Randy Johnson was the single most intimidating mound presence of his era, if not baseball history.
Standing 6’10”, with a¬† menacing mullet and whipping sidearm delivery, the “Big Unit” proved more than difficult for opposing batters — he was a nightmare come to life.
One of just 24 to accumulate 300 wins in big league history , Johnson ranks behind only Nolan Ryan for career strikeouts (4,875), threw the seventeenth perfect game in major league history, reached October eight times, and picked up five Cy Youngs along a path that will lead him to Cooperstown.
This afternoon, Johnson took a few moments over the telephone to talk about whether he’d take Halladay or Verlander, why he’s content to let his numbers speak for themselves, why the 1995 Seattle Mariners will always hold a special place and also revealed some information about the Pepsi MAX Field of Dreams roster.
To you, the loyal and learned B&C reader, we are proud to present Randall David Johnson:
We appreciate taking the time to talk with us today, Randy.
Not a problem.
Age notwithstanding, who would you take right now if you had to build your franchise around one pitcher — Roy Halladay or Justin Verlander?
Those are my only two options?
Yes, if you had to pick between the two of them, who would you take?
Between those two, probably Roy Halladay, because of what he’s already accomplished, and that’s a big factor. It seems like Justin Verlander is having a super year, he’s been around for a while, but I would say that Halladay has a little bit more of a resume.
Some feel that because of the Cy Young award, pitchers should never be named an MVP, but Verlander is getting some ink as a candidate this year based on what he’s done for Detroit. Where do you fall on that topic — are pitchers deserving of being named most valuable?
I guess it’s up for debate, I don’t really have much of an opinion on it. Some people would say that a position player, every day, has more value than a starting pitcher who goes out there once every five days, and that’s a valid point, as well. Then, a team can also be in a bad slump, and every time that pitcher goes out he gives you a quality start and you win the ball game, so it’s really up for debate. I really don’t have much of an opinion on it being retired now.
There have been some standout pitching tandems in baseball history — Koufax and Drysdale, Maddux and Glavine — but where do you feel you and Curt Schilling rank amongst those pairings?
I guess that’s really up for someone else to decide. Where we rank, I never really got wrapped up in that stuff or any of my accomplishments. It’s flattering that someone would put us in the same conversation with Glavine and Maddux or Koufax and Drysdale, but I never really read too much into that. I just went about my business.
Hindsight has the baseball world looking back at the “steroid era.” Knowing that so many players gained enhancement over their natural abilities, do you feel that the accomplishments of pitchers like Maddux, Glavine, Pedro Martinez and yourself should be given more recognition for what you did on the mound in what was essentially a less-than level playing field?
Once again, you’re asking a lot of questions where there might be a biased opinion, because my opinion, based on I was just doing my job. For me to compare me and Curt Schilling to other tandems, is really not up for me to decide, I just go out and do my job and I let all the numbers do the speaking for what I did. And if that can be compared to what somebody else did, I guess that’s great. Being two years removed from baseball now, the most baseball that I watch is maybe a couple of games a week, and it might not even be a full game.
I’ve got so many other interests now, baseball was a huge part of my life, and at age 47, I have other interests now. I’m trying to do some other things that I have interest in before I get too old, if you will, to be able to do those things. I have four children, so I have interest with that, and baseball was a big part of my life and I gave a lot to being as good as I could be, and surviving, if you will, the last couple of years based on my age and my health.
Wherever my numbers stack up, whatever my accomplishments, I played in an era with fabulous baseball players and I got to travel to great ballparks and match my skills. And the biggest thing I look at is that I would have never imagined, if you had asked me early in my career if I would have played 22 years and did the things that I did, I would have said no. I’m more enamored by looking at those things now that I’m retired than trying to stack up my numbers, who’s better or where do I compare. I’m just flattered that I got to play as long as I did and stayed somewhat healthy over a 22-year career and was able to stay somewhat productive.
You won it all with the Diamondbacks in ’01, and reached the playoffs eight times over your 22 seasons, but did anything ever come close to matching the magic of that Refuse to Lose run for Seattle in ’95?
Probably not. The only reason I say that is because that was my first taste of post-season with Seattle. And if you dig a little bit deeper, 1995, I believe was the first year in that franchise that we had finished at .500 or above (the Mariners actually finished above .500 in both 1991 and ’93). A lot of people don’t realize that ’95, I think, was the first year that that franchise had actually finished over .500 as a franchise. Prior to that, 20 or 30 years (’95 was the 19th year in Mariners history), it was always a sub-.500 team, so there was a lot to be said for that team and those fans and that particular year. A lot was going on, a lot of untold stories were going on in ’95, but Refuse to Lose was very special because it was my first walk through what the postseason was all about, and it was pretty cool. And then to get to the next level, though, in Arizona, and win the World Series, it was a whole other level. Both of those places, both of those teams, and all those players have special places in my career, for the accomplishments that we achieved.
Tell us about the latest with your involvement with Pepsi MAX.
I was part of the Pepsi MAX promotional campaign back in, I believe it was May or June, when we filmed a commercial, and the theme was Field of Dreams. They had C.C. Sabathia and (Evan) Longoria as present players walk into a cornfield then into a playing field where you had a lot of Hall of Fame-type players like Carlton Fisk, Rollie Fingers, Reggie Jackson, Cal Ripken Jr. and myself. The whole commercial was to promote Pepsi MAX, but the theme¬†was the new generation seeing the old generation.
Then they ran that commercial during the All-Star Game, and they had a contest for contestants, and you could vote for your Pepsi Dream Team, and I was flattered to be one of the candidates for starting pitcher with myself amongst Greg Maddux and Steve Carlton. Then they really had a who’s who at every other position as finalists. And then to win the thing, it was very flattering, I didn’t know how it would pan out, but I’m the starting pitcher for that team, and you had Frank Thomas and Johnny Bench, Reggie Jackson and Ken Griffey Jr. and Tony Gwynn and Mike Schmidt and Cal Ripken Jr. and Dennis Eckersley and Edgar Martinez.
That’s really quite a team, and it’s a testament to the fans for voting, and I’m obviously flattered that they would pick me as a starting pitcher of the Pepsi Dream Team.
Now, they’re going to be announcing the four finalists who will be eligible to perhaps compete against that Dream Team next spring, coming up on September 14th, correct?
That’s what I understand, yes. With those contestants, there will be one more contest, and hoping to meet the four contestants, sign autographs, shake hands, and then maybe there’ll be an opportunity to play a game, so that should be a lot of fun.
Randy, it’s been a pleasure. Thank for sharing some time with us today.
The passage below, which focused on Game 6 of the 1995 American League Championship Series, which ended Seattle’s magical run, has always been a personal favorite, so I wanted to share:
“The Big Unit walked off the mound in the seventh inning of the sixth playoff game against the Indians, in defeat, having carried the Mariners and the city of Seattle as far as he could.
A couple of botched plays, a bit of inspired baserunning, and a home run had turned the Kingdome tomb-silent.
Now, as their star pitcher headed for the dugout, the 58,489 fans began to clap, somewhat tentatively, not knowing quite how to respond as their improbable dream had to give way to thoughts of next season.
Then, suddenly realizing what had to be done, everybody stood and turned up the sound, bouncing it off the rafters until it filled a sterile hall with life.
This wasn’t about the 18-2 record and the 2.48 ERA, or about the 12.35 strikeouts per nine innings that shattered Nolan Ryan’s major league record, or about the certain Cy Young award to come.
This was about three wins in seven days that took Seattle into the playoffs and past the Yankees and onto the baseball map.
This was about a town saluting Randy Johnson’s heart, the heart of a warrior.
And, steps before leaving the field of battle, the warrior lifted his eyes, raised his arm, and saluted back.” — Glen Waggoner