On the eve of Randy Johnson potentially becoming baseball’s 24th 300-game winner, I had the privilege to put together the thoughts of three former players...Gary DiSarcina, Doug Glanville and Brian McRae.
JM: Each of you had varied success against Johnson. Is there a certain at-bat that sticks out in your mind?
GD: I remember my first at-bat in the one-game playoff in Seattle (in 1995). I was hitting second behind Tony Phillips. Tony struck out, and as we walked past each other...he told me that I better get my ass ready to hit because Randy's fastball was unhittable. The first pitch Randy threw me was a fastball in for a called strike. The ball came in looking like a blur, and it actually made a sound when it passed by me...sound like a "fffffffffttttttttt." It was the first time I ever heard a ball make a sound when I was hitting. RJ was absolutely untouchable that day.
BM: I don't really remember any one at-bat, (but) when you looked ahead to who you'd be facing in a few days and saw Randy Johnson's name, you wanted to make sure you got your hits a few days before you saw him.
DG: I think the at-bat that sticks out in my mind was my first time I faced him in spring training when he was with Seattle. He was coming off of back surgery, and as a young player, I hadn’t even been in the big leagues yet. I saw my name in the lineup against Johnson, and I almost had a heart attack. But I grounded out in the first at-bat...then I hit a triple to right-center. I had arrived!
JM: Each of you hit a home run off of Johnson. What can you tell me about that hit?
GD: It was in the Kingdome, and it was a close game. I think we were losing by a couple of runs, and I led off the inning late in the game. He had me down to an 0-2 count, and he threw a slider that didn't slide but stayed in the middle of the plate. I hit a line drive into the left center gap that just made it over the wall for a home run. It was a good feeling to hit a home run against any pitcher, since I hit so few, but to hit it off a quality pitcher like Randy made it extra special.
DG: Funny enough, I thought I would match up well against Johnson after I hit against him a few times. I always liked power pitchers, even though he had finesse to go with it. I hit him well, and for a while there were a couple of pitches he threw that I just missed that I thought, “I could hit a home run off of him one day.” So on one of the easiest swings I took against him, the ball went out. Nothing like putting a legend in “the book.”
BM: It was an inside-the-park job...nothing special.
JM: As a fan, you hear sometimes about a pitcher “tipping” his pitches. Did Johnson ever do this?
BM: We never picked up anything, but it wouldn't have mattered much if we knew what he was throwing.
GD: We did know that he tipped his pitches. His glove would be squeezed tighter when he would throw his fastball, and his glove would be flared open when he threw his slider or changeup. It didn't really matter to the right-handed hitters, but the left-handed hitters in our lineup liked to know when his slider was coming so they wouldn't bail on it.
DG: There were many times that we actually knew what was coming by the way he changed his glove. To give you a sense of how dominant he was in his prime, you still couldn’t hit him because he could spot the ball so well and, of course, 100 miles per hour is 100 miles per hour. He also does not get a lot of credit for his intelligence on the mound. He had fantastic control, and if a pitch wasn’t working well early in the game, he would move to another part of his selection. By adding a split or even some sort of curve...drove you crazy.
JM: Lastly, how would you rank Johnson overall?
DG: He was probably the best I ever faced, even though I had success against him. (He was) the ultimate combination of power, control, planning, adaptation. It is hard to choose one “best,” but he is going to get a lot of votes from me.
BM: Best left-handed pitcher I faced. The best pitcher I faced was Pedro Martinez. I had good numbers against him too!
GD: RJ was definitely in the top five of toughest pitchers I have ever faced. He was right up there with Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, and Pedro Martinez. I have a lot of respect for Randy and his ability to still be pitching at his age. I enjoy watching him compete against kids almost half his age and still dominate against them. He was one of the fiercest competitors I have ever faced, and he brought the best out of everyone he faced. One of the things that surprised me about him was the command he had of all his pitches. I am also impressed with his desire to battle through so many serious injuries and rehab his way back into the starting rotation of a big league team. He is a surefire Hall of Famer, and it will be a well-deserved honor for him when he is elected into Cooperstown.
Gary DiSarcina is a veteran of 12 major league seasons...all with the California and/or Anaheim Angels. He was an All-Star in 1995 and carried a .224 batting average against Johnson. In 2005, he was inducted into the UMass Athletic Hall of Fame. Currently, DiSarcina is the manager of the Lowell Spinners of the New York-Penn League.
Doug Glanville was a first round draft pick of the Chicago Cubs in 1991. In nine major league seasons, he managed a .293 batting average against the 6’10” lefty. Glanville is currently a consultant with Baseball Factory, a high-school player development program. He writes guest columns for the New York Times on baseball and sports in general.
Brian McRae is a second-generation player, having followed in the footsteps of his father...Hal McRae. In 1992, they became the fourth father-son combination to serve as manager and player. McRae carries a .162 lifetime batting average against “The Big Unit.” McRae currently finds himself in and out of the broadcast booth as part owner of WHB 810 AM in Kansas City.
Read more from Jesus over at The Hall of Very Good.