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‘What even is that pitch?’ An oral history of Kerry Wood’s 20-K day – Chicago Cubs Blog

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Editor’s note: This story originally ran on May 6, 2018 for the 20th anniversary of Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout game

It was an otherwise nondescript day. In fact, it was a forgettable one. Overcast and rainy, the Cubs were hosting the Houston Astros in an early May matinee. School was still in session, so just 15,758 fans were in attendance. How many stayed to see history is unknown, as the rain picked up throughout the day.

That didn’t stop 20-year-old Kerry Wood from a magical performance. He produced the highest game score in baseball history, posting a pitching line of 9 IP, 1 H, 0 BB, 20 K’s. He did it with a dynamic fastball and a slurve, which the Astros would call unhittable. Here are the memories of some of those involved, including Wood. Current Cubs pitchers Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks add their two cents as well after watching the highlights in arguably the greatest-pitched game in Wrigley Field history. It was May 6, 1998 — 20 years ago.

Kerry Wood: “I remember specifically having low energy that day. I don’t know why. Maybe it was a day game or the overcast skies. I was dragging at the ballpark. It wasn’t jumping right away, the way I wanted. I felt sluggish.”

Cubs manager Jim Riggleman: “I do remember him saying that after the fact. He didn’t have a great warm-up.”

Astros second baseman Craig Biggio: “Our minor league [scout] said, ‘Hey, he has a good fastball, OK curve and be patient with him.’ We watched him warm up, and it was like, ‘OK, no big deal.’ Then the game started, and the kid put on his Superman costume, and the next thing you know, he struck 20 of us out.”

Wood: “I was all over the place in warm-ups. I was erratic. Every other pitch in the bullpen, I was getting another ball because I was throwing it to the screen or bouncing it in. I didn’t throw one strike. The first pitch of the game, it didn’t change. I hit [plate umpire] Jerry Meals in the mask. I didn’t have the feel.”

Plate umpire Jerry Meals: “To this day, I don’t think I’ve ever had that happen again. It’s the first pitch of the game, so things start going through my head. ‘Is there something I need to be addressing? Is there some bad blood? How do you get crossed up on the first pitch? What the hell is going on here?'”

Wood: “I went to 2-0 on Craig Biggio, then struck out the side. I absolutely surprised myself. After the first I felt great, but I had zero of those feelings warming up.”

Biggio: “He had a nice, smooth delivery. The ball was electric. I could relate it to [Craig] Kimbrel. He’s got that ball where he throws it and it pops in the glove, and it’s heavy and hard and firm. He was on.”

Jon Lester: “In that game, it wasn’t a lot of long at-bats. You see a lot of swings-and-misses and takes, not a lot of foul balls. Nowadays, you know the spin rate and all this stuff, that would have been plus-plus. That’s the biggest thing, the way those pitches broke.”

After four innings, Wood had eight strikeouts. An infield hit by Astros shortstop Ricky Gutierrez ruined any chance of a no-hitter, but by then, he was locked in and thinking about a complete game.

Wood: “Bagwell’s second at-bat, I know I get to 3-1, and I throw hook-hook and buckle him back-to-back. After that, I knew I had a chance to finish this.”

Meals: “He had everything working. He had a good-hitting team just baffled. They were flailing on the breaking stuff and couldn’t catch up to the fastball.”

Kyle Hendricks: “The movement on his pitches was incredible. What even is that pitch [the slurve]? I don’t know how you snap that off. No clue. You can just see how much spin is being created. Those guys didn’t have a chance.”

Biggio: “We didn’t have the technology they have today. Now you know everything about a guy. What he throws, how hard and stuff like that. You got everything. And you can go look at your at-bats as the game is going on.”

Lester: “The only information you had back then was facing the guy.”

Riggleman: “Somewhere around his 13th strikeout, [third-base coach] Tom Gamboa said, ‘You know how many strikeouts he has?’ It became interesting. … I didn’t know 20 was a record.”

Meals: “The weather turned crappy in the sixth. The grounds crew did a good job.”

Wood: “My goal was not to walk anyone. That’s what I heard my whole minor league career and my short time in the big leagues: Just don’t walk anyone. In a 1-0 game, I was just focusing on not putting the tying run on base.”

Biggio: “We’re one swing away from tying the game, so we’re not thinking about the strikeouts. But when you go out there, you see the fans throwing up the K’s, and you’re like, ‘Holy shoot, how many strikeouts does this guy have?’ You start counting them up. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 … I think they ran out of K’s.”

During one stretch, Wood struck out five in a row looking.

Wood: “With two strikes maybe they thought I was trying to trick them with off-speed, so a lot of those fastballs were them not pulling the trigger, thinking off-speed.”

Hendricks: “The fastball is obviously electric. It rides up in the zone. A few of these breaking balls to a lefty, it goes up and in to him. The spin rate would have been unbelievable. It makes it more fun to watch, without all those stats on the screen.”

Biggio: “We had 102 wins that year. That was no weak lineup. He carved us up like we didn’t belong there.”

Riggleman: “This is probably a little bit of an indictment of everyone that managed in that period, I was probably thinking like 135 pitches for him. I have to let him try and finish this thing.

“I didn’t want to take him out with men on base. That’s when you give life to the other club. Maybe at the end of the inning. I’m not sure we ever got anyone up though.”

Wood: “Being from Texas and following Roger Clemens, I knew he had the major league record, but it’s not one of those numbers you think is attainable. … I didn’t know how hard I was throwing or how many pitches I had thrown. We didn’t have that back then.”

Riggleman: “There were games [in which] after six or seven [innings], he had 13 or 14 strikeouts, the pitch count was high, and we would take him out. I would get booed like crazy for taking him out. Later, when he was hurt, it was, ‘Oh, you pitched him too much.’”

Wood: “In the seventh inning, I thought the umpires might call it for a moment due to rain. And I knew at that point, if there is a delay, I’m done. I remember thinking, ‘Don’t call that game.’”

The Cubs scored an insurance run in the eighth, giving them a 2-0 lead. Wood had 18 strikeouts yet still did not know he had a chance at a record.

Wood: “I remember thinking in the eighth inning I just wanted to get back out there and finish this up. We scored another run, and I know I just wanted the inning to end. A young player should want his team to score as much as possible.”

Lester: “That would be so hard now. I don’t know if you’ll see 20 again in the future. With bullpens and specialization. … He was very unique. How big and tall he was and he had the levers working. When you think of Kerry Wood, you think of someone special.”

Biggio: “He hit his spots and made his pitches that day. It was just a man amongst boys right there.”

Wood (on getting strikeout No. 20 against Derek Bell): “His first swing in that at-bat, I knew I could throw the rosin bag up there and he would swing at it.”

Meals: “I was thinking about almost calling a no-hitter. The crew chief pointed out he had 20 strikeouts. I had no idea. I wasn’t paying attention to the fans holding up the K’s.”

Wood: “My fist-pump on the mound was about no walks and completing the game. I hugged [reliever] Terry Adams and say something to him, because before the game, he said, ‘Hey rook, why don’t you pitch more than five innings. You’re killing us.’ But no one said anything about 20 strikeouts.”

Meals: “[Umpire] Terry Tata was at first base. He says, ‘You had 19, I had one.’ Because he rang one up on a check swing. That was when I realized 20.”

Wood: “Thirty seconds after it’s over, they bring me over to the camera, and my hands are shaking. My adrenaline is racing. That’s when I found out I struck out 20 and tied the record. I didn’t have anything to say, though.”

Biggio: “You’re bummed out you lost, but 20 punchouts is pretty amazing.”

Riggleman: “You meet a lot of people that say they were there that day, but it was a rainy day in May. Maybe it was 18,000.”

Hendricks: “And to do it that young. He must have been in one of those once-in-a lifetime zones.”

Riggleman: “[Former Cubs] Billy Williams and Ron Santo were at Wood’s game that day and said that it was even more dominating than Sandy Koufax’s perfect game [against the Cubs in 1965]. They were at that one, too. You could make a case, as old as that stadium is, that could be the greatest game anyone has ever pitched there.”

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Blown call still haunts Major League Baseball umpire Jim Joyce

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Editor’s note: This story on Armando Galarraga’s almost-perfect game was originally published on Jan. 5, 2011. Today is the 10-year anniversary of the game.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Jim Joyce’s garage smells of old cigarettes and motor oil. It’s early December, and he is at home playing solitaire on his laptop, which sits on a folding table that doubles as a desk. The wafting odor belies the comfort that the two refrigerators, flat-screen TV, Harley, bunny rabbit, countless Winston Light cigarette butts and solitude provide.

The space has become a necessary refuge for the man whose action on the night of June 2 — and reaction — brought instant fame.

“What normal used to be,” Joyce says, “isn’t normal now.”

Seven months ago and 2,400 miles away, the veteran Major League Baseball umpire cost Armando Galarraga a perfect game in Detroit. And every day, something trips Joyce’s memory about his devastating mistake and the subsequent fallout: from the death threats he and his family received and the security team that greeted him on every road trip to the piles of heartwarming e-mails and letters saved by his wife of 28 years, Kay.

“I want us to remember,” Kay says, as her hands smooth over the plastic casings of scrapbooks holding the correspondence.

But what if the memories only reinforce what Joyce calls the biggest mistake in umpiring history? What happens when one action not only annihilates a career-long, concentrated effort at invisibility and accuracy but also wholly contradicts it? What happens when you’re Jim Joyce and you try to resume your normal life?

“I think about it still, almost every day,” Joyce says. “I don’t want to be known as Jim Joyce, the guy that blew the perfect game. But I think that’s inevitable.”

Why?

“Because I’m Jim Joyce,” he says, “the umpire who blew the perfect game.”

He is sure he got it right. Positive.

The three-game series is nondescript; it starts on a Tuesday, during the first week of the month, and features the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers, two teams that would combine for 174 losses by season’s end. As is always the case when Joyce works in Detroit, he stays at his childhood home about an hour away in Toledo, Ohio, with his 86-year-old mother, Ellouise.

The trip is Joyce’s first assignment in Detroit since his father’s death a year earlier. Ahead of the series, he and Ellouise visit his dad’s grave. An avid baseball fan, Jim Joyce Sr. loved Ted Williams and umpired amateur games. He worked in management at a local Jeep factory his entire life; Jim Jr. even worked there for a time after graduating from Bowling Green, where he pitched for four years.

On Tuesday, Joyce worked second base. Tonight, he’s at first base. The game is speeding by — it’s the eighth inning and not even two hours have passed.

The 17,000 fans in the park know Detroit’s Galarraga is throwing a perfect game. By the ninth inning, they’re on their feet, readying for the 21st perfect game in major league history. Joyce had witnessed such history just a few weeks prior, when he worked second base for Oakland pitcher Dallas Braden’s perfect game. He knew Braden had a perfect game as it was being thrown, just as he knew — sometime around the seventh inning — that Galarraga had one going, too.

The ninth starts with a first-pitch fly out. Four pitches later, Joyce makes the call at first base on a weak grounder to shortstop. One more to go. Joyce knows he’s ready. Twenty-three years’ experience brings such confidence that Joyce treats each pitch as routine, but the refrain — “just don’t be the one to miss the call” — runs through his mind, too.

Just like that, Indians shortstop Jason Donald — the final out — is running down the first-base line like a scared deer. Joyce is thrown by how fast he is running — in Joyce’s mind, players don’t run all that hard on a groundout to end a game. Even so, if it’s close, Joyce thinks, the runner will probably be out.

Joyce moves slightly to his right and zones in on the bag. Marvin Hudson, the plate umpire, is following Donald up the line, but his view is restricted; Joyce is in perfect position to make the call. As Donald gets to the bag, Joyce splays his arms outward.

“Something just instinctually, instinctively, told me he was safe,” Joyce says.

And he is sure he got it right. Positive.

Hudson thinks Joyce got it right, too, and tells himself, simply, “Well, there goes the perfect game.”

But when Detroit players start yelling from the dugout a few moments later, experience tells Joyce they saw the replay and are probably right. Yet Joyce’s confidence doesn’t waver. Another ground-ball out at first, this time routine, and the game is over. As Joyce runs off the field, Tigers veteran manager Jim Leyland approaches Joyce.

“Jimmy!” Leyland barks. “You blew it! You blew it, go look at the video!”

Boos cascade from the stands as Joyce walks back to the umpires’ locker room, telling himself over and over that he hopes he got the call right. He asks the locker room attendant to cue up the replay. By the time Joyce reaches the changing area, he’s now yelling, “I hope I got it right! I hope it got it right!” His colleagues, crew chief Derryl Cousins, Jim Wolf and Hudson, don’t say a word. Before seeing the replay, they surround Joyce by his locker. Joyce turns to Cousins and asks whether he made the correct call.

Cousins pauses, then says, “I think he was out, Jimmy.”

Joyce throws his hat, rips off his shirt and pants and paces the room, yelling and cursing. He then watches the replay — the only time he’s seen it — and rages more.

“He was beside himself,” Hudson says. “I felt tremendously bad for him.”

Death threats, tears and decisions that transform a mistake

Back in Oregon, Keri Joyce, Jim’s 21-year-old daughter, returns home from a restaurant to an inbox full of Facebook messages. Many are offering support, but at least two dozen are nasty. Some are worse.

“I hope your dad drinks himself to death,” one reads.

One message threatens to burn her family’s home; another wishes her AIDS. Jim’s son, Jimmy, receives death threats, too.

Keri is shocked, but she also is angry. Later, she posts a status update on her page: I love my dad. You a——- who can’t realise he’s a human can f— off.

In Detroit, unaware of what his children are being subjected to, Joyce’s actions and words begin to alter how his mistake will be remembered.

He chooses to give the media rare access to the umpires’ locker room. He takes full responsibility for kicking the call. When the media leave, Leyland comes in for a beer. He tells Joyce that he blew the call and that he needs to move past it. Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski visits, too, concerned for Joyce’s well-being. Both men have known Joyce for decades and, like the players in the league who voted him the top umpire in an ESPN The Magazine poll, hold enormous respect for him.

Joyce appreciates the gestures, but his mind is on one person. He asks Dombrowski whether he can talk to Galarraga.

Dombrowski leaves, and a few minutes later he returns to the umpires’ room with the 28-year-old pitcher from Venezuela. Galarraga walks up to Joyce and while hugging him says, “We are all human.” Joyce, crying, apologizes in English and Spanish and then leaves the room, unable to speak.

“I can’t even explain the feeling, because there are no words,” Joyce says. “It’s almost worse than my dad’s death. That’s how bad I felt.”

Kay, at home in Oregon with their three dogs, has yet to talk with Joyce but is crying, too. She knows how hard her husband will be on himself. She watched the game on TV, blurting, “No, Jimmer, no!” when she saw him make the call.

The phone rings. MLB security is promising a local police patrol outside the house. Kay says she’s fine; she worries about her kids, she worries about Jim.

When Jim leaves the ballpark and drives to his mother’s house in Toledo, the first call he makes is to Kay. She tells him, whatever you do, as soon as you get to your mom’s house, just delete your Facebook account. She tells him their grown children are receiving death threats.

Joyce’s cell phone is stuffed with voice mails and texts. His mother, however, is unaware of what has occurred. The two sit in the living room, and Jim tells his mom he made the biggest mistake of his life.

The local news recaps the play, and as his mother watches it for the first time, he turns his back, hearing but not seeing his mistake.

“That was you?” she asks him. “Why are they so mad at you?”

Ellouise eventually goes to sleep. Joyce deletes his Facebook account without looking at it. He tries to sleep at 5, and closes his eyes for about 30 minutes. He later leaves for Comerica Park. It’s the final game of the series, a day game, and Joyce will work home plate.

Joyce’s routine on game day is to be the last umpire to walk out of the tunnel. But today, he doesn’t want the focus of being last out. “I didn’t want it to appear like I was making an entrance,” he says. “I was kind of hoping I’d just blend in.”

On the way out, Joyce’s steps are a bit slower; he’s listening for the crowd reaction. He thinks he hears boos, he thinks he hears cheers. Tears are welling in his eyes. (Joyce likes to remind people that he’s Irish; he’s emotional and he can’t help it.)

He gets to home plate to exchange the lineup cards, and that’s when Galarraga appears out of the dugout. The crowd stands and applauds, and when Galarraga hands Joyce the lineup card, Joyce can’t even read it, the names a fuzzy blur through the tears. The images from that moment, captured live and broadcast across the country, will change how Galarraga and Joyce will be remembered.

‘Nobody feels worse than we do’

On Friday morning, when he leaves Detroit for his next assignment in Philadelphia, Joyce has a police escort through the airport. He walks by a restaurant and sees every television tuned to “SportsCenter,” showing his face. The cop alongside him says, “You better get used to it.”

When he arrives in Philly, he retrieves his luggage and discovers notes on the luggage tags: “We are all human — Good Luck” and “You gave your best God Bless.” They are signed: “DTW baggage.” Joyce carefully takes them off his bags and places them in his briefcase. He carries them with him for the rest of the season, careful not to check them in case his luggage gets lost.

Hundreds of similar notes, e-mails, cards and letters are sent. Children from an elementary school in upstate New York each write a note telling Joyce how they admired his ability to “man up” and take responsibility for his mistake. Clergy, judges, a Secret Service agent and strangers from around the world write. One person creates his own “Certificate of Appreciation,” prints it and sends it along. Two major league pitchers write notes expressing their respect. Ex-classmates and teammates and long-ago friends say they always knew Joyce to be a person of integrity.

A baseball chaplain sends Joyce his own engraved Bible; a boy with cerebral palsy writes the night of the game, encouraging Joyce to not belabor his mistake. The boy and Joyce would meet in person later in the summer before a Rays game in Tampa Bay and still e-mail regularly. Front-office executives, current and former, e-mail Joyce in support, as do MLB executives.

Bob Delaney and Steve Javie, veteran NBA referees, send along e-mails, as do NHL ref Tim Peel and NFL official Carl Cheffers. Peel, a 13-year veteran, says he doesn’t know Joyce personally but felt compelled to reach out.

“I can sympathize,” Peel says. “When we miss a call in a game, nobody feels worse than we do.”

But an e-mail from Mark Wunderlich, another veteran NBA ref, is one of the most compelling:

I have admired your work for years and I have been thinking about you the last couple of days. Last season in the Play-Offs I missed a take foul in Dallas in the Conference Finals that cost a team a game and had a few sleepless nights that I’m sure you’re familiar with. These are difficult times that only umpires and refs know. It shall pass and the only thing people will remember is the class you showed during this time. From one professional to another, I’m proud of you buddy.

The messages weren’t all positive, though. A letter with a return address was forwarded by MLB to Joyce in late June when Joyce was in Houston. After arriving at his hotel, he opened the letter, which read, in part, the next time Joyce was in Texas, “you will be shot.” The people at MLB thought, not illogically, that a death threat letter would never include a return address, so off it went in a package with other correspondence. Joyce says he was told the FBI visited the author.

Kay kept the death threat, has it sealed in plastic. It’s there in the scrapbook just like all the others, just like the luggage tags.

Still looking for meaning

When the weather is nice and it isn’t raining, Joyce takes his Harley out of the garage. He rides when he can, rides because it’s fun, because it’s freeing, and it’s something to do. Joyce, who’s 55 years old, thinks about his mistake every day. It isn’t just the luggage tags and the notes and the e-mails that remain as reminders. It’s also when he’s out in public. A few weeks before Christmas, he and Kay were shopping at a toy store when Joyce noticed a man following him down each aisle.

Finally, the man sheepishly approached and asked whether he was the umpire. He wanted to shake Joyce’s hand and thank him for his integrity.

Platitudes about sportsmanship, honesty, character, integrity, perfection and imperfection likely will follow Joyce and Galarraga to their epitaphs. Galarraga’s instant reaction — that memorable wry smile after the call — and shrewd recognition later that the blown call and the aftermath made him more famous and generated more good than a perfect game would have — changed both men.

“A lot of positive has come from this,” Joyce says. “And I can’t say enough about how Armando handled this. The positive has helped offset the negative that came with making the mistake. Unfortunately, you can’t have one without the other.”

MLB officials suggested Joyce might benefit from seeing a therapist. But Joyce says his therapy comes in discussions with his wife. He also relies on a sense of humor. He still laughs about the fan in Detroit the day after the blown call who held a sign behind home plate with a photograph of blind musician Stevie Wonder that read “Today’s umpire is … “

Even so, Joyce wrestles with negotiating his new identity.

“I wish I was still invisible, I really do. I wish that I could go back to being the old Jim Joyce, that this didn’t happen … and that everything was normal, and I know that’s not going to happen.”

Kay has watched his struggle. When Joyce first returned home this season, he was spending much more time alone in the garage. Normally an outgoing, lively person, he retreated. When they went out in public and saw friends, it was agonizing, because he knew friends were acting differently; he knew they didn’t know what to say.

“What do you say?” says Katy Robinson, a close family friend. “What do you say to someone who’s just been through something like that?”

It was not until after the World Series ended that Kay noticed he started to change. Joyce spent less time alone in the garage, his refuge.

“He came out of his shell,” Kay says. “I think he thought, ‘OK, I can go out now, baseball is over.'”

In just a few weeks, it will be back. Joyce will return to umpiring games during spring training. He says he’ll be a bit nervous, not sure what to anticipate.

He’s still trying to make sense of it all. He says there must be some larger meaning for all of this, but he’s not yet certain what that is.

What Joyce does know is that for him, the word “perfect” means something entirely different now.

“It means one guy was, and one guy wasn’t. I happen to be the guy who wasn’t. … But what does the word ‘perfect’ mean? Sometimes the word ‘perfect’ means be able to accept imperfection.”

Amy K. Nelson is a staff writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached at Amy.K.Nelson@espn.com.

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The 10 worst MLB teams to bet on over the past 20 years

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When the MLB season will begin and in what form are still uncertainties. While we wait to see what transpires, we decided to take a look at some of the worst teams to bet on in recent history.

Here are the teams with the most units lost in a season over the past 20 years (based on 1 unit bets).


How does a team just two years removed from a world championship, with Cy Young runner-up Randy Johnson and emerging stud Brandon Webb at the top of its rotation, lose 111 games — a whopping 33 more defeats than it had the year before? Well, Arizona’s four other pitchers with at least 10 starts (Casey Fossum, Steve Sparks, Casey Daigle and Edgar Gonzalez) went 9-34 with a 6.86 ERA over 65 starts. Plus, the offense was last in the National League in runs and OPS and second to last in home runs, and the D-backs made a league-high 139 errors.


Coming off a 75-win season, there weren’t high expectations for the ’18 Orioles. But finishing 61 games out of first place isn’t your garden variety lousy season. Baltimore’s pitching was only marginally worse in 2018 than it had been the year before, but the offense bottomed out, going from middle of the pack to dead last in the American League in runs, batting average and OBP. Chris Davis epitomized the O’s struggles, with a slash line of .168/.243/.296 and 192 strikeouts as compared to just 139 total bases.


At 43-119, the 2003 Tigers had the worst record in baseball since 1962 and the sixth worst since 1900. After Detroit lost 106 games the year before, it was hard to imagine a 13-game drop, but that’s what Motown got. Needless to say, the Tigers were dreadful in all phases of the game, as their “top” five starters had a collective 5.50 ERA and their offense was last in the league in virtually every category. Detroit started the season 1-17, then had stretches of 2-20, 2-17 and 1-15 as the season went on. Ugh.


No. 4: 2019 Tigers (41.16)

The 2019 Tigers went 47-114 and passed the Orioles as baseball’s top tanker, with an anemic offense that was last in the AL in runs, homers and OPS (among other things). The only player with an OPS+ above the break-even point of 100 was Nicholas Castellanos, who was dealt away at the July trade deadline.


Don’t blame the pitching staff for the 24-game drop in the Mariners’ record in 2010. Led by Felix Hernandez, Seattle had the third-best ERA in the AL. But the offense? Oy. The Mariners scored 100 fewer runs than any other AL team and had an OPS of .637, the only AL team below .700.


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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

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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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