BY: ED COLE
GLENDALE, Ariz. – On a day where Randy Johnson shared the stage with three other fantastic baseball players, and they all shared their Hall of Fame induction speeches, Johnson made his all about everyone else and not him.
Johnson reached baseball immortality on Sunday, along with Craig Biggio, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz, as he and they were officially inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
Johnson’s resumé speaks for itself: He pitched for 22 years with six different teams (Expos, Mariners, Astros, Diamondbacks (twice), Yankees, Giants), he led the league in strikeouts nine times, he earned four ERA titles, he was named to 10 All-Star Games, he won five Cy Young awards, he won one World Series title with Arizona, and his 10.61 strikeouts per nine innings rank first all-time.
None of that really mattered to Johnson on Sunday, because he wouldn’t have achieved any of that, and he wouldn’t have been on that stage in Cooperstown, N.Y., if it weren’t for the love and support of his family, friends, teammates and the diehard fans.
“I never thought I would be on this stage, (in) baseball’s greatest fraternity,” Johnson said. “It’s humbling to look behind me and see the best to have ever played this game.”
Johnson gave thanks to each and every organization that gave him a chance along the way in his 44 years of playing the game of baseball. He started out playing Little League baseball in Livermore, Calif., at age seven, and now look at where he is.
He thanked the Expos for giving him his first shot, to which he says he’ll always be “indebted.” He thanked the Mariners for the “lean years” they had there, which helped him build up his confidence and his winning attitude. He thanked the Astros, for what was the “best two months of my career.”
And then he got to the Diamondbacks, which is the team he’s prominently representing at the Hall of Fame.
Johnson talked about Valley sports icon Jerry Colangelo, and the influence he had on him once he was a free agent and he was deciding on where to go to next after his time in Houston. The Diamondbacks were only a year old at the time of Johnson’s signing. Coming off a 10-1, 1.28 ERA season with the Astros in 1998, combined with the numbers Johnson put up with the Mariners over the course of a decade, he could’ve had his choice of any number of teams to play for, but Colangelo convinced him that the Diamondbacks were the right team for him to play for, and he was absolutely right, because in two short years, Johnson and the Diamondbacks would beat the New York Yankees in the World Series, in quite improbable fashion, in seven games, and capture Phoenix’s first major world championship.
“He (Colangelo) had a vision for that baseball team (Diamondbacks) in Arizona; I bought into it, and he believed in me,” Johnson said.
“Those were some very memorable moments there in Arizona,” Johnson said. “I’m so grateful for everybody I played with, and the franchise.”
After recognizing and thanking the Yankees and Giants, he got to the heart of his speech, which was thanking the members of our military, who are serving abroad in our defense, followed by his family.
Johnson’s been on seven USO tours since he retired from baseball six years ago. Each and every tour he’s been on has helped Johnson gain a much stronger perspective on what our men and women in uniform do to protect us on a second-by-second basis every day.
“It means a lot for me to see our men and women do what they do for us,” Johnson said. “We wouldn’t be here without the sacrifice for our men and women who protect our country.”
Johnson moved from his extended family – the troops – to his immediate family. He started by thanking his father, who passed away in 1992 on Christmas Day. Johnson’s father saw him throw Seattle’s first ever no-hitter on June 2, 1990 against the Detroit Tigers.
Johnson says his father was impressed, but he still had some slight criticisms of his game.
“I gave him a call, but he said it was far from perfect; I’d walked seven batters,” Johnson said. “13, 14 years later, I was perfect Dad that one game.” Johnson was referring to the perfect game he threw with the Diamondbacks in Atlanta, Ga., against the Braves on May 18, 2004.
Johnson recalled the days growing up, when he would take a tennis ball and throw it against the garage door at their home.
“My dad would come out after about a half hour with a hammer, put the hammer down and say, ‘When you’re done playing catch against the wall, make sure you pound all those nails in,’” Johnson said.
Even more memorable that, Johnson’s father would come after his shift at the police station, and watch him pitch in high school.
“I’ve never forgotten those moments,” Johnson said.
Johnson clearly developed his work ethic by seeing how his parents went to work every day and made a living to support Johnson and his five siblings, of which he’s the youngest. He thanked his mother for her tireless efforts on the job at General Electric for a quarter-century, which helped put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads for all those years.
“Thank you Mom; you’re the Hall of Famer,” Johnson said.
He thanked his three sisters and two brothers for looking out for “their little brother along the way.”
As hard as it is being a baseball player, it’s even harder on a player’s family, because they’re gone so much during the season, and a disconnect can grow if it’s not handled properly.
Johnson didn’t have to worry about that, because his wife, Lisa, made sure the Johnson household was in check when Randy was working. It’s not an easy thing raising four children when your husband is gone so much, but she did and Johnson will forever be grateful to her for keeping the home together.
“There’s no accomplishments that I achieved that would ever outweigh anything that you could ever do in life,” Johnson said. “I’m so blessed and happy that I’m watching you guys grow up and become young adults.”
Johnson’s 300th win wasn’t an easy one to get. It was June 5, 2009; Johnson was with the Giants, and they were in Washington, D.C., taking on the Nationals, and the weather wasn’t the best that day, which put a little bit of a damper on the celebration, but not too much.
For Johnson, it was more about watching his son’s reaction to his dad earning a milestone achievement. He was the Giants’ batboy that day at Nationals Park.
“We were getting closer to the finish of the game, (and) he was standing on the top step. As soon as the last out was made, I watched his emotions. That’s what I took from that game that day,” Johnson said. “Winning the 300th game was great, but watching how emotional my son was, was even better.”
In typical Randy Johnson fashion, he wrapped his nearly 18 minute speech by thanking someone whom he’s never met – Zach Farmer, who’s battling leukemia. Farmer – who pitched for Ohio State University – just wanted to reach out to Johnson and talk to him.
In Johnson’s wonderful and humble way, he gave Farmer all the encouragement he’d need to continue fighting the good fight.
“Zach, I love you. I’ve never met you before, but hang in there,” Johnson said.