Scary? He's only the Stephen King of pitchers. This is a lefthander who built a reputation for having a scattershot arm and acting flakier than psoriasis. He's an aficionado of two genres of music: heavy metal and, whatever his intentions, chin.
So unsettling is the proposition of facing Johnson that Boston Red Sox slugger Mo Vaughn, himself a formidable figure at 245 pounds, defines his perfect season as one in which he plays 160 games—every one except the two in which Johnson pitches against Boston. "He is," says Seattle manager Lou Piniella of his ace, "the number one dominating pitcher in baseball. I don't even know who's number two. I've never seen anybody like him."
What's really frightening now is that Johnson, at 31, has, in his words, "finally harnessed my ability." No longer is he some traveling Ripley's exhibit. Come see the tallest pitcher ever to walk 10 batters in four innings! He is painting outside corners with backdoor sliders while cutting the frequency of his walks by more than half from what his rate was three years ago.
One third of the way through the 1995 season, Johnson (6-1, 2.75 ERA) was striking out batters at the unprecedented rate of 12.75 per nine innings (relative light-years ahead of Nolan Ryan's record of 11.48, which he set as a Houston Astro in '87) while walking only 2.88 batters. Only Sandy Koufax of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Mike Scott of the Astros (chart, below) have finished a season with such an impressive combination of power and control.
Gone, too, are the Groucho glasses, the coneheads, the yellow police tape and the other props that made Johnson the clubhouse clown. "Never see them anymore," Blowers says.
"I can look you in the eye and tell you I have never enjoyed playing baseball more than I do now," Johnson says. "Not in Little League, not in high school, not in college. The word potential used to hang over me like a cloud. People would say, 'What kind of game are we going to get today?' Now I'm content. Right now I'm enjoying every aspect of my life."
He is a changed man. Being hit by a 24-month emotional meteor shower of death, marriage, birth and religion can do that.
The Intimidator looks vulnerable. Maybe it has something to do with the fuzzy purple dragon puppet on his right hand. He is lying on his living-room carpet and cooing silly sounds into the ear of "my little papoose." The object of his affection is Samantha, his six-month-old daughter, who was born two years and three days after his father died on Christmas Day 1992.
"He just melts around her," Lisa says. "Nothing else is so important to him anymore. When he's away he phones every night and talks to her. He'll call and ask me right away, 'How's Sammy?' And I'll go, 'Uh, I'm fine, thank you.' I think she makes the holidays a lot better too."
Randy's father, Bud, suffered an aortic aneurysm while Randy was flying from Washington to California to spend Christmas with his parents. Bud had died by the time Randy made it to the hospital. He laid his head on his dead father's chest, wept and cried out, "Why'd you have to go now? It's not time."