Unlike most sportswriters and columnists who feel the need to write about news the day or the day after it happens (boring), I like to stand above the fray and let the facts work themselves out before putting my thoughts to words. That way, I have the time to properly research the subject in question and I don’t let my emotions get the best of me. So after I heard that Randy Johnson was retiring from baseball, I spent most of the week pouring over his stats and crying until I was so dehydrated that my body could no longer produce tears. It was at the point that I was beginning to hallucinate from dehydration that I finally knew I was ready to put Johnson’s career in perspective, so here it goes:
Randy Johnson is one of the three greatest left-handed pitchers all-time, along with Warren Spahn and Denny Neagle Lefty Grove. He was the most consistently dominant pitcher in an era ruled by hitters and is easily the best pitcher in the history of the Mariners franchise. Though he finished second on the career strikeout list to Nolan Ryan, you could make a case that the Big Unit was a superior pitcher to the Ryan Express (Randy had a higher winning percentage, better adjusted ERA, better WHIP, better strikeout-to-walk ratio and killed more birds in his career than Ryan). A quick look at his career numbers; 303-166 record, 3.29 ERA, 100 complete games, 37 shutouts, 4,875 strikeouts and a 1.17 WHIP; reveals just how incredible Johnson’s career truly was. Statistically there is no doubt that the Big Unit is a first ballot Hall-of-Famer, but numbers alone don’t do justice to how intimidating Johnson was, and how much opposing batters hated facing him in his prime. He put the fear of God in hitters with his high-90’s heat and made even the best players look silly (just ask John Kruk). Perhaps more important to society than any of the awards he won or no-hitters he pitched, Randy Johnson proved once and for all to the world that tall, ugly, mustachioed people can do great things, and for that he deserves our heartfelt thanks—and maybe a free haircut.
One particular four-year stretch of Johnson’s career shows just how otherworldly the Big Unit was. From 1999 through 2002, Johnson posted a 81-27 record with ERA’s of 2.48, 2.64, 2.49 and 2.32 and 1,117 total strikeouts. Randy won the Cy Young Award all four years and led the Diamondbacks to a World Series in just their fourth year in existence by winning three games in the Fall Classic (the first pitcher to do that since Mickey Lolich in 1968). Now, I don’t have the Elias Sports Bureau at my disposal like ESPN, but I can reasonably assume that Johnson’s 1999-2002 seasons were one of the best stretches by a pitcher in the history of baseball, especially considering the offensive records being set at the time (even 100% steroid free Luis Gonzalez hit 57 homeruns in 2001). Randy wasn’t just good, he was utterly ridiculous.
As a Mariners’ fan I was lucky enough to see Johnson go from a dangerously wild young pitcher to the ace of Seattle’s staff. Randy, along with Edgar Martinez and Ken Griffey Jr, was a major factor in turning around a moribund Mariners franchise and will likely best be remembered for closing the door on the Angels to clinch the AL West title for Seattle in 1995. Depending on what happens with Edgar over the next few years, Randy might be the first Mariner to enter the Hall-of-Fame (followed shortly afterwards by Junior) and will certainly be remembered as one of Seattle’s biggest stars in a golden age for sports in the Emerald City.
Though the Big Unit may be gone from baseball, he won’t soon be forgotten. Because as I once read on a baseball card advertisement: great players never fade…they become classics.
Filed under: AL West, Baseball, Seattle Mariners | Tagged: 2001 World Series, Arizona Diamondbacks, big unit, edgar martinez, elias sports bureau, Hall of Fame, john kruk, Ken Griffey Jr., lefty grove, Luis Gonzalez, mickey lolich, New York Yankees, Nolan Ryan, randy johnson, san francisco giants, Seattle Mariners, warren spahn |