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Tim Kurkjian’s Baseball Fix – Randy Johnson brought fear, real fear, to every hitter who stepped into the batter’s box

You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we’ll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.

ON THIS DATE IN 1990, Randy Johnson threw his first no-hitter.

At the Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 1999 featuring, among others, Nolan Ryan, I interviewed Ted Williams about what it would be like to face Ryan. Instead, for five minutes, Williams went in another direction, saying, “The guy I’d really like to face is Randy Johnson. Left-hander. That slider. Man, I’d love to try to hit that slider. And I would love to face someone that big. He’d be my biggest challenge. That’s why I’d love it.”

The full “On this date …” archive

That’s how good Randy Johnson was. His second no-hitter was a perfect game: He was the oldest pitcher (40) ever to throw a perfect game. He won five Cy Young Awards, including four in a row with the Arizona Diamondbacks; he finished second three times and third once. He won 303 games with a .646 winning percentage, he won four ERA titles and finished second to Ryan in career strikeouts. He was as dominant as any pitcher of his or of any era. He is at least in the conversation as the greatest left-handed pitcher of all time.

“A left-handed hitter could see his slider better than a right-handed hitter,” Tony Gwynn said.

“No left-handed hitter other than Tony wanted any part of that slider,” Adam Dunn said, laughing.

Johnson was legendary, all 6-foot-10 of him.

“He is so tall,” veteran coach Rich Donnelly once said, “he doesn’t have a pickoff move to second, he just reaches out and touches the runner.”

Johnson accidentally killed a dove with a pitch in a spring training game. He purposely threw over the head of John Kruk in the 1993 All-Star Game; Kruk patted his heart as if to keep it from beating out of his chest. In the 1997 All-Star Game, Larry Walker put his helmet on backward and got into the right-handed batter’s box. In the 2001 World Series against the Yankees, Johnson started Game 6, won it, then pitched in relief the next day in Game 7; from then on, the toughness in a pitcher would be measured by the Unit.

So many hitters, when listing their least favorite at-bats or their worst at-bats, mention Johnson. He might be the scariest and the most intimidating pitcher the game has ever seen. Jeff Huson, a former infielder and a left-handed hitter, once said, “What’s the worst thing that Michael Jordan can do to you? He can dunk on you. So what? What’s the worst thing Randy Johnson can do to you? He can kill you.”

Other baseball notes for June 2

  • In 1891, Old Hoss Radbourn won his 300th game. He made 502 starts in his career and completed 488 of them. It makes you wonder about the other 14.

  • In 1940, second baseman Horace Clarke was born. I heard Hall of Fame broadcaster Curt Gowdy say it a million times: Clarke became a switch-hitter because on the field where he played as a kid, when he hit from right side, he hit the ball into the ocean.

  • In 1938, Gene Michael was born. The master of the hidden-ball trick as a shortstop. I haven’t met many more astute baseball men than him.

  • In 1972, Raul Ibanez was born. He hit the most career homers (305) of anyone whose last name begins with I. He, Davey Lopes and Hank Sauer are the only non-pitchers to hit more home runs in their 40s than in their 20s. In order to make a major league roster in the mid-1990s, Ibanez took up catching so he could improve his value as an emergency catcher. He went to the minor leagues to learn the position. His first game behind the plate, he whiffed on the first pitch, a fastball. The ball hit the umpire directly in the chest protector. “What the hell are you doing?!” the umpire yelled at him. Ibanez told the umpire, “Sorry, I’ve never caught before.”

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