Randy Johnson, the dominant lefthander who scared hitters and low-flying doves alike, announced his retirement from baseball after 22 seasons. Johnson finished his career with the San Francisco Giants, the team with which he achieved his 300th career victory on June 4, 2009. Ironically, his 300th win came against the Washington Nationals, who used to play in Montreal, which was the team Johnson made his major league debut for in 1988.
Johnson’s blazing fastball and deceptive slider (nicknamed “Mr. Snappy” in a few 1990s commercials) frustrated hitters for over two decades. In addition to his lofty win totals, Johnson finished his career with 4,875 strikeouts, second all-time behind former Met Nolan Ryan. He struck out 200 or more batters in a season 12 times, including six 300-strikeout seasons, peaking in 2001 when he struck out 372 batters as a member of the World Champion Arizona Diamondbacks.
Johnson won five Cy Young Awards and finished second in the Cy Young voting three other times. He also was voted co-MVP of the 2001 World Series with fellow D’Backs pitcher Curt Schilling after he was credited with three victories in their World Series victory over the Yankees. Johnson was fortunate enough to pitch two no-hitters over his career, the second of which was a perfect game against the Atlanta Braves in 2004.
For all his success in the majors (303 wins, 166 losses, 3.29 ERA), he had difficulty against the Mets over his career. Johnson had a 6-7 record against New York with a 4.26 ERA. Johnson was also hit hard in his one postseason appearance against the Mets in Game 1 of the 1999 NLDS. In that classic game, Johnson had already given up four runs through the first eight innings but was asked to start the ninth inning of a tie game. He allowed the Mets to load up the bases before he was relieved by Bobby Chouinard. With two outs, Edgardo Alfonzo (who had homered earlier in the game against Johnson) hit a tie-breaking grand slam off Chouinard to give the Mets an 8-4 lead. Seven of the eight runs were charged to Johnson. The seven runs represented the most runs Johnson gave up in any of his 16 career postseason starts.
Other Mets hitters who inexplicably fared well against Johnson were Joe McEwing (five doubles and a home run off Johnson) and Dae-Sung Koo (the reliever nicknamed “Mr. Koo”), who hit a long double off the Big Unit after looking foolish in his first major league at-bat earlier in the 2005 season.
Randy Johnson pitched for the Montreal Expos, Seattle Mariners, Houston Astros, Arizona Diamondbacks (in two separate stints), New York Yankees and San Francisco Giants. In 22 major league seasons, he made knees buckle and All-Stars fear for their lives (just ask John Kruk and Larry Walker). Until Randy Johnson came along, the majors had not seen a dominant lefthander that made opposing batters squirm at the plate since the days of Sandy Koufax. It may some time before we see a pitcher like the Big Unit again.
Please join me in congratulating Randy Johnson on his retirement. I’m sure we’ll see him again in Cooperstown in five years!