06/04/09 7:55 PM ET
Unit an immortal long before 300th win
Johnson's dominant stretch was among game's greatest
Starting in 1993, running through 2004, Johnson not only was the game's most dominant contemporary pitcher, his work also ranked with the greatest pitchers of all time.
With the exception of two seasons in which he lost significant time to injury, he absolutely dominated, in both leagues, in all ways. He won four Cy Young Awards in a row during this stretch and one World Series, in 2001 with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
And as we all look back at that era, pitching at a truly exceptional level was probably even more difficult than we realized at the time. During much of that era, people talked about the baseball being juiced. Whether that was true or not, it did turn out that some of the hitters were juiced.
Randy Johnson did not need steroids. His overall physical presence itself is anti-steroid. An impossibly tall pitcher, slender, a blur of arms and legs in his delivery, Johnson never required performance-enhancing substances. His talent, in combination with his 6 feet, 10 inches and his own competitive drive, enhanced his performance more than enough, thank you.
He was pitching downhill. He had tremendous leverage. He was the Big Unit, and there was no second place in the Big Unit race.
In his prime, Johnson threw his fastball 98 mph, but that was just part of the package. There was, for instance, the slider, biting down and in at the back foot of the right-handed hitters, tying them up in knots.
And throughout, he was a ferocious competitor. He and Curt Schilling formed an unbeatable pair for the 2001 D-backs, and as one of their teammates put it: "Schill is a combination of power and finesse, but Randy is just a big bully."
That was praise for Johnson's stuff and competitive nature. He had tremendous stuff, and when he was able to combine that with command, he was mostly unbeatable. It took him a while to find that groove, but when you are 6-10 and throwing 98 mph, there is a lot that might go wrong.
It took Johnson until 1993, a season in which he turned 30, to harness his ability and combine it with the kind of control that would turn him from an extremely talented pitcher to a truly dominant pitcher. Maybe he was a bit of a late bloomer in that regard, but he held onto that dominance until he was past 40 years old. There haven't been many power pitchers who can make that claim, which is one of the reasons that Randy Johnson has placed himself in rarified company.
In recent seasons, he has appeared to be much more like a mortal, which is something that happens with age, even apparently to Big Units. His velocity has dropped to the low 90s, which is still Major League in every way. But he is at the point in his career where he can still produce a truly outstanding outing. But he cannot produce that outing on a regular basis.
So if the first two portions of Randy Johnson's career were tributes to his immense talent and, subsequently, his ability to take command of that talent, the third part of his career, over the last five seasons, has been a tribute to his perseverance and his determination.
Randy Johnson has not been a guy who traveled through baseball providing a steady stream of yuks and pats on the back. That is not part of the traditional Big Unit territory. He does have an acute sense of humor and on a given day he can and will share his considerable knowledge and singular experience with insight and intelligence. But his pursuit of mastery of the pitching craft, and the focus that has required, has not placed him in the role of glad-hander or morale officer.
But when you get to witness a 300-victory career, you do not need an accompanying laugh track. Johnson has had to stay the course all the way to the doorstep of age 46 to reach the 300-victory milestone. He has added durability to greatness in his pitching resume.
There is a lot of discussion about the fact that with starting pitchers increasingly pampered, the 300-victory pitcher may become extinct. It could be that Randy Johnson will be the last of the breed. Whether or not that turns out to be true, it can be safely said that we will not ever again see any pitcher like the Big Unit.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.