Randy Johnson’s election into the Hall of Fame brings to mind his mentor, the man whose advice and guidance transformed a spindly southpaw with few clues on how to control a 100 mph fastball into the greatest left-hander of all time.
Nolan Ryan broke in with the New York Mets, achieved prominence as a swing-and-miss strikeout pitcher for the Angels and Astros, and retired from the Rangers. Do you know which team’s logo is on the cap of his Hall of Fame plaque?
Here’s something to remember: During eight seasons with the Angels, Ryan went to five All-Star Games, led the league seven times in strikeouts, and threw four no-hitters.
Here’s something else to remember: During nine seasons with the Astros, Ryan won the only two ERA crowns of his career.
The team Ryan chose to represent?
If this is surprising to you, you’re not alone. I, too, was surprised when I searched for an image of Ryan’s Hall of Fame plaque Tuesday and found a “T” on his cap.
That Ryan’s decision to be enshrined as a Rangers pitcher isn’t common knowledge raises a point: There are more pressing issues to argue than Hall of Fame plaque team logos.
Still, Johnson’s choice of a team with which he wishes to be primarily associated looms as still another controversy for somebody whose career was full of them.
While I don’t begrudge those eager for debate, I fear the question — Seattle vs. Arizona? — will probe at delicate emotional wounds between the Mariners and Johnson that took more than a decade to heal. But they have been healed: In 2012, the guy who once was eager to bolt Seattle was welcomed into the Hall of Fame of an organization that once couldn’t wait for him to leave.
The Mariners emphasize all things family, and hokey as it sounds, Johnson is part of the family. Nine minutes after the election results were announced Tuesday, the team sent out a six-paragraph statement from chairman and chief executive officer Howard Lincoln.
Lincoln noted that while Johnson officially debuted with the Montreal Expos, he “began his ascent to the Hall of Fame” with the Mariners.
Continued Lincoln: “No one who watched this fierce competitor dominate during his decade in Seattle — including his wins in Game 3 and, on one day rest, Game 5 of the 1995 Division Series vs. New York — had any doubt of him taking his rightful place in the Hall of Fame today.
“We will watch with pride as Randy is inducted into Cooperstown this summer.”
There is plenty to support the case for Johnson’s induction as a Mariner. He spent 10 seasons with Seattle (compared with eight in Arizona), won 130 games with Seattle (compared to 118 with Arizona), and struck out 2,162 batters with Seattle (compared to 2,077 with Arizona).
Johnson pitched his first no-hitter with the 1990 Mariners, enjoyed his first breakthrough season with the 1993 Mariners, and won his first Cy Young Award with the 2005 Mariners. Of his 10 All-Star Game appearances, five were made in a Mariners uniform.
But there is more to support the case for Johnson’s induction as a Diamondback, such as those four consecutive Cy Young Awards, and co-MVP honors of the 2001 World Series — Arizona beat the Yankees, thanks to Johnson’s relief work in Game 7 — and the perfect game he threw at the preposterous age of 40.
The choice of a cap logo, by the way, won’t necessarily be made by Johnson. Amid rumors former Red Sox star Wade Boggs had signed a career-concluding contract with the then-Devil Rays on the promise he would choose a Tampa Bay cap for his plaque, the Hall of Fame took the right to have final say in 2001.
Johnson will be consulted, as were one-time Expos teammates Andre Dawson and Gary Carter. Dawson wanted a Cubs logo, Carter wanted a Mets logo. They’re both Expos in the Hall of Fame.
A compromise for Johnson would be a no-logo cap, seen on the plaques of several players and managers from the early 20th century and Negro Leagues. More recently, pitcher Greg Maddux, torn between the Cubs and the Braves, chose to go with the blank look, as did manager Tony La Russa, who won World Series championships with the A’s and the Cardinals.
If Johnson concludes the bulk of his Hall of Fame portfolio was put together with the Diamondbacks, and chooses an “A” over an “S” for his plaque, Mariners fans should understand. History can be repaired, but it can’t be rewritten.
Personally? The logo doesn’t matter to me. I saw Randy Johnson trudge toward the Kingdome mound as a reliever in the deciding game of the 1995 Division Series, and I saw him deliver the ceremonial first pitch before the 2010 season opener at Safeco Field.
During the 15 years between those electrifying moments, there was a lot of anger on both sides. Then everybody chilled, handshakes begat hugs, and now he’s a Seattle Mariners icon, part of the family.
No letter on a bronze plaque can change that.