BY Steve Rudman 06:30AM 07/24/2015

Big Unit: ‘Wish I could represent two teams’

Randy Johnson views his 10-year tenure with the Mariners as an “apprenticeship” that prepared him to become a Hall of Famer. He will be inducted in Cooperstown Sunday.

Randy Johnson, a Mariner from 1989-98, will enter the Hall of Fame Sunday. / Mariners

Given a choice, Randy Johnson would represent two franchises Sunday when, accompanied by Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio, he enters the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. But Johnson had to pick between the Mariners, for whom he won 130 games and a Cy Young between 1989-98, and the Arizona Diamondbacks, for whom he won a World Series (2001) and four consecutive Cy Youngs (1999-02).

“My time in Seattle was wonderful,” Johnson said in his final interview before induction ceremonies. “Obviously it was the beginning of my career and I like to think that the 10 years I spent in Seattle was really my apprenticeship on understanding how to pitch. Seattle was where I evolved into the pitcher I was going to become.

“If I could wear two emblems, I would obviously wear Seattle and Arizona. But I feel I need to represent one of these teams. In Seattle, I won a Cy Young and grew up learning how to play, with Ken Griffey Jr., Jay Buhner, Edgar Martinez, Omar Vizquel and many others, including Dan Wilson. But I got to a whole other level (to the Mariners’ eternal chagrin) after I left Seattle, and that was in Arizona. That’s why I’m representing the Diamondbacks, for no other reason than my body of work there.”

Johnson’s “body of work” is so staggering that only two other pitchers — Tom Seaver (98.84) and Nolan Ryan (98.79) — earned election to the Hall of Fame with a higher percentage of the vote than Johnson’s 97.30. Cy Young himself received only 76.1 percent.

Johnson won 303 games over 22 major league seasons. He led his league in strikeouts eight times and in earned run average and winning percentage four times each. His career mark of 10.6 strikeouts per nine is the best in history, and his total of 4,875 ranks second to Ryan. The Big Unit also threw a perfect game (2004) and a no-hitter (1990).

While all that’s awesome, it’s also pretty dry. We prefer this Johnson definer: Twenty-nine major leaguers have recorded 3,000-plus hits. Johnson faced 13. He held the baker’s dozen, among the greatest hitters in history, to a combined .158 batting average.

Hitter Career Main Teams HOF Hits AB H BA
Alex Rodriguez 1994-15 Sea, Tex, NYY —– 3024 4 2 .500
Cal Ripken 1981-01 Baltimore 2007 3184 60 16 .267
Dave Winfield 1973-95 SD, NYY 2001 3110 38 8 .211
Paul Molitor 1978-98 Milw, Tor, Minn 2004 3319 40 8 .200
Robin Yount 1974-93 Milwaukee 1999 3142 21 4 .190
Derek Jeter 1995-14 NY Yankees —– 3465 17 3 .176
Rickey Henderson 1979-03 Oak, NYY 2009 3055 61 7 .115
Tony Gwynn 1982-01 San Diego 2007 3141 18 2 .111
Wade Boggs 1982-99 Boston, TB 2005 3010 18 2 .111
George Brett 1973-93 Kansas City 1999 3154 11 1 .091
Rafael Palmeiro 1986-05 Tex, Balt —– 3020 22 1 .045
Craig Biggio 1988-03 Houston 2015 3060 14 0 .000
Eddie Murray 1977-97 Baltimore 2003 3255 11 0 .000
335 53 .158

Keep in mind that Johnson accomplished this during the steroids era, when baseballs routinely flew out of parks. That was also an era in which many hitter-friendly parks were constructed and QuesTec, the digital supervisor of umpires introduced in 2000, dramatically shrank the strike zone.

“So now you had a strike zone that got much smaller and you had smaller ballparks. And I think that, plus the steroids, was conducive for offense and not so much for pitchers,” Johnson said. “So for a pitcher to be successful, it was really an uphill battle. The game was really more about offense.”

Johnson regularly faced 12 members of the 500-homer club. Of the eight he confronted at least 20 times, only two hit above .250 – Albert Pujols (.452) and Barry Bonds (.306). Ken Griffey Jr. (630 homers), Jim Thome (612), Rafael Palmeiro (569) and Eddie Murray (509), batted a combined .042.

“Baseball is a game of ups and downs,” Johnson said. “I had plenty of both. I pitched in the majors for 22 years, and over that time some guys are just going to have some success against you.”

But not the guys you’d expect. While Johnson had his way with the 3,000-hit club, he couldn’t get Bob Melvin out. Manager of the Mariners in 2003-04, Melvin played 10 seasons with Detroit, San Francisco, Baltimore, Kansas City, Boston, New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox. A catcher, Melvin retired after 1994 with a career .233 average – obviously not Johnny Bench, but Hank Aaron compared to Mike Zunino.

Melvin went 14-for-31 (.462) against the Big Unit, same as Pujols. Among players with at least 15 at-bats against Johnson, only Mariners TV analyst Mike Blowers hit better against him than Melvin.

Hitter Career Main Teams AB H HR RBI BB SO BA
Mike Blowers 1989-99 Sea, NYY 16 9 0 7 0 2 .563
Bob Melvin 1985-94 SF, Balt 31 14 0 1 2 6 .462
Albert Pujols 2001-15 StL, LAA 31 14 6 15 2 5 .462
Jose Reyes 2003-15 NYM, Tor 20 9 0 5 1 1 .450
Ichiro 2001-15 Sea. NYY 18 8 0 1 0 3 .444
Rafael Furcal 2000-12 Atl, LAD 18 8 0 2 1 6 .444

During Johnson’s years with the Mariners, he had to overcome two other obstacles, the bandbox Kingdome and his own relief staff.

In Johnson’s prime years in Seattle, (1995-98), the Mariners’ bullpen averaged a 4.46 ERA, with a high mark of 5.57 in 1997 when Johnson went 20-4 with a 2.28 ERA and finished second in Cy Young voting.

In Johnson’s four Cy Young years in Arizona, the D-Backs’ pen averaged 3.92. Bobby Ayala, probably the most-loathed reliever in franchise history, blew 29 potential wins for Johnson from 1994-98.

“Toward the end of my time in Seattle, I was really coming into my own as a successful pitcher,” Johnson said. “Then when I went to Houston (deadline trade July 31, 1998), I had the two best months of my career and also the best closer in the game at that time, Billy Wagner. I never had two other months like that even in Arizona.

“I pitched in 11 games and went 10-1. By that time, I was able to harness my fastball and I had an understanding of what it took to pitch at this level.”

Of all the wonderfully absurd statistics posted by Johnson, this is one that really illustrates his dominance: Most games with 10 or more strikeouts and no walks.

Felix Hernandez has logged 10 such games in 10-plus seasons, Johan Santana had nine, Nolan Ryan eight, Sandy Koufax seven and, going back a century, Walter Johnson four. The Big Unit posted 36, including five with 15 K’s and no walks. Most times 10-plus strikeouts, no walks:

Pitcher Career Games Best
Randy Johnson 1988-09 36 20 K’s, 0 walks vs. Cincy May 8, 2001
Curt Schilling 1988-07 27 16 K’s, 0 walks vs. NYY Sept. 1, 1997
Roger Clemens 1984-07 21 20 K’s, 0 walks vs. Sea April 29, 1986
Pedro Martinez 1992-09 18 17 K’s, 0 walks vs. NYY Sept. 10, 1999
Cliff Lee 2002-14 13 14 K’s, 0 walks vs. Miami Sept. 16, 2013
Mike Mussina 1991-08 12 15 K’s, 0 walks vs. Boston Sept. 24, 2000

“One of the big keys for me was understanding how hard I needed to work in the weight room to maintain my ability to go out there and throw the amount of pitches that I was throwing, and then be able to do it five days later,” Johnson continued.

“Now, after 26 years in professional baseball (which included four back surgeries, three knee surgeries and a torn rotator cuff), I’m told that I get 10 or 11 minutes in my speech to wrap it up. I think I’ll be more nervous than in any game I ever pitched, but extremely excited, humbled and proud.”


  • Sam Base

    Too bad Big Unit and Big Fish (Mike Trout) didn’t play in the same era. That’s a match up I’d love to see.

  • just passing thru

    Hooray for RJ!! I had the good fortune of seeing many of his games in person, including the no-hitter vs the Tigers and his relief stint against the Yankees in ’95. I think the roar as he walked to the mound was only exceeded by the one at the game’s end.

    There has been a lot of criticism of him over the years, but his contribution to the Mariners was huge. He can wear the Snakes’ hat, but he always will be a Mariner to me.

    • art thiel

      Many share the sentiment.

  • Tian Biao

    so which Mariners executives – let’s have names, please – decided to trade Randy Johnson, rather than offering him a contract?

    • Mavis Jarvis

      Wasn’t it Woody Woodward who was GM back then?

      • art thiel

        Yes, but the call was made above him.

    • rosetta_stoned

      Freddy Garcia, Jose Guillen and John Halama for a malcontent who tanked the first half of the ’98 season and whined his way out of town?

      I’d take that trade again in a second.

      • Tian Biao

        Your talent assessment abilities qualify you for a managerial-level position with the Mariners. You should put in your application.

      • art thiel

        They couldn’t afford him when they intended to pay Junior and Alex.

    • art thiel

      See above.

  • mindful

    He has got no reason to choose the M’s, HE’s a ARZ all the way they won and he carried them ,. The M’s are a corp , and there better then him.

    M’s there not gamers or in it for championship teams. When they feel like winning games or teams. It is well damn were winning. We need make sure we build teams to loose . To make money . We got one the most beautiful baseball stadium, fans will show up . On bobblehead night .

    Randy got every reason to be a diamond back, and as m’s fan you have to agree. and As baseball fan, or sport fan in this day and age.

    • art thiel

      No one is disputing his choice of teams.

  • jafabian

    If the HOF could do it all over again I’m sure they’d not have a team logo on the hat of the player. It should be about the game, not the team. That being said, a well deserved honor for the Big Unit. I find it amazing one of the most dominant pitchers of all time was a Mariner for part of his career.

    I’ve always wondered if there’s a single person responsible for the M’s waffling on re-signing Randy? Did Woody recommend to the owners that due to the nature of Randy’s back issues a long term deal might not be in their best interests? Was it Chuck’s call? Howard Lincoln? John Ellis? Was it a BOG vote? Not surprisingly, that’s been kept quiet all these years.

    • art thiel

      Ellis was in charge, Woody was GM and Chuck made many business calls. They mistakenly thought he was a high-maintenance player with a chronic injury that they couldn’t afford with the deals coming for Junior and A-Rod. And they acquired players that helped them win 116 games three years later.

      No mystery.

  • rosetta_stoned

    Why doesn’t anybody mention Johnson, steroids, his bad back and how he magically added 10 years to his career?

    • art thiel

      Not sure we have the same proof you do.

  • whoKarez

    Has an other pitcher hit a bird while throwing a pitch? Not once but twice?

    • art thiel

      Why do you think John Kruk was so scared to hit against him? Man was a killah.

  • Ken McLain

    Just rewatched the 95 game 5 Yankees game. Johnson was amazing. Wish he was going in as a Mariner – but I understand why he isn’t. Miss those days