clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

2015 Hall Of Fame Ballot: Randy Johnson

New, 9 comments

A look back at a glittering career and how it intersected with the New York Yankees.

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Career Statistics: 4135.1 IP, 603 GS, 10.61 K/9, 3.26 BB/9, 3.19 FIP, 111.7 fWAR (5th among pitchers all-time)

Years Active: 1988 - 2009

Position: Left-handed starting pitcher

Time on the Ballot: First

Hall of Fame ballots are, of course, filled with exceptional players, but even by that measure the 2015 edition is special. A combination of a strong rookie class and a backlog of talented resumes has left a list so distinguished that many reasonable voters will struggle to pare down their ballots to just the maximum ten names. This series will take a look at some of the more notable players on the ballot this year and their connections to the New York Yankees. We start with Randy Johnson, who will be making his first appearance on the ballot this year.

For over two decades the 6'10 Randy Johnson towered over major league mounds as one of the tallest players in league history. With a blazing fastball that topped out over 100 mph (and a slider that carried into the 90s), he intimidated batters–and birds–from 1988 as a young and wild Montreal Expo, all the way to 2009 when he closed out his career with the Giants. It was the years in between though, that earned 'the Big Unit' his spot on the Hall of Fame ballot.

Traded by the Expos to the Seattle Mariners in 1989, Johnson continued to struggle with control, leading the American League in walks three times and hit batsmen twice in his first four full seasons after the trade. His talent earned him the time to figure himself out at the big league level however, and by 1995 he was an American League Cy Young winner. Johnson had firmly established himself as one of the league's best starting pitchers by the middle of the 1998 season where the combination of an expiring contract and a Mariner team, clearly out of contention, led to him being traded to the Houston Astros. His second half with the Astros was good enough to get him a top-10 place in the National League Cy Young race despite spending just two months in the NL. Johnson parleyed his strong finish into a four-year, 52.4 million dollar contract with the second-year franchise Arizona Diamondbacks, making it look like an incredible bargain when he then proceeded to win the NL Cy Young award in each of those four years. Not to mention being a part of some postseason success in 2001.

"Here comes the big fella"

Brett Musberger, ABC broadcasting crew - 1995 ALDS Game 5

Through the '90s and into the aughts, the Yankees had become far more acquainted with the Big Unit then any player or fan might have liked. First there was the 1995 AL Division Series, where the Yankees took a 2-0 lead at Yankee Stadium before running into Johnson in Seattle. The Mariners had home advantage but in 1995, the division series was played in the 2–3 format as opposed to the more familiar 2–2–1. It wasn't a vintage performance from the Cy Young winner, but it was good enough for a 7–4 victory. The Mariners then went on to win game four and in the decider game five, Randy Johnson came out of the bullpen in extra innings on only two days of rest. He threw a scoreless ninth and 10th before he allowed a run in the 11th. He would have taken the loss, but Edgar Martinez, another member of the 2015 ballot, came through with a dramatic walk-off double to win the series and hand Johnson his second win in three games.

The Yankees recovered well from the '95 ALDS heartbreaker though, winning four of the next five World Series before running into Randy Johnson again in game seven of the 2001 World Series. After Alfonso Soriano hit his would-be series-winning home run, Johnson came in for the ninth to shut the Yankees down. He kept Arizona in the game after pitching the night before and gave the Diamondbacks their chance to make a comeback against Mariano Rivera.

By 2005, the Yankees had enough and decided to trade Javier VazquezBrad Halsey and Dioner Navarro to the Diamondbacks to acquire the man that had burned them many times in the past. Randy Johnson was a Yankee for two seasons, winning 34 games behind historically high-powered lineups. However, he seemed to struggle with the media attention in New York and didn't pitch to the admittedly high expectations during either postseason. His struggles with his back, especially in 2006 when his ERA ballooned to an unsightly 5.00, didn't help and, ultimately, the Yankees traded Randy Johnson back to the Diamonbacks ahead of the 2007 season. Johnson pitched a final two years in Arizona before seeing out his career with San Francisco, where he earned his 300th career win.

As underwhelming as Randy Johnson was with the Yankees, his overall body of work was legendary. That strikeouts per-nine innings number of 10.61 would indicate an impressive season for a reliever in the strikeout-crazed MLB of today. For a starting pitcher, whose 21-year career dates back into the 1980s, that is an astonishing career statistic and an incredible testament to Johnson's dominance on the mound. Randy Johnson was a pitcher without peer in the National League from the second half of 1998 right through the early 2000s. He should be a unanimous selection, if only because it is impossible that any reasonable baseball writer could look at his body of work and choose to not elect him. Now, of course, he won't be unanimous, but he will easily be admitted to the Hall in his first go-around.

Congratulations on an incredible career Randy Johnson.

Likely Cap if Elected: Arizona Diamondbacks