Why Randy Johnson Was a Near Unanimous Hall of Fame Choice
It should be noted that Randy Johnson did not become a full-time Major League starter until he was 25 years old.
Consider that for a moment. Randy Johnson, who on Tuesday was one of four players elected to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame (joining Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, and Craig Biggio), finished his career with 303 wins, 4,875 strikeouts, 603 games started, and 100 complete games. He accumulated all those stats and didn't become a full-time starter until he was 25.
That should tell you all you need to know about the greatness of Randy Johnson.
Johnson had it all. He had an incredible peak from 1990-2004 when he won five Cy Young Awards (four straight from 1999-2002) and finished runner-up three other times, made 10 All-Star teams, and averaged 267 strikeouts a season with a 2.98 ERA. And this all happened during the peak of the steroid era in baseball.
He accumulated all the counting stats one could ask for thanks to incredible career longevity. He had the heroic postseason success. And he pitched a no-hitter and perfect game.
He was as easy a candidate as you can get, yet Johnson was named on 97.3% of the ballots cast this year. So for the 2.7% who decided not to put him anywhere on their ballots, there is a wet noodle ready for you to be smacked with at your convenience.
The lanky left-hander with the high-90s heater and devastating slider made him perhaps the greatest left-handed pitcher the game has ever seen. He was originally drafted by the Montreal Expos in the second round in 1985. He was traded to Seattle for Mark Langston, a deal Montreal would probably rather have back.
Johnson played 10 years for Seattle, going 130-74 with a 3.42 ERA in 266 career starts, 51 of which were complete games (19.1%). In 1990, he threw his first career no-hitter against the Detroit Tigers. After a decade with the Mariners, he was traded to the Houston Astros at the 1998 trade deadline, as Seattle knew they wouldn't be able to re-sign him.
He went 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA in 11 starts for a Houston team that won 102 games in '98. That offseason, he signed a four-year, $52.4 million contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Johnson won those Cy Young awards from 1999-2002, during which he led the league in ERA three times, struck out 12.4 batters per nine innings, pitched 31 complete games in 139 starts (an incredible 22.3%), averaged 354 strikeouts a season, and helped bring his team a World Series victory in 2001, going 3-0 with a 1.04 ERA in the Fall Classic, including the final 1.1 innings after pitching 7 innings in Game 6 the day before.
He did all this, by the way, in his age 35-38 seasons.
At age 40, he became the oldest pitcher in league history to throw a perfect game. He would go on to finish his career with two seasons with the Yankees in which the accumulation of innings and his age started to take its toll, eventually finishing his career with a second stint back in Arizona before his final season in the bullpen with the San Francisco Giants at age 45.
Among left-handed starting pitchers with at least 1,000 innings, Johnson outpaces all others in virtually every category.
Johnson finished with the second-highest wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference (bWAR), among all lefties in MLB history. He had far and away the most strikeouts, the fourth-highest ERA+ (a number that adjusts a pitcher's ERA based on the type of park they pitched in and the league average ERA for that player's career), and of course, the magical 300-plus wins (I always get a little nostalgic for pitcher's wins when talking about the Hall of Fame).
The Big Unit also has the most strikeouts per nine (10.6) of any pitcher in Major League history with at least 1,000 innings pitched, and only one pitcher has more career strikeouts than Unit's 4875: Nolan Ryan.
So, for the 2.7% of the voters who did not see fit to put Randy Johnson on their Hall of Fame ballot, consider yourselves chastised. The Big Unit will go down as perhaps the greatest left-handed pitcher the game has ever seen and put together a career that is unlikely to ever be matched.
Congratulations Randy Johnson, and thanks for the memories.