Randy Johnson elected to Hall of Fame on first ballot
PHOENIX — When he was 7 years old, Randy Johnson walked to Little League tryouts in Livermore, Calif., but in a crowded park was unable to find the field for his age group. Intimidated, he turned around and walked home before his mother drove him back and got things squared away.
And so began the trip that landed him all the way to Cooperstown.
"That was the beginning of what I never foresaw," Johnson said. "How could anybody foresee this?"
"It’s been a great ride. I’m very humbled and proud."
What might not have been not obvious then, or when Johnson taped a strike zone on his wooden garage door at home a few years later — Vida Blue with a tennis ball at 30 paces — became self-evident during Johnson’s 22-year major-league run.
Like the hitters he faced, Hall of Fame voters knew. Johnson blew though the Hall of Fame voting process as he did opposing hitters to became one of 50 player to be elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot Tuesday. He was named on 93.7 percent of the ballots, the eighth-highest percentage of any enshrinee in Hall history.
He received the highest percentage of votes among left-handed pitchers, which some could interpret as making the Big Unit the best left-hander in major-league history. Johnson never comfortable talking about himself, would have none of that.
Johnson was humble, eloquent and expansive at his news conference at Chase Field on Tuesday, mentioning all six teams he played for while remembering his six years in Arizona as the stage in which he was in his prime.
"I never dreamed about any of this," he said. "Did I ever envision playing in the majors leagues? I thought that would be cool. My dad taught me to never be content, because there is always somebody better than you doing it. And how do you know how good you can be until you stop doing it. I really took that to heart."
Johnson was 303-166 in 22 years, the most productive of which were spent with the Diamondbacks from 1999-2004 and again from 2007-08. He won four of his five Cy Young Awards in his first four years with the D-backs, had four 300-strikeout seasons and won his only World Series in 2001, when he and fellow Hall nominee Curt Schilling were co-MVPs.
Johnson joined Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and two-month Houston teammate Craig Biggio in the Class of 2015, and he is the first player to spend any appreciable amount of time with the D-backs to be elected to the Hall of Fame.
After five years traveling, devoting time to his passion of photography and participating in USO Tours around the world, Johnson has agreed to rejoin the D-backs as an assistant to general manager Derrick Hall. The D-backs will retire Johnson’s No. 51 this season, Hall said Tuesday.
The numbers are compelling, overwhelming. Johnson has 4,875 strikeouts, trailing only mentor Nolan Ryan’s 5,714 in MLB history. Johnson’s average of 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings is the best in history among starting pitchers.
The D-backs signed Johnson to a four-year, $52.4 million contract in the winter after their 1998 expansion season, following his 10 seasons in Seattle and two months with Houston. And he made an immediate impact with his four consecutive Cy Young Awards.
"My time here was career-changing, to put it that way," Johnson said. "I’ve had special moments on all the teams that I’ve played for, hands-down there is no five years that match anywhere else.
"It was the window of my opportunity. The window was open for me to do whatever I was going to do. There were some signs of consistency in Seattle the last four or five years I was there. I really came into my own my first year here. I’m grateful everything worked out the way it did.
"To have been a part of a championship, that’s what any player in any sport plays for. Not necessarily individual accomplishments, but to be dog-piling on the pitcher’s mound and be celebrating and be riding down the street with your family on a fire truck. Who doesn’t dream about that?"
Johnson was courted by the Dodgers, the Angels and the Rangers before signing with the D-backs in the winter of 1998, saying then-managing general partner Jerry Colangelo’s persistent courting won him over.
Johnson was 21-6 when the D-backs won the 2001 World Series. He won 118 games and had a 2.83 ERA in his 232 appearances with the D-backs, not including postseason play. He threw a perfect game for the D-backs in 2004 and a no-hitter for Seattle in 1990 and he had six 300-strikeout seasons and three 20-win seasons.
Johnson struck out 364 batters in his first season with the D-backs in 1999, posting 294 more strikeouts that walks, the second-highest differential in major-league history behind Sandy Koufax’s plus-311 season in 1965.
The only matter to be decided is cap style on Johnson’s Hall of Fame bust. Greg Maddux and Tony La Russa did not have a team logo on their caps, and that could be the Hall of Fame’s intent.
"That is out of my control, despite what people might believe," Johnson said. "Today I just want to celebrate the 22 years I played and take that in. In the coming week I will talk to some representatives of the Hall of Fame, that will be something we will discuss."
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