Randy Johnson: A Hall of Fame tribute

Tribute pages: Craig Biggio | Randy Johnson | Pedro Martinez | John Smoltz


How do you choose a single highlight from Randy Johnson's career when the hard-throwing left-hander delivered so many, including five Cy Young awards, two no-hitters, a perfect game and more than 300 wins and 4,000 strikeouts?

The Big Unit walking in from the bullpen to pitch the final innings in relief of Seattle's 1995 division series victory over the Yankees? Walking in from the bullpen to pitch the final innings of Arizona's Game 7 2001 World Series victory over the Yankees? Blowing apart that dove with a pitch? Making John Kruk look even worse during the 1993 All-Star Game?

Those were all impressive, but one that also stands out was the night he threw his first no-hitter in 1990. Johnson was still young and wild at the time but he showed what was on the way when he no-hit the Tigers and prompted Detroit broadcaster Ernie Harwell to say, "The tallest man in baseball history stands a little taller tonight.''

Johnson no longer is the tallest man in baseball history, but his career stands high above almost all others.

-- Jim Caple


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• Five-time Cy Young Award winner (1995, 1999-02)
• 10-time All Star (1990, 1993-1995, 1997, 1999-2002, 2004)

• World Series champion and co-MVP (2001)
• Johnson was 45 years and 267 days old at the time of his 300th career win, making him the second oldest at the time of his 300th -- only Phil Niekro (46 years, 1988 days in 1985) was older.
• Produced 239 wins after turning 30 years old, the fifth-most in MLB history.
• Had six 300-strikeout seasons, tied with Nolan Ryan for the most ever. No other pitcher had more than three such seasons.
• Johnson's 4,875 career strikeouts are 739 more than the next-closest left-hander in history (Steve Carlton, with 4,136).
• His 10.6 K per 9 IP mark is the highest in MLB history for any pitcher with at least 1,000 innings pitched.
• Among pitchers in the 300-win club, Johnson's .646 career win percentage is the fifth-best.
• Among left-handed starters in MLB history, Johnson's .646 win percentage ranks third, behind only Whitey Ford and Lefty Grove (min. 400 starts).
• Elected to the Seattle Mariners Hall of Fame in 2012.


The Big Debut (Sept. 15, 1988)
Johnson made his MLB debut with the Montreal Expos five days after his 25th birthday. He pitched five innings, striking out five and allowing two homers, to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 9-4 at Olympic Stadium in Montreal and earn his first career win. Johnson's first career strikeout victim? Current Tampa Bay Rays broadcaster Orestes Destrade.

The Big No-No (June 2, 1990)

Johnson, now with the Seattle Mariners, threw the first of his two career no-hitters as he shut down the Detroit Tigers in a 2-0 victory. The Big Unit was both wild and unhittable at the same time, as he walked six batters and struck out eight. The no-no was also Johnson's first career shutout.

The Big Duel (Sept. 16, 1992)
At some point in 1992, a young, wild Johnson had a talk with Nolan Ryan. Johnson points to that chat as a turning point for his career. While 1993 was Johnson's breakout season, he showed signs of what was to come during this late-season outing. In a duel against former Mariner Mark Langston, Johnson allowed just one hit in nine innings while striking out 15 and walking one, good for a Game Score of 97. The one hit was a ground-ball single to Hubie Brooks in the fourth, and an error later in the inning led to unearned run. Langston had a pretty fair game himself: He pitched 10 innings and struck out 12. Neither pitcher got a decision, though, as the game went 13 innings. --David Schoenfield

The Big Game (Oct. 2, 1995)
After the Mariners overcame a 13-game deficit to force a one-game playoff with the Los Angeles Angels for the American League West title, it was only fitting that Johnson would be on the mound for the big showdown.

The Big Unit posted an 18-2 record with 294 strikeouts in 214 innings in 1995, and he was typically masterful in Seattle's 9-1 victory over the Angels. Johnson froze Tim Salmon on a backdoor slider for the final out, then threw his arms in the air and gazed skyward in celebration. He looked like a human version of the Space Needle. The Kingdome went wild in celebration, and it seemed as if half the city's police force escorted the Mariners to the airport for the flight to New York to begin the playoffs. --Jerry Crasnick

The Big Reliever (Oct. 8, 1995)
Johnson got the win in relief as he pitched the ninth, 10th and 11th innings for the Mariners in Game 5 of the American League Division Series against the Yankees. Johnson gave up one run in the top of the 11th inning, but the Mariners scored twice in the bottom of the frame to reach the ALCS for the first time in team history.

The Big 20 (May 8, 2001)
When Johnson struck out Deion Sanders and Juan Castro in the ninth inning of an Arizona-Cincinnati game in Phoenix, he joined Roger Clemens and Kerry Wood as the only pitchers to strike out 20 batters in nine innings.

Reds batters lined up to confirm that Johnson's stuff certainly sounded formidable. "They told us to lay off his slider and hit his fastball, but, man, you couldn't tell the difference until it was on top of you, and then it was too late," said outfielder Alex Ochoa, who struck out three times. "He was throwing 97-mph fastballs and 88-mph sliders and all you could do was say, 'Oh, God.'"

Arizona's Mark Grace, who played first base the night of the 20-strikeout game, had previously played first base for the Chicago Cubs the night that Wood struck out 20. "I feel blessed to have seen this twice," Grace said. "When a guy is pitching like that, you put your glove on top of your head because you are not going to need it." --J.C.

The Big Surprise (Nov. 4, 2001)

A day after throwing seven innings and 104 pitches to beat the Yankees 15-2 in Game 6, Johnson jogged out of the bullpen to throw 17 pitches and record the final four outs in Arizona's series clincher. Johnson's valiant relief pitching set the stage for Luis Gonzalez's climactic single off Mariano Rivera in the ninth.

Johnson confided to outfielder Steve Finley before the game that he was ready to go, but it was natural to wonder how much he had left in the tank. "It's all adrenaline," Johnson said amid the postgame celebration. "This is what we play for."

Teammate and co-MVP Curt Schilling spoke for a lot of people after the 2001 World Series when he said, "That relief appearance is everything you ever need to know about Randy Johnson." --J.C.

The Big Thrill (May 18, 2004)
Fourteen years after Johnson threw a no-hitter for Seattle against Detroit, he became the oldest pitcher to record a perfect game. Johnson was four months shy of his 41st birthday when he dazzled the Atlanta Braves in a 2-0 Arizona victory at Turner Field. Johnson also joined Cy Young, Jim Bunning, Nolan Ryan and Hideo Nomo as one of only five pitchers to throw a no-hitter in each league.

Johnson overpowered an Atlanta lineup that was missing double-play partners Rafael Furcal and Marcus Giles, but still included Andruw Jones and Chipper Jones. Johnson induced 13 strikeouts, threw 87 of 117 pitches for strikes and clocked 98 mph on the radar gun with his final pitch.

The most enduring moment came during the celebration. After Johnson whiffed Eduardo Perez to end the game, he pumped his fist and prepared to shake hands with catcher Robby Hammock. But Hammock, caught up in the emotion, began jumping up and down like a little kid, prompting Johnson to break out in a huge smile. A scrum soon followed. Later in the Diamondbacks' road trip, in Florida, Hammock received an engraved Rolex watch from Johnson to commemorate their big night. --J.C.

The Big 300th (June 4, 2009)
On a waterlogged Thursday in June, Mr. Randall David Johnson, the greatest 6-foot-10 left-hander of our (or anybody's) lifetime, added his name to the exalted 300-Win Club with a 5-1 San Francisco Giants victory over the Washington Nationals. At 45 years and 9 months old, Johnson was the second-oldest 300-game winner ever (behind only Phil Niekro, who got there at 46).

Even as he sat in the dugout in the ninth inning, watching closer Brian Wilson finish this one off, Johnson's expression was so stone-faced, you'd have thought this was win No. 48, not win No. 300. But when Wilson pumped strike three past Washington's Wil Nieves, teammates began pounding the Big Unit on the back. And when Randy Johnson popped up the dugout steps, his arm around his son, Tanner, the smile on his face let you know this was not just another night in Unit-hood.

"I think it kind of hit me when I walked on the field," Johnson said afterward, as relaxed in front of the microphones as you'll ever find him. "It's a long-range achievement. It's not a one-game or one-year achievement. It's a career achievement. ... So I'll be thinking about this one for a long time. I'm glad I won't be pitching again for a few days." --Jayson Stark



"When he had his game face on, there was nobody like him. He had the heart of a lion. It wasn't as if you thought you had a chance to win that day. You knew you were going to win that day. That's how good he was."
-- Former Seattle bench coach John McLaren

"I told Randy he could be the most dominating pitcher in baseball if he would just work on his game. He was a lot like me when I was younger. He was just pitching and not doing a lot of thinking."
--Nolan Ryan in 1992

"It sounds crazy, but [Randy] has become a control pitcher. He throws 98 miles per hour right where he wants to. When you think about that, it's scary."
-- Former teammate Todd Stottlemyre

"He's just so dominating. Filthy, ridiculous, stupid -- I've pretty much used every adjective I could possibly think of."
-- Former teammate Damian Miller, who caught Johnson while the two played in Arizona

"He is the number-one dominating pitcher in baseball. I don't even know who number two is."
-- Lou Piniella, who managed Johnson in Seattle

"Randy carries his emotions on his sleeve. So when Randy gets pumped, it's pretty much wise to just go home. When he gets that look in his eyes, you know you're not going to get a hit off him."
-- Former teammate Mark Grace

"The difference between championship teams and good teams every year seems to be two guys who pitch lights out in the postseason. Randy is one of those guys."
-- Former teammate Mike Mussina


"The word 'potential' used to hang over me like a cloud."
-- to Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci in 1995

"When I was younger and inexperienced, I was a very animated pitcher. I pitched with a lot of adrenaline. I was my own worst enemy when things weren't gong well."
--After his perfect game in 2004

"I was barely a .500 pitcher before my dad died and I got married and had a baby ... my wife and baby brought me down to earth. I'm not as selfish as I used to be. Win or lose, I always have them to come home to."
--In June 1995

"I learned a lot from not having success, and realizing when you do have success, how hard it is to maintain it, and what you have to do to maintain it."
--After he retired in 2010

"I had a long conversation with Steve Carlton. He told me that on the days he pitched, he felt it was his responsibility to make everyone around him better, to lift his teammates. That's what I try to do."
--In 1998

"I enjoyed it despite what a lot of people (thought). I wasn't out there smiling and laughing a lot, but I enjoyed the competition. I tried to make it last as long as I could."
--After he retired in 2010

"I expect to win. I've never been content with anything I've ever done."
--In 1993