15 years ago today, Randy Johnson ended a bird’s life with a fastball
(Editor’s note: This post was originally published in 2016, on the 15th anniversary of the incident.)
It was March 24, 2001, at an otherwise unremarkable spring training game between the Diamondbacks and Giants. San Francisco’s Calvin Murray was at the plate. Arizona’s Randy Johnson was on the mound. And then something equal parts unlikely and horrifying happened. Johnson killed a bird with a pitch.
Last summer, FOX Sports Arizona published a video feature on the incident, which you can watch above. Johnson, then-Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly and PR director Mike Swanson are among those to share their memories of the day.
“A blur going across home plate. The ball simultaneously hitting that blur,” Johnson said of the experience. “It’s just hard to really put that in perspective. It happened so quick.”
The ball impacted the bird and sent a poof of white feathers floating into the air, the bird careening to the ground near the batter’s box. On the video, you can hear gasps from the crowd.
“It literally just turned into a cloud of feathers,” Brenly said.
The man we all have to thank for the everlasting video footage is Jim Currigan, Arizona’s video coordinator. Currigan brought a camera out to center field that day to film the game. Back then, spring training games weren’t the television fixture they are now.
Here’s the actual tape sitting on Currigan’s shelf:
Most have filed the incident away in their minds as just an amazing viral video from baseball lore, but the incident took a toll on Johnson.
“As odd as this may sound, there was a life lost in this,” Swanson said. “And Randy is a conservationist, and Randy said, ‘I don’t find this very funny.’ ”
Johnson says PETA even tried to bring legal action against him.
“I was considered a bird killer, and they were actually considering filing charges on the bird’s behalf.”
Johnson doesn’t like to talk about the incident, and why should he when he has an entire Hall of Fame career behind him? Nevertheless, the video is eternal if nothing else for the sheer craziness of it. That’s something we truly are not likely to ever see again.
The Diamondbacks, it’s worth noting, went on to win their one and only franchise World Series title that very season.