Timing is everything, isn’t it? In life. In love. In baseball. I had the opportunity to be in the ballpark and sit in the ‘local’ loge level for both Derek Jeter Day on September 7th and Paul Konerko Day 20 days later. It was amazing timing to be in attendance on days that devoted fans got to say thank you to the faces of their franchise. These ‘goodbye days’ took me back to a conversation with Randy Johnson on September 27, 2008. It was on the eve of the final start of the season for Johnson; he wasn’t yet sure whether it would be the last of his career. On the day of our conversation, the left-hander already had a resume listing 585 starts, 294 wins, 4,780 strikeouts and five Cy Young Awards, but he drifted back and forth as to whether those numbers plus one more outing might be enough to call an end to the journey. It is safe to assume that the following day locked his decision to return. At 45, Johnson threw what turned out to be the final complete game of his career and beat Colorado and 24-year-old Ubaldo Jimenez.
Many documented the fact that Jeter and Konerko were more reflective than ever on, and in the days just before and after, their Days. The same can be same for Johnson on this day six years ago.
It’s about 25 minutes, and worth the time. But if you prefer to read, here are a few snapshots of the legend’s thoughts:
On how to decide to retire or return: “Obviously, I’ll be a free agent and see if the decision’s made that, ‘why don’t give it one more year and see what you’ve got left?’ Then if that’s the decision that I get at home, then I will inform my agents to see if there’s any jobs out there for a pitcher that has one more good year, I think, left in him, if that’s the case. Because I wouldn’t want to come back and take someone’s spot in an organization, whether it’s here or somewhere else, if I was to come back and play. I wouldn’t want to take someone’s future away from them. If there’s room for me to play somewhere and it’s a good fit for me and my family, I’ll weigh those options and see where it goes. But obviously I am still a long ways away from that. I have tomorrow to look forward to, it’s my last start.”
On what motivated him to return from back surgery: “To some extent I really wanted to have a big, big year. I felt I did that but I don’t have the numbers to back it up. We all know when the season’s over and the dust is settled and people look at your numbers, they see as of right now I’m 10-10 with an ERA of 4.00 (he actually finished 11-10 with a 3.91 thanks to the next day’s shutout), they’re gonna say, ‘well you had a pretty good year but it was average.’ You know you have to really dig in to what kind of year I really had and no one really takes that time. From that standpoint I’m really disappointed that I really didn’t have the numbers to back up as hard as I worked and the effort that I gave out there. But that’s baseball. I understand that. It’s not the first year I’ve ever had that but this year has been different than any other year of my career for those very reasons, coming off back surgery, wanting to prove to myself that I could get through a full year and still be very productive.”
On his hopes for what could’ve been his final start: “Not knowing the future, I will give the fans hopefully one last great effort and walk away. We win a ballgame and fans will be happy, I’ll be happy, and we can pack our bags and see what the future lays.”
On the end of the career for one of his mentors, Nolan Ryan: “I actually saw his last game, being in Seattle with the Seattle Mariners at the time. We were playing a game in the Seattle Kingdome and we were playing the Texas Rangers and unfortunately it was one pitch that Nolan made and he blew out his arm. It was very unfortunate because I think at that time everybody knew it was his last year and he was kind of doing his swan song, his tour of retirement going into all the cities where he was going to be scheduled to play and do his farewell games. It’s unfortunate when an athlete’s career ends due to an injury. That was a little bit of a motivating factor knowing last year for a short period of time, knowing the time that I played that I could still pitch at a high level. I didn’t want to have my career dictated about how it was going to end due to an injury.”
On impacting younger players: “I felt like in some small way that maybe I’ve had an impact on a few players, a lot of the players that are here in the locker (room) here, just talking to them. Like Max Scherzer, talking to him and letting him know that, ‘Hey I don’t throw 95 or 98 anymore, but at one time really I did.’ With him having the same kind if makeup as I did when I was younger, just trying to give him some insight. A lot of times I don’t want to feel like I am overbearing or stepping on someone’s toes. I feel a lot of times that whenever I wanted help or needed help, I always went out and pursued it. I’ve always kind of felt like if someone wants some help that they would have enough fortitude to come up and ask me. Obviously I don’t have all the answers. I’ve failed a lot in my career but I think from those failures is really where I’ve really learned a lot about the game. So what I want to think I could do is maybe cut off some of that failing for a younger player and say, ‘You know what, when this happened like it’s happening to you right now, maybe try this so you don’t have to go through much more failing to really understand.’”
On the loss of his father, Rollen Charles “Bud” Johnson, early in his career: “He’s been the driving force. My dad died Christmas day of ‘92, that was the driving force from that point on to really put everything aside and just really give everything I had towards baseball. So the last 16-17 years of my career have been the best years of my career. That’s not to say I couldn’t have done that with my dad alive watching me, but I felt like he went through a lot. The sacrifices that we have to do to be successful, there really is no parallel whatsoever to what he goes through. So the one thing that I took from what he went through with his triple bypass surgery, it really pales in comparison when you’re being asked to pitch 125-130 pitches and you’re thinking, ‘I’m getting a little tired.’ Well no, that’s not the way it works. That’s the way I’m wired.”
More on his father: “The one special thing that I was able to do in my short period of my career while he (my dad) was alive was throw a no-hitter up in Seattle in 1990 against the Detroit Tigers. When I called home right after the game, I was still in my uniform and he and my mom had already heard that I had thrown a no-hitter. He goes, ‘How come you walked seven batters?’ (Laughter) But that’s why I am what I am. A lot of people don’t understand that. There’s always a reason why you are what you are. I am perfectionist and I know that I’m going to fail a lot, but if you don’t put forth your maximum effort, you’re never going to know how good you could be. It was a good point, how come I did walk seven batters. It was not ‘til I was 40 years old that I finally threw a perfect game and it would’ve been nice to have called him and said, ‘See Dad it only took 17 years later and I finally pitched a no-hitter and I didn’t walk any batters.’ “
On how he views his accomplishments: “The one thing I never tried doing was I never tried to be as good as somebody else. I was very adamant about trying to be as good as I can be. However good that was going to be I wouldn’t know until my career was over because I wouldn’t have the opportunity anymore.”
Thank you for reading
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