Sandy Koufax, not Tom Seaver, not Roger Clemens–who was more overwhelming than the young Pedro.”
Some statistics and awards to consider include:

*2003, 2002, 2001, 2000, and 1999 Lowest (ERA) American League;
*Three-time Cy Young Award Winner (2000, 1999–Red Sox, 1997–Expos);
*Career: Third Highest MLB Strikeout Rate;
*Career: Third Highest MLB Strikeout-to-walk ratio;
*Career: Adjusted ERA the best of any starting pitcher in MLB history;
*Career National League ERA 3.32, Career American League ERA 2.52
*Career: Highest Winning Percentage in modern baseball history;
*1999 Triple Crown Pitching (Wins, strikeouts, and Earned Run Average (ERA)
*1999 2nd Place MVP (despite receiving the most votes)
*1999 300 a 2nd 300-strikeout season (8th modern pitcher to do so)
*1999 Pitcher of the month for April, June and September–unprecedented.
*1999 All Star Game MVP award, and
*August 1999- April 2000, 10 consecutive starts with 10 or more strikeouts.

It takes a special pitcher to dominate the mound during the so-called Steroid Era of MLB but that is just what Martinez did. Today’s ‘Power Pitchers’ are also usually much larger than his officially listed 5 foot 11, 170 pounds. Some say he’s actually smaller than that.
Born the 5th of 6 siblings, Martinez grew up in a palm wood house with dirt floors and a tin roof in the Dominican Republic. After practicing on oranges–because baseballs were too expensive, his 78-80 mph pitch was discovered at his older brother’s baseball camp. Pedro had carried Ramon’s bags to the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Dominican Republic farm system.
Martinez started out with Los Angeles as an amateur free agent in 1988, making his MLB debut as a reliev pitcher in 1992. Manager Tommy Lasorda thought the then-135 pound pitcher was too small to start, and Martinez faced a $500 fine if caught running. Traded to the Expos in 1994, he quickly developed into a top pitcher. Montreal loved him, as you can see from this video that includes the famous brawl following a connecting brush-back pitch on the Reds’ Reggie Sanders. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zD5PsaihtH4

From 1997 until 2004, Martinez played for the Red Sox. Bleacher Report Senior Analyst Asher Chauncey summarizes his Pedro’s Sox career: “Simply put, no pitcher has ever been as dominant over a six year period as Pedro Martinez was with the Boston Red Sox from 1998 to 2003, ever. I doubt we’ll ever see anything like it again.”
The period included his performance at the 1999 All Star Game, where he struck out Barry Larkin, Larry Walker, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Jeff Bagwell in two innings.
There is no arguing Pedro Martinez has a world-class arm. After his selection by sportswriters as a 2015 HOF Inductee, he repeated, in a preview of his forthcoming autobiography, a years-old admission: he intentionally pitched into some players. In , he stated, “When I hit a batter, it was 90% intentional.”
Two pieces of needed context:
A. Martinez isn’t alone. He’s just honest. The subject of our previous HOF 2015 class profile (John Smolz) admitted the same. Baseball’s dirty little secret isn’t: pitchers exert a sort of discipline over the other teams’ players.
B. Watch the bench-clearing brawl that ensues after Martinez himself is brushed back while at bat and then charges the plate. Both Martinez and the Phillies pitcher decided to ignore the umpire’s warning to both pitchers. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZDA85mcVSxU
So Martinez’ response to George Steinbrenner on the matter provides an interesting glimpse into mindset of such a winning pitcher:
“…Yankees owner George Steinbrenner suggested that Major League Baseball launch an investigation into my evil ways. I told reporters, “Georgie Porgie, he might buy the whole league, but he doesn’t have enough money to buy fear to put in my heart.”

There is both likable ‘every-man’ bravado and gentle humility to Martinez. And not just because he played big brother to Manny Ramirez. Remember the 1999 strikeout feat at the MVP game? Martinez said the game was memorable because he got Ted Williams’ autograph and was able to meet the MLB Major League Baseball All-Century Team (including Warren Spahn, Christy Mathewson, Lefty Grove Honus Wagner, and Stan Musial).
No pasarán! indeed.
And much, much more.

2015 HOF Inductee Slate: 1st of 4 profiles

We have a lot of Cooperstown Dreams Park teams staying with us. What wonderful role models are the 2015 slate of inductees to the HOF. This is the first of four profiles of this year’s winners for our younger readers, parents, coaches, loved ones, and onlookers.
See that little yellow sun pin on that Astros cap?

See that Jim Carey smile?

Don’t let it fool you. This guy was all business, and the very definition of ‘team player’, whether it was:

*as a high school linebacker who took a sudden
swing toward baseball to earn that college diploma;

*as a 20-year Houston Astro who switched three
positions but never left the franchise, or

*as a $2 million dollar fundraiser for sick kids.

No wonder Yogi Berra mentioned him in his book,

“You Can Learn A Lot by Watching.”

Career highlights of 2015 Hall of Fame inductee Craig Biggio include:
*7 time MLB All-Star;
*4 time Gold Glove Award Winner;
*5 time Silver Slugger Award Winner;
*9th 3,000 hit club member (3060 career hits) with same team, and
*Holder of modern record for most times hit by a pitch (285).

About that last data nugget: he scored 95 runs after being hit by a pitch—a

35% success rate. AND, He never charged the mound.


In fact, he sent the National Baseball Hall of Fame an arm guard in

recognition of his ‘hit at bat’ record. The late great satirical newspaper

The Onion addressed the situation with an article headlined: “Craig Biggio

Blames Media Pressure for Stalling at 285 Hit-By-Pitches.”

He personified the current meme of “Keep Calm and Carry On” off the

field as well. Here are some of the awards won for his public service:
*2007 Roberto Clemente Award (Sportsmanship, Community Involvement);
*2005 Hutch Award (“persevering through adversity”),
*2004 Sporting News “Good Guys” award, and
*1997 Branch Rickey Award (Community service, named for manager who
broke baseball’s color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson)

The 2007 spring training edict by MLB sought to ban Biggio from

wearing the Sunshine Kids Foundation pin on his ball cap durimg interviews,

photo shoots, or spring training. Houston fans were well familiar with how

the organization supports children fighting cancer by providing exciting

activities for them. They also knew Biggio had recently helped the group

surpass the $2 million dollar mark of fund-raising.

MLB relented, and Biggio, ever the peacemaker, helped them save face.

“I think it’s probably just more of a misunderstanding than anything,” Biggio

said. “I think when they realized what it’s all about and realized I’ve been

doing it for 20 years and it’s all about the kids, now we’re back to doing

our normal thing, which is nice because all the kids are happy.”

Biggio and his wife Patty have three children. Craig coaches

baseball at St. Thomas High School in Houston, Texas. In 2010 and 2011 his

team won the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS) state

baseball titles for class 5 A schools. Asked about his coaching philosophy

he told the Houston Chronicle, “…win or lose we’re trying to turn these

kids into men. That’s the thing that’s important to me.”

Craig Biggio’s retirement game in 2007 is still remembered for

creating a happy new memory for Minute Maid Park (formerly known as

Enron Field). Standing ovations when he left the field the last time at both

offense and defense marked the last time his number, 7. was worn before

becoming one of 4 retired by the Astros club.

Houston fans and others will perhaps find it hard to look at #7

without Biggio’s beloved U-2 music that often accompanied him at bat.

“Mysterious Ways” indeed.