The Day Randy Made Doves Cry

The 2001 baseball season is probably my favorite of all time: while it was the height of artificially-enhanced offense, there was also plenty of highfalutin pitching around as well. Ten pitchers finished 2001 with a WAR above 5.0 (note: compared to only eight in 2015, where the consensus was pitching dominated the sport). The best of those 10 pitchers in 2001 (and everyone else) was Randy Johnson, aka, “The Big Unit.”

The Unit entered 2001 as a 37-year-old fireballer still firmly entrenched in his prime. Johnson was coming off back-to-back Cy Young seasons and leading an Arizona Diamondbacks team with the newly-acquired Curt Schilling (via trade at the 2000 deadline), forming the best 1-2 pitching combination in all of MLB. Needless to say, there were plenty of signs 2001 would be an unforgettable season. The first of those occurred 15 years ago Thursday.

On March 24th, in an exhibition game against the Giants, with Calvin Murphy at the plate and Rod Barajas catching, the Unit uncorked a fastball that was perfectly timed with the arrival of a single dove flying in front of home plate. The pitch killed the bird on contact and and an explosion of feathers erupted around home plate. Johnson was upset after the game and when asked about it, declined to make light of the situation. Unlike Dave Winfield, Johnson went unpunished for the accident and started on Opening Day for the D-Backs 10 days later.

While the bird died a rather unseemly death, things worked out just fine for Randy in ’01: he and Schilling combined for 43 wins, 665 strikeouts, and sub-2.80 ERAs, individually finishing 1-2 in each of the aforementioned categories for all of MLB as well as the Cy Young award. Johnson’s season was even more impressive as he notched 372 strikeouts in just under 250 innings, good enough for a K/9 inning rate of 13.4 (note: !!!!) while winning his third of four consecutive Cy Young awards. Oh yeah, he and Schilling also single-handedly won the World Series for the Diamondbacks, ending the last New York Yankee dynasty.

Like all good things, Randy’s career finally came to an end in 2009, whereupon he took up his new found passion, photography. The logo for “Randy Johnson Photography?” You guessed it: a dead bird.

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