Randy Johnson has made a living on scaring the living poo out of people—including myself.
His 6-foot-10 frame makes his stride stretch seemingly into the batter’s box. His arm looks like a medieval catapult.
Johnson’s scowl makes Simon Cowell look nice, his mullet makes Barry Melrose look like Tom Cruise, his fastball makes birds look…well, pulverized.
All that, plus a flat out ability to pitch, adds up to five Cy Young Awards, the second-most career strikeouts with 4,842, a no-hitter and perfect game, 10 All-Star appearances and even a World Series championship.
But it’s Johnson’s mentality that has the 45-year-old lefty on the verge of being just the 24th pitcher to ever reach 300 wins entering Wednesday’s doubleheader.
The man has always been out to get everybody. In short, he’s an absolute bully.
Here’s my example.
In the Summer of 2006, as an intern reporter for MLB.com covering the New York Yankees, I was there for perhaps Johnson’s worst year.
He didn’t seem to intimidate many batters by then. It was partly because of injuries that had a hand in him losing his 100 mph fastball and the sharp bite on his trademark slider. He was learning to reinvent himself in an environment as patient as a hungry two-year-old.
Johnson was suddenly forced to be clean cut and had lost some of that mystique, thus seemingly empowering the batters he faced. Now, it was their time to get back at him after years of tormenting.
However, there was no doubt that the Big Unit still scared the pants off the media, including yours truly.
Mentally, he was still as daunting as ever and I believe that's what has made him special even past his prime.
Few reporters bothered Johnson unless it was after a game. And then, win or lose, you better tread lightly. Therefore, as an intern, I got the distinction of previewing Johnson’s Sept. 16, 2006 start against the Boston Red Sox.
Johnson had struggled against the Red Sox earlier in the year, going 2-1 with a 6.89 ERA in three starts. He had surrendered a total of 17 runs (12 earned) in 15 2/3 innings. I came into the interview with the angle of seeing if he planned on changing anything this time around.
Here’s the conversation to the very best of my memory. Imagine mumbling and stuttering in the questions and very quick, forceful answers.
Me: Hi Randy. Do you have time for a few questions?
Randy: Yeah, but you’ve got to make it quick.
Me: Ok, I’m writing a preview for the Red Sox game and I’m wondering if you’re planning on changing anything this time around against them?
Randy: What do you mean?
Me: Well, I noticed you haven’t had your best games against them this year so I was wondering if you’re planning on changing your approach this time or what you’ll do different.
Randy: Go check your facts, then you can come as me a question.
Me: Well, actually I did. (knees shaking, voice quivering) I have them written right here in my notebook.
Randy: Well tell me what they are then.
Me: Ok. Well on May 9th you allowed seven runs, two earned, in 3 2/3 innings. On May 24 you allowed five earned in five innings. On August 19 you allowed five earned in seven innings.
Randy: What do you expect? You want me to throw a no-hitter every time?
Me: No, I don’t care what you do. I just want you to answer the question.
That was the end of that—and my shorts.
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