Baseball: Randy Johnson — A big career

By Paul Hurst

randy johnson Photo:MissChatter

A fortnight after he announced his retirement from the game, we have really had an opportunity to reflect upon what a special career Randy Johnson has had.

Many suspected 2009 would be his final season, particularly once he became the 24th member of the 300-win club last June. At the age of 46, he had started to suffer with injuries over the last few years, and his performance had certainly declined in recent years. Johnson’s announcement made clear he was now satisfied to call it a day, after securing his legacy.

That legacy is that of one of the greatest pitchers of all time. ‘The Big Unit’ — the nickname given to him by a former team-mate, in reference to his 6’10” frame — has had a truly remarkable career, compiling a 303-166 record, with a 3.29 ERA, across 22 Major League seasons.

Johnson began his career in Montreal after being selected in the 2nd round of the 1985 draft. However he was traded to Seattle in 1989 after starting just 10 games for the Expos. His early career was characterised by control problems; while striking out plenty, he led the league in walks issued in each season between 1990 and 1992. He credits pitching advice he received from Nolan Ryan in late 1992 for turning his career around.

Whilst he went on to dominate the league from 1993 onwards – winning his first Cy Young award in 1995 — many consider his best years to have come following his move to the Arizona Diamondbacks in 1999. In each of his first four seasons in Phoenix he picked up the Cy Young Award. 2001 is widely considered as his greatest season. Johnson and Curt Schilling dominated the National League all year long, leading the D’Backs to a World Series title, despite their rather anaemic offense.

Johnson’s five Cy Young Awards are the second most in history, behind Roger Clemens with seven. In 2004, Johnson was pipped to the award by Clemens. Many people believe Johnson was the rightful winner of the award, having led Clemens in almost all meaningful stats.

On May 18 of that year, Johnson struck out 13 on the way to pitching a perfect game, against the Atlanta Braves, becoming the just the 17th pitcher to achieve the feat since 1880.

Johnson’s career began to wind down following that season, age beginning to catch up with him. Two seasons in New York with the Yankees, followed by a return to Arizona pushed him closer to the 300 wins he craved. He finally reached the mark on June 4th last year, with a victory over the Nationals in Washington.

Following his retirement, Johnson has been remembered for his remarkable longevity, and as one of the most dominating pitchers of all-time. Over his career, he ranks second all-time in total strikeouts, and he has averaged a strikeout rate of 10.6 hitters per nine innings – the highest mark in the history of the game.

Randy Johnson may well be the last pitcher to achieve the 300 win milestone for many years. He will certainly gain entry to the Hall Of Fame on the first ballot, when he becomes eligible in 2014.

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