Skip to main content
Select Source:

Johnson, Randy

Randy Johnson

1963-

American baseball player

Standing at least a head taller than most of his fellow players, Randy Johnson is one of the tallest players ever to play in Major League Baseball (MLB). At six feet, ten inches, Johnson's towering stature has earned him the nicknames "Big Unit" and "Big Bird." But it's not Johnson's height but his incredible pitching skills that have earned him the greatest fame. Johnson first won glory as baseball's "strikeout king." And he continues to hurl 100-mile-an-hour fastballs and sliders that confound batters, but he also boasts one of the best earned-run averages (ERAs) in MLB history. As compelling a force as

he is on the pitching mound, Johnson is surprisingly modest, avoiding the spotlight away from the game whenever possible. After nearly fifteen years in the game, Johnson was still going strong in the early years of the new millennium, driven by a quest for perfection. As he told AskMen.com, "The one thing that keeps me going is [that] I'm never content with anything. If I was to retire today, I'd like to think this was my best year. But I'd like to think [that] with hard work and determination, I could get better in certain categories." A five-time winner of the Cy Young Award, Johnson trails only Roger Clemens , a six-time winner. Johnson won the award four years in a row (1999, 2000, 2001, and 2002).

Born in Walnut Creek, California

He was born Randall David Johnson in Walnut Creek, California, on September 10, 1963. The son of Bud and Carol Johnson, he boasted a strong throwing arm as a boy but lacked ball control. To improve control, Johnson and his dad marked out a strike zone on the family's garage door. The young Johnson would hurl tennis balls at the door and later check to see how many balls had left their mark within the zone. When he was old enough, Johnson signed up to play in his local Little League but got off to a shaky start when he showed up late for his first game. To make matters worse, he could not locate his team and returned home in tears.

Things looked up for Johnson during his years at Livermore High School, where he developed into a star in two sportsbaseball and basketball. In basketball he twice led the East Bay Athletic League in scoring. It was in baseball, however, that Johnson truly made his mark. As a starting pitcher for the Livermore nine, he concluded his high school baseball career in a blaze of glory, pitching a perfect game at the end of his senior year. After graduating from Livermore High in 1982, Johnson went to the University of Southern California on a combined baseball-basketball scholarship. He played both sports his freshman and sophomore years but decided to focus exclusively on baseball his third year at USC.

Drafted by Montreal Expos in 1985

Johnson entered the Major League Baseball (MLB) draft in 1985 and was selected by the Montreal Expos in the second round. For the next three years he pitched for a number of minor league teams in the Expos' farm system. Late in the 1988 season, the Expos called Johnson up to the majors, where he did well for the remainder of the regular season, going 3-0 with an earned-run average (ERA) of 2.42. Despite his auspicious debut in major league ball, the next season was anything but promising for Johnson. After a dismal start to his 1989 season (an ERA of 6.67), Johnson was sent back to the minors by Montreal. Once again his problem was ball control. He walked twenty-six batters in twenty-nine innings. In late May 1989, the Expos traded Johnson to the Seattle Mariners. Johnson did better in Seattle but still posted a losing 7-9 record with an ERA of 4.40 for the remainder of the 1989 season.

Chronology

1963 Born September 10 in Walnut Creek, California
1982 Graduates from Livermore (CA) High School
1982-85 Attends University of Southern California
1985 Picked by Montreal Expos in second round of MLB draft
1988 Makes major league debut with Expos
1989 Traded by Expos to Seattle Mariners
1998 Traded by Mariners to Houston Astros
1999 Signs as a free agent with the Arizona Diamondbacks

Johnson showed improvement in 1990, going 14-11 with an ERA of 3.65. The highlight of his season was a 2-0 no-hitter he pitched against the Detroit Tigers. He also was tapped for his first All-Star Game, although he never got an opportunity to pitch. Although he turned in fairly creditable pitching records during the seasons of 1991 and 1992 with ERAs of 3.98 and 3.77, respectively, Johnson continued to be plagued by problems of ball control. Although he led the majors in strikeouts in 1992 with 241, he also led the majors in walks for the third consecutive season. Personal tragedy struck on Christmas Day 1992. As Johnson was flying home to spend the holidays with his parents, his father suffered a massive heart attack and died before Johnson could reach the hospital. In the wake of his father's death, he seriously considered leaving baseball. As he told an interviewer for Sport magazine, "Baseball meant so little. I enjoyed the thrill of telling my dad how good I was on a given night. When he passed away, I realized I had no one to call. Part of me had died too."

Grief Strengthens His Game

Johnson's mother convinced him not to leave baseball. To remind him of his father, he drew a cross and the word "Dad" on the palm of his glove. When troubled by feelings of weakness on the pitcher's mound, he would glance at these symbols. "My heart got bigger," Johnson told Sports Illustrated. "After my dad died, I was convinced I could get through anything. I don't use the word 'pressure' anymore. That's for what he [his father] went through. Life or death. I use the word 'challenge.' And I'll never again say, 'I can't handle it.' I just dig down deeper."

Johnson got help in overcoming his control problem from ace pitcher Nolan Ryan and Tom House, the pitching coach of the Texas Rangers. As a young pitcher, Ryan had experienced similar problems, and he saw a lot of himself in Johnson. The help from Ryan and House worked wonders, and in 1993 Johnson enjoyed his best season ever, going 19-8 with an ERA of 3.24. He tied an American record for left-handed pitchers when he struck out eighteen batters in a single game. The following year Johnson compiled an enviable 13-6 record with an ERA of 3.19 before a players' strike ended the season in August.

Career Statistics

Yr Team W L ERA GS CG SHO IP H R BB SO
ARI: Arizona Diamondbacks; HOU: Houston Astros; MON: Montreal Expos; SEA: Seattle Mariners.
1988 MON 3 0 2.42 4 4 0 26.0 23 7 7 25
1989 MON 0 4 6.67 6 0 0 29.7 29 22 26 26
SEA 7 9 4.40 22 2 0 131.0 70 64 70 104
1990 SEA 14 11 3.65 33 5 2 219.7 174 89 120 194
1991 SEA 13 10 3.98 33 2 1 201.3 151 89 152 228
1992 SEA 12 14 3.77 31 6 2 210.3 154 88 144 241
1993 SEA 19 8 3.24 34 10 3 255.3 185 92 99 308
1994 SEA 13 6 3.19 23 9 4 172.0 132 61 72 204
1995 SEA 18 2 2.48 30 6 3 214.3 159 59 65 294
1996 SEA 5 0 3.67 8 0 0 61.3 48 25 25 85
1997 SEA 20 4 2.28 29 5 2 213.0 147 54 77 291
1998 SEA 9 10 4.33 23 6 2 160.0 146 77 291 213
HOU 10 1 1.28 11 4 4 84.3 57 12 26 116
1999 ARI 17 9 2.48 35 12 2 271.7 207 75 70 364
2000 ARI 19 7 2.64 35 8 3 248.7 202 73 76 347
2001 ARI 21 6 2.49 34 3 2 249.7 181 69 71 372
2002 ARI 24 5 2.32 35 8 4 260.0 197 67 71 334
TOTAL 224 106 3.06 426 87 34 3008.3 2310 1023 1231 3746

Awards and Accomplishments

1982 Pitched perfect game in his last outing for Livermore High School
1990 Pitched no-hitter against the Detroit Tigers
1992 Led the major leagues in strikeouts
1993 Struck out 18 batters in a single game
1993-94 Led the major leagues in strikeouts
1995, 1999-2002 Cy Young Award
2001 Named Co-MVP of World Series

Related Biography: Pitching Coach Tom House

In the struggle to overcome his problems with ball control, Johnson got some valuable tips from world-famous pitching authority Tom House during the early 1990s. At the time House was pitching coach for the Texas Rangers. To show his gratitude for House's help, Johnson later wrote the foreword to House's Fit to Pitch, published by Human Kinetics in 1996.

House, who holds a Ph.D. in psychology, pitched professionally for the Atlanta Braves, Boston Red Sox, and Seattle Mariners between 1967 and 1979. He began his career as a pitching coach in 1980 and has worked in that capacity for the Houston Astros, San Diego Padres, Texas Rangers, and Japan's Chiba Lotte Marines. House is also the founder of Absolute Performance Group, which integrates sports science and sports technology with the health and fitness needs of the everyday individual. He travels extensively and serves as the information and instruction coordinator for twelve baseball academies across the United States and Canada.

Wins First Cy Young Award in 1995

In 1995 Johnson posted an 18-2 record with an ERA of 2.48, earning him his first Cy Young Award. Even more significantly, Johnson helped the Mariners make it to the playoffs where Seattle upset the New York Yankees in five games, largely on the strength of Johnson's brilliant relief performance in the fifth and deciding game. Sidelined by injury for most of 1996, Johnson bounced back in 1997 with a 20-4 record and an ERA of 2.28. After a mediocre start to his 1998 season with the Mariners, Johnson was traded by Seattle to the Houston Astros, where he posted an amazing record of 10-1 with an ERA of 1.28.

Despite Johnson's stunning success with the Astros, at season's end he became a free agent and signed to pitch for the Arizona Diamondbacks. It proved to be a marriage made in heaven. For the next four years, Johnson's incredible pitching earned him four consecutive Cy Young awards. His ERA for each of his first four years in Arizona never climbed higher than 2.64. In 2001 came what was for Johnson the brightest moment yet. Arizona made it into the playoffs, where Johnson compiled an astounding record of 5-1 with forty-seven strikeouts in forty-one innings. The Diamondbacks went on to win baseball's World Championship with a thrilling seventh-game victory over the New York Yankees in the World Series. Johnson and teammate Curt Schilling were named co-MVPs of the World Series.

When Johnson learned in early November 2002 that he'd earned his fourth consecutive Cy Young Award, he told the Associated Press: "I'm a very simple person. I work hard, and I push myself, and this is the reward. If you remain consistent and have a good year, it's kind of a bonus. This has come from maintaining consistency, hard work, and dedication, and my teammates being very supportive offensively, defensively, and in the bullpen."

CONTACT INFORMATION

Address: Randy Johnson, c/o Arizona Diamondbacks, P.O. Box 2095, Phoenix, AZ 85001. Phone: (602)462-6500.

SELECTED WRITINGS BY JOHNSON:

(With Tom House) Fit to Pitch, Human Kinetics, 1996.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Books

"Randy Johnson." Newsmakers, Issue 2. Detroit: Gale Group, 1996.

"Randy Johnson." Sports Stars, Series 1-4. UXL, 1994-98.

Periodicals

Baum, Bob. "Johnson Wins 4th Straight Cy Young." Associated Press (November 6, 2002).

"Johnson Captures Fourth Straight Cy Young Award." Reuters (November 5, 2002).

Other

"APG: Living Younger Longer." Absolute Performance Group. http://www.absoluteperformancegroup.com/tomhouse.htm (December 26, 2002).

"Randy Johnson." AskMen.com. http://www.askmen.com/men/sports//44_randy_johnson.html (December 23, 2002).

"Randy Johnson." Baseball-Reference.com. http://www.baseball-reference.com/j/johnsonra05.shtml (December 22, 2002).

Sketch by Don Amerman

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Johnson, Randy." Notable Sports Figures. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Johnson, Randy." Notable Sports Figures. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 16, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/sports/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/johnson-randy

"Johnson, Randy." Notable Sports Figures. . Retrieved December 16, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/sports/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/johnson-randy

Johnson, Randy

Randy Johnson (Randall David Johnson), 1963–, American baseball player, b. Walnut Creek, Calif. After pitching for the Univ. of Southern California, Johnson signed with the Montreal Expos in 1985, playing in the minors until he was called up in 1988. Traded to Seattle in 1989, the tall, skinny southpaw won 303 games during his career and struck out more than 4,875 batters (second all-time, behind Nolan Ryan), relying mainly on his fastball and slider. He won the Cy Young award in 1995, was traded to Houston in mid-1998, and played for Arizona beginning in 1999, when he won the first of four consecutive Cy Young Awards. In 2002 the Diamondbacks' "Big Unit" also scored a pitching Triple Crown, with a 24–5 record, 334 strikeouts, and a 2.32 earned run average. Traded to the New York Yankees prior to the 2005 season, Johnson returned to the Diamondbacks for 2007–8 and signed with the San Francisco Giants prior to 2009, his last season in the majors.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Johnson, Randy." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Johnson, Randy." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 16, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/johnson-randy

"Johnson, Randy." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved December 16, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/johnson-randy