Randy Johnson’s ultimate baseball appearance will require him to rely on a skill that terrorized the 4,875 batters he struck out.
Make it snappy.
While preparing the speech for his Hall of Fame enshrinement Sunday, Johnson learned acceptance remarks are to be between 10 and 11 minutes. It’s a reasonable request: Summer weather typically is sweltering in upstate New York; there are three other inductees in this year’s class, and it takes a special kind of endurance to resist eye closure during a long-and-winding sermon delivered on a 90-degree afternoon.
In other words, Randy, avoid those other words.
But how does a 303-game winner condense highlights of a 22-season pro career into an address that can’t last longer 11 minutes?
“With the help of a few people,” Johnson said the other day on a conference call. “I probably will be more nervous than any game that I pitched.”
Johnson may surprise himself. Famous for being as tightly wound before starts as the balls with 108 double stitches he used to grip, it’s clear retirement has mellowed him. There was always the suspicion a perceptive, sensitive soul lurked behind that fierce, anti-social facade — in terms of high maintenance, he was on the lunatic fringe — but now that he’s gotten a few years away from the game, Johnson is at a place in his life where old memories and new ambitions intersect.
A place called serenity.
Long gone are any residual grudges following his Kardashian-messy divorce from the Mariners in 1998. Although Johnson has chosen to represent the Arizona Diamondbacks on his Hall of Fame plaque, the decision was not steeped in spite.
He weighed the facts, and came to an indisputable conclusion.
Seattle: A 130-74 record with a 3.42 ERA. Five All-Star selections. One Cy Young Award.
Arizona: A 118-62 record with a 2.83 ERA. Four consecutive Cy Young Awards. Honored as Most Valuable Player, along with teammate Curt Schilling, of the 2001 World Series. (Johnson earned the Game 7 victory over the Yankees as a reliever.)
“I had to think with my head and my heart, not just my heart,” Johnson said. “I played longer in Seattle and won a few more games there, and if I could wear two emblems on that plaque, I’d wear Seattle’s and Arizona’s. But I need to represent one of those teams, and I just felt like my body of work was greater in Arizona.
“But I had so much fun in Seattle. I learned how to pitch and grew up learning how to play the game by bonding with Ken Griffey Jr., Jay Buhner, Edgar Martinez, Omar Vizquel, Dan Wilson and many others. Those were some of the fondest memories of my career.”
It was in Seattle where Johnson rediscovered his longtime passion for photography. A photojournalism major at USC, Johnson put his camera equipment away after the Montreal Expos selected the 6-foot-10 lefty in the second round of the 1985 draft. He needed to focus on other things, such as the strike zone.
Johnson’s inability to consistently locate his world-class fastball frustrated the Expos, who traded him to the Mariners in a 1989 package deal for Mark Langston. That Johnson was almost 26 when he arrived in Seattle underscores his remarkable transformation from raw power pitcher into corner-painting artist.
Although not known as a pillar of durability — by the time he retired, he’d endured four back surgeries, and three knee surgeries — Johnson never had elbow or shoulder problems. When his back allowed him to be in concert with his mind, he was a workhorse who defied the notion of protective pitch counts.
“I became a better pitcher, and understood what it took to be a good pitcher, when I was in a situation where I was tired and the game was on the line,” he said. “I’d tell myself, ‘I’ve thrown 125 pitches and I’m sucking fumes and I don’t have much left in the tank, now I have to get out of this inning.’
“Your body will get used to the workload. Your body will dictate what you can and can’t do.”
Johnson’s opinions on how baseball organizations are discouraging pitchers from going deep into their starts sound like speech fodder, but he’ll have to save them for a rainy day elsewhere. There are many people deserving recognition Sunday, everybody from the policeman who introduced Johnson to the game — his late father, Bud — to fellow Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, the opponent who became a mentor.
“He was just pitching,” Ryan once said of his friend, “and not doing a lot of thinking.”
Johnson evolved into a thinking pitcher and a thinking man. He wants to photograph the induction ceremony from a first-person perspective because, as he put it, “access always leads to more interesting pictures.”
He also plans to photograph several keepsakes inside the Hall of Fame, which the museum eventually will display during a year-long exhibit.
But that’s for later. The immediate task is to reflect on a baseball career of unique complexity — the smiles, the frowns, the ups, the downs – in 11 minutes.
If Randy Johnson is only half as prepared for his remarks as he was for any of his 603 starting assignments, he will do fine. But in case he needs encouragement, there’s this:
Commemorating a Civil War battlefield on Nov. 19, 1863, Abraham Lincoln delivered the most eloquent speech the world has ever heard. It lasted two minutes.
10 THINGS ABOUT RANDY JOHNSON
1 Pitching Triple Crowns. In 2002, went 24-5, 2.32 ERA with 334 strikeouts for Arizona, leading the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts.
2 Rank, all-time in strikeouts with 4,875.
3 Times leading the league in walks (1990, 1991, 1992).
4 Times leading the league in ERA (1995, 1999, 2001, 2002).
5 Cy Young Awards (1995, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002).
6 Teams played for (Montreal, Seattle, Houston, Arizona, New York Yankees, San Francisco).
7 Postseason wins.
8 Seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
9 Times leading the league in strikeouts (1992-1995, 1999-2002, 2004).
10 Times picked to the All-Star team (1990, 1993-1995, 1997-2002, 2004).
RANDY JOHNSON TIMELINE
June 9, 1985 Signed with the Montreal Expos after being drafted in the second round.
Sept. 15, 1988 Made his major league debut, earning the win vs. the Pittsburgh Pirates.
May 25, 1989 Traded by the Expos to the Mariners with Gene Harris and Brian Holman for Mark Langston and a player to be named (Mike Campbell).
June 2, 1990 Pitched the first no-hitter in Mariners history.
Oct. 2, 1995 Pitched a complete-game victory over the Angels in a one-game playoff to lift the Mariners into the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
September 1996 Underwent back surgery after pitching in 14 games.
July 31, 1998 Traded by the Mariners to the Houston Astros for Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen and a player to be named (John Halama).
Nov. 4, 2001 Named co-MVP of the World Series with Arizona teammate Curt Schilling, leading the Diamondbacks to a 4-3 series win over the New York Yankees. Johnson was 3-0 with 19 strikeouts in 171/3 innings in the series.
2002 Won his fifth Cy Young Award after leading the National League in wins, ERA and strikeouts.
May 18, 2004 Pitched the 17th perfect game in history.
Oct. 4, 2009 Pitched an inning for the San Francisco Giants in his last major league appearance.
Jan. 7, 2015 Elected to the Hall of Fame by obtaining 97.3 percent of the votes. It was the eighth-highest percentage of any enshrined player.
BIG UNIT OF MEASURE
A look at how pitcher Randy Johnson stacks up on the all-time and Seattle Mariners rankings.
303 / 22nd
130 / 3rd
4,875 / 2nd
2,162 / 1st
3.29 / 294th
3.42 / 3rd
1.17 / 94th
1.25 / 3rd
4,1351/3 / 38th
1,838.3 / 3rd
603 / 21st
266 / 3rd
100 / 399th
51 / 2nd
37 / 57th
19 / 1st
1,497 / 13th
884 / 1st