At the height of his prowess, Randy Johnson threw 102 miles an hour slingshot-style and wore a Deadwood mustache, a mud flap of a mullet, and a scowl atop his 6'10" frame that had the don't-mess effect of an armed prison guard high in a turret. He threw with such ferocity that a tooth filling once dislodged clear from his tightly clenched jaw and out of his mouth. He once virtually vaporized an unfortunate dove in mid-flight, a puff of feathers the residue of Johnson's fastball. No pitcher ever scared lefthanded hitters out of the lineup and sent them scurrying, like mice to their holes, the way he did. Rumor had it he would grind their bones to make his bread.
"He was just an intimidating presence," says former Mariner Dan Wilson, who was on the receiving end of more of Johnson's games (109) than any other catcher. "I went to the mound once to talk to him. I could tell something was wrong. I said, 'Randy, what's the problem?' He said, 'My hair keeps whipping into my eyes.' I said, 'Get a haircut,' but I didn't think he would do that. It would take away from his persona."
So dominant was Johnson that before a game in 1993, the home plate umpire told Mariners catcher Dave Valle, "They don't even need you with Randy pitching."
"What are you talking about?" replied Valle, who would not name the ump.
"He's so good they don't need you. Let me call the pitches tonight."
"I let him call every pitch." recalls Valle, to whom the umpire whispered pitches under his breath.
An overpowering Johnson went the distance in a Mariners victory.
When he was traded from the first of his six clubs, the Montreal Expos, in 1989, a notoriously wild Johnson had just three career wins at age 25. By his 30th birthday he had only 64 victories (fewer than, say, Jason Marquis had at the same age). He has overcome three back surgeries and endured a right knee without cartilage. Those who doubted him unwittingly provided the rebar for the construction of a remarkable career.
In 2005, with 251 wins but pushing 42, Johnson listened on the Yankees' bench as teammate Al Leiter told him that Tom Glavine might be the last 300-game winner.
"I looked at him and went, 'Oh, really?'" Johnson says. "The thought may have been in the back of my head, but I wouldn't be confident enough to say to anyone, 'I'm going to do it.'"