SI Vault
 
Randy Johnson Will Grind Your Bones To Make His Bread
TOM VERDUCCI
May 25, 2009
He has more wins in his 40s than he did in his 20s, and he enjoyed his most fearsome run in his late 30s; as he closes in on 300 wins, it's safe to say there's never been another pitching giant like the Big Unit
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
May 25, 2009

Randy Johnson Will Grind Your Bones To Make His Bread

He has more wins in his 40s than he did in his 20s, and he enjoyed his most fearsome run in his late 30s; as he closes in on 300 wins, it's safe to say there's never been another pitching giant like the Big Unit

View CoverRead All Articles
1 2 3 4 5

Johnson made an adjustment, and success followed almost immediately. Later that year, when matched up against Ryan, he struck out 18 batters in eight innings, throwing 160 pitches. His pitching had started to turn a corner.

That winter, his father, Bud, passed away, "so I took what I learned from Nolan and a heavy heart into the '93 season," says Johnson, who would go 19--8 and strike out 308 batters that year. "That was really the defining moment, because I felt like I would dig down a little deeper from that point on, and I would throw more pitches if I had to, to throw more innings, to get us closer to winning the game."

"He was coming into his own as a player and a person," Valle says. "I told him once, 'Randy, I wish you could face yourself as a hitter. If you stood in the box against yourself, you'd see you're one of the baddest men on the planet.' Nobody wanted to face him."

No. 100 THE INJURED

"Once you let Randy get two or three innings of scoreless baseball, your team was in trouble," says Dan Wilson, who caught No. 100, an 8--5 Mariners win over Milwaukee on April 6, 1996. "He got stronger as the game went on. He could outlast you. He could throw 120 pitches and number 120 would be just as hard as number 1."

Johnson's victory over the Brewers, however, was the second of four starts to begin that season in which he threw 129, 122, 123 and 128 pitches—this after a year in which he had gone 19--2 and pitched six times in the season's final 20 days, playoffs included. By the end of May, Johnson's back finally gave out and he needed surgery.

From 1990 through '95, Johnson threw 150 pitches or more in a game eight times; all other major league pitchers combined had 23 such games during that period. "All that stress goes somewhere," Johnson says, "and evidently it went to my back. I've never had any arm problems."

Nos. 150 and 200 THE LEGEND

After a deadline deal to Houston in 1998, Johnson went 10--1 with the Astros and led them to the playoffs, setting him up for a four-year, $53 million free-agent contract with Arizona at age 35. Over the next four years, Johnson won 81 games (including wins 150 and 200), lost 27, struck out 1,417 batters in 1,030 innings, and won four Cy Young Awards, four strikeout titles, three ERA titles and a world championship. The final year of that run, '02, which Johnson identifies as his best, he won pitching's triple crown (24 wins, 334 strikeouts, 2.32 ERA) while turning 39. "You can compare the four years I had to anybody's in baseball," Johnson says, "to anybody's in any sport."

Johnson's extraordinary four-year run occurred in the last four seasons before baseball began testing for steroids. Johnson never has been tied directly to performance-enhancing drugs. Convicted steroids dealer Kirk Radomski, however, wrote in his book Bases Loaded that investigators for the '07 Mitchell Report asked him if he knew about steroid use by Johnson, Curt Schilling, Gary Sheffield, Ivan Rodriguez or Alex Rodriguez. Radomski wrote that he had no knowledge of steroids use by those players. (Only Sheffield was named in the report.)

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5