(Ed. note: weekend guy 310toJoba contributes a special remembrance of baseball's newest entrant to the world of assisted living. Please to enjoy.)
Nineteen hundred and eighty-eight was decisively a year that changed the baseball world. This has very little to do with the fact that I was born in 1988, but rather, that was the year that Randall David Johnson made his big league debut for the Montreal Expos at the age of 24. The line for Johnson from that very first game wouldn't cause anybody to turn their heads, but twenty-one years later, the world probably has a severe case of whiplash from some of the awe-inspiring things the newly-retired Randy Johnson did whilst on the mound.
I was born in 1988, but I didn't really start watching baseball until 1995. By then, the man who would come to be known as the Big Unit already had four All Star games under his belt and was in the midst of a season wherein he would go 18-2 and walk away with his first Cy Young award. Even though I started watching at age 7, I didn't really begin to have a "global" cognizance of the baseball world until right around 2005. Sure, I would follow the Yankees religiously and I had a sense of who the truly great players were but I didn't have the attentiveness to stats and other teams' rosters that I do now. It just so happens that the spread of my attention to the greater whole of baseball happened just a little too late. You see, I knew Randy Johnson and his wild mane were good, and that he was someone you didn't want your team facing in a must-win game because of what he had done to the Yankees in 1995, but I never really understood how good he truly was until what seems like yesterday. The years just prior to my growing adoration of MLB were without a doubt some of the most dominant years by a single pitcher in the history of the game. Shame on me.
These are Johnson's strikeout totals from 1998-2002: 329, 364, 347, 372, 334. I just don't know what to say, and I feel like this in itself is a testament to the greatness of Randy Johnson. Those are video game numbers that a mere mortal put up on a consistent basis. How do you hit someone like that? Clearly, you don't, as so many major league hitters and one unfortunate bird found out the hard way. Johnson's gaudy ability to make opponents look foolish during this same span was recognized by a jaw-dropping four straight Cy Young awards from 1999-2002. Only one other pitcher has done that in his career, and that was Greg Maddux from 1992-1995, but what's really remarkable about this accomplishment is that the Big Unit did it in his late freakin' thirties! In an age of pitch counts and primadonna pitchers with innings limits, the only thing more impressive than Johnson's mug's assault on the advent of high-def television was his liberal thrashings of any team that got in his way.
You'd think that would be all for Johnson, that there was no way he could add anything else to an already distinguished resume. I would have thought so, and I would have been dead wrong. At the tender age of 40, Johnson twirled a perfect game and finished second in the Cy Young voting. This was, unfortunately, the last time the baseball world saw the vintage Big Unit. Johnson was traded to NY (wherein he gave people yet another endearing memory of him) and struggled for two seasons before heading back to the friendlier confines of the National League where he capped his career in 2009 by winning his 300th game.
Is he a unanimous first-ballot Hall of Famer? I think he is, but who knows how Jon Heyman will screw this one up. Either way, his retirement marks the end of one of the greatest pitching careers of the modern era and I'm more than a bit embarrassed over the fact that I didn't pay closer attention to it.