I haven’t been able to get to this until today, due to a broken laptop power cord, and the previous post that I was in the middle of while we were all waiting to hear the news about the HOF voting. Of course, I never knew Randy Johnson as a Mariner, except in legend. I’ve seen clips, heard the calls of Dave Niehaus (several of which were played the other day on 710 ESPN, much to my delight), and am aware of that one time he did this, which was such an improbable situation that a show that aired a few years ago on FSN called Sports Science attempted to duplicate it with a game hen, a live pitcher, and a pitching machine, and could not. If you search for the clip on YouTube, some people are even referring to it as a hoax; as if live baseball is somehow faked. But I guess that is how unbelievable Johnson’s pitching was. And it really was.
As everyone is well aware, Johnson was inducted the other day into the Baseball Hall of Fame. I have not yet had time to pour over the numerous articles on the day and how it played out for the inductees, but I’m getting to everything gradually. CBS Sports has this article with a few video clips of the group of John Smolz, Johnson, Craig Biggio and Pedro Martinez talking to the press and joking around. They seem tentative, almost a little embarrassed to be up there, as if they either don’t feel they deserve the honor, or simply can’t comprehend that they’re actually there. And it might be a little bit of both. None of them could be more wrong, but it seems to demonstrate that baseball players start out as and remain these giant kids who just can’t believe their luck. Also, in the second clip, if Pedro Martinez isn’t the most adorable thing, I don’t know who is.
For my part, I only saw Johnson pitch live once; he was at the end of his career, he was in his 40s, and it was the last year he played baseball, for the San Francisco Giants. I remember being at the end of a pay period when the game came around, and scraping up enough money to get into a very crowded Safeco Field to see him (finding seats was a chore, indeed; the stadium was absolutely full, like Opening Day full). I wound up sitting somewhere in the 335-340 range in the upper deck, but I didn’t care. I took pictures of him warming up downstairs in the visitors bullpen. I’m not a fighter for position down in The Pen, but that day had to be an exception. I got there early, nabbed one of the last remaining spaces up front, and waited. Getting out of that crowd after snapping off several shots was a chore. Everyone wanted to see him. I took (not great, as I didn’t have the Canon I currently use at the time) pictures of him during the game. I am currently using Tom’s computer and cannot remember my YouTube password, otherwise I’d post the video of the roaring standing ovation in Safeco Field when Johnson walked off the mound. He didn’t make a huge deal out of it, just tipped his hat to everyone, and walked to the dugout. I don’t think you would find a single person in that building that day who would have minded if Johnson beat us; but it was not to be. Jason Vargas led us to a 2-1 victory. These were the 2009 Mariners, and we were doing OK that year, so I am simultaneously not surprised that we did well that game, and shocked beyond measure that we won, since, if memory serves, Johnson was pulled in the 6th or 7th inning. It was May, it was cold, and I could not have been more happy that I got to go.
Johnson will, of course, go into the Hall as an Arizona Diamondback. That caused an online stir as well; a lot of people didn’t seem happy about it, but none of them should be surprised. Arizona was where Johnson did what any baseball player sets out to do; win a World Series. It’s where he set a ton of records, where he has several business interests, and the place he calls home. In spite of his long tenure here and the wonderful things he did and all the love Seattle fans have for him, he clearly feels like Phoenix is where he belongs. Regardless of how upset anyone might be that he will not don Mariners gear for the Hall, I feel he easily deserves to present himself however he likes. So for those of you who might be upset, suck it up; your time will come soon. Like in the next ten years soon.
There is a lot that could be said about Randy Johnson by more learned people who were actually there. Indeed, my Twitter feed has been buzzing about this since it happened on Tuesday from fans and press members who lived through Johnson’s tenure in this city, and remember it fondly. Shannon Drayer was on the Michael Gray Show the other morning talking about being warned to not speak with Johnson prior to the game (Randy of course was notorious for his pre-game anti-social behavior), and other memories of Johnson’s character that she shared were fun to listen to. I wish I had even a fraction of the knowledge about Johnson that other Mariners fans have, but all I have is this one memory of this one game. He was nearly done, but that made him no less impressive to me. I will never forget it. It is very rare for me to remember scores of individual games, so the fact that I remember this one should tell you how important it was to me to be there. Alas, I didn’t even live in Seattle when he pitched here, and if you’d told me back in the 90s that some day I’d be really into baseball, I would have laughed in your face. So I envy all of you who grew up watching this guy. He was special, and you’re very lucky.
Johnson went on after baseball to become an absolutely fantastic photographer. His forte’ seems to lie in concert shots. I have seen a lot of live concert photography in my time, that having been a former life of sorts, and Johnson is truly impressive. For his part, RJ seems to have a sense of humor about his past, as this is the logo for his company: