|Player in the Spotlight: Randy Johnson|
Written by Daniel Paulling (Contact & Archive) on August 23, 2004
Randy Johnson (aka The Big Unit)
Height 6-10; Weight 231 lbs; Bats R; Throws L; Position SP; DOB 9/10/63; Team Arizona Diamondbacks
*stats current as of 8/21/04
Up to the plate strides a major league hitter. In his hands he wields a 32 ounce wooden stick that will travel up to 70 mph. As he steps to the plate, he prepares his 5 to 7 percent chance of being steroid enhanced biceps to swing at the pitch. He looks towards the mound and there stands a 6 foot 10 inch monster of a man. The man stares in toward the catcher and nods. He begins his windup and the hitter’s knees begin to wobble and his throat becomes dry. About half a second later he hears a pop and it’s strike one. The batter steps out of the box and looks to his third base coach, as if that will help. Another staredown, another strike. And then again. Randy Johnson has struck out another hitter.
Yes, we all know the Big Unit’s accomplishments. On May 18th Randy Johnson threw a perfect game against the Atlanta Braves, who have won many a division title. He threw 117 pitches, eighty-seven for strikes. This was only the 17th perfect game in the history of baseball, and the last since David Cone of five years ago. Johnson’s accomplishments are more numerous than one game. In 2001, he was the World Series co-MVP after pitching 1 1/3 of an inning the day after pitching Game 6. Unit has over four thousand strikeouts in his career and is ranked fourth for his career behind Ryan (never to be caught by anyone), Steve Carlton, and Roger Clemens. At the end of his career, Johnson could be number two on the all time strikeout list. He also has an outside chance of getting his 300th career victory, while some experts argue that no one will. Oh, and five Cy Young Awards reside in his living room mantle. So how does one go about collecting all of these lofty awards and prestigious accomplishments?
It all started in 1992 when Johnson was with the Mariners. “I used to be a thrower,” he explains. “I struggled. I was leading the league in strikeouts, but I was also leading the league in walks.” One of two things happened – the famous (or infamous depending on your point of view) phone conversation with Nolan Ryan.
“Nolan explained that I was landing on my right heel, which made the ball spin off the third base side. Then my arm dropped down, and I lost the strength of my body and the direction. He told me to land on the ball of my foot. It sounds easy, but it took me a while.”
And the other was the death of his father.
“When my dad died in '92, it forced me to dig deeper. I thought I was, but I really wasn't. I realized there is another level. I learned that to get better, you have to do things other people aren't doing.”
And he has really gotten much, much better. But the hitters have finally realized a way to beat Randy Johnson: retirement. Whether it is them leaving or him leaving the Major Leagues.
At age 40 retirement must be on Unit’s mind sometime, though. Not really.
“As I get older, I'm losing a little intensity,” the tall pitcher says. “When I'm done, it'll be because I've used up all that energy and focus. Do you want to stick around and squeeze out a few more years? When I start asking those questions, it'll be time. But I'm not asking myself those questions. I haven't doubted my ability in a long time. I'm consumed with baseball right now. Not records, just pitching a quality game. All I think about is my next start.”
Well, it looks like his reign over opposing hitters will continue for a few more years.