Randy Johnson MLB Career and Early Life | Hall of Famer

Tall, fierce and with a rocket for a left arm, Randy Johnson dominated Major League hitting over much of his 22-year career. In an era when big bats were the norm, Johnson was having none of it, putting up pitching numbers in some seasons that looked like stats from the deadball era.

What is the Dead Ball Era?

Johnson, nicknamed The Big Unit, pitched in the big leagues for six teams from 1988 to 2009. He pitched for six teams. Most fans remember him from his early days with the Seattle Mariners in the 1990s and his time in the early 21st century with the Arizona Diamondbacks, where he won his only World Series.

He’s one of the most highly rated pitchers in baseball history and one of the most impactful at any position. He’s ranked 29th all-time for Wins Above Replacement value, according to Baseball Reference. For WAR value among pitchers, he’s ranked 9th all-time.

That’s just two of many staggering numbers associated with Randy Johnson.

  • 5 – the number of Cy Young Awards he won
  • 4- the number of years he ranked first in ERA
  • 9 – the number of years he ranked first in strikeouts
  • 13 – the number of seasons he struck out more than 200 batters
  • 6 – the number of seasons he struck out more than 300 batters
  • 4,875 – the number of batters he struck out during his career, second only to Nolan Ryan

Of his generation, only Roger Clemons and Greg Maddux are in the same category of dominance.

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Randy Johnson’s Early Life

Johnson was born Sept. 10, 1963, in Walnut Creek, California. His father worked as a police officer. Johnson played baseball from a young age, and by the time he attended Livermore High School, he was a star in both baseball and basketball. When he grew to his full height, Johnson was six feet, 10 inches tall.

In his last game in high school, he threw a perfect game. He also struck out 121 batters in just 66 innings. Not surprisingly, the Atlanta Braves picked him in the 1982 draft. However, he was not destined to become a Brave. Johnson instead chose to attend the University of Southern California, where he also played two years of basketball.

Johnson entered the baseball draft again in 1985. This time, the Montreal Expos selected him. Johnson joined a list of great players who got their start in Montreal in the 1970s and 1980s, including Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Andres Galarraga, Tim Wallach, Tim Raines, and Larry Walker.

As Johnson made his way up through the minors, two things were clear: he had a dominating fastball, and he sometimes had a hard time controlling it.

Randy Johnson in the Major Leagues

Johnson got the call up to the majors in September 1988. In four starts, he went 3-0, striking out 25 batters in 26 innings and walking seven. He started the 1989 season in the starting rotation for the Expos. But control issues still dogged him. While he struck out 26 batters in 29 ⅔ innings, he also walked 26.

The Expos traded Johnson to the Seattle Mariners for Mark Langston, who left the Expos after the 1989 season. Johnson became a superstar on an up-and-coming Seattle team that would soon feature Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez.

Johnson began a run of domination that, fittingly, got help from Nolan Ryan. Johnson asked Ryan for advice in 1992 about his control. Ryan suggested a few adjustments and Johnson, in his next game, struck out 18 in eight innings, according to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

As noted by the hall, Johnson became a different pitcher from that point on. He had led the league in walks from 1990-1992, but he never led in the category again. Instead, he started a run that saw him lead the league in strikeouts in nine seasons between 1992 and 2004.

Ken Griffey Jr MLB Career and Early Life

Winning the World Series

One of the great mysteries of baseball is how the Mariners, loaded with talent, could not win the American League pennant in the 1990s and early 2000s. In addition to Johnson, Mariners teams in that era included Griffey Jr., Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez, Tino Martinez, Jay Buhner, Tim Belcher, Alex Rodriguez and Andy Benes.

The 1995 club lost the American League Championship Series to the Cleveland Indians, while the 1997 club lost a division series to the Baltimore Orioles. It got even worse in 2001, when the Mariners won 116 regular season games but lost the ALCS to the New York Yankees. But by then, Johnson was gone.

The Mariners, concerned about Johnson’s durability, decided to trade him to the Houston Astros in 1998 rather than negotiate a new, bigger contract. Johnson dominated for the Astros in the regular season, but lost two games in the division series against the San Diego Padres (even though he only gave up two runs in Game 1 and one run in Game 4 of the series).

The Arizona Diamondbacks, who had entered Major League Baseball in 1998 along with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, decided they wanted to make a free agent splash. They brought Johnson to the desert for the 1999 season, giving him a four-year, $52 million deal. Johnson went on to win the Cy Young an incredible four straight years, 1999-2002.

In 2001, he and fellow pitcher Curt Schilling led the Diamondbacks to 92 victories and a thrilling win over the Yankees in the World Series. He’s also remembered that season for throwing a pitch in spring training that hit and killed a dove that chose the wrong time to fly across the field. Johnson says he’s asked about that incident more than even winning the World Series.

What was left to accomplish? Johnson had an answer. In 2002, he won the National League Triple Crown, leading the league in wins, ERA, and strikeouts. In 2004, at the age of 40, six years after the Mariners were worried about his durability, Johnson threw a perfect game against the Atlanta Braves. The victory, on May 18, made Johnson the oldest pitcher to pitch a perfect game.

Johnson continued to play, making stops with the Yankees and San Francisco Giants. He retired after the 2009 season. In 2015, the hall selected him for induction. Since retirement, Johnson has launched a second career in photography.

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