Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Big Unit in Minnesota

Randy Johnson's 1990 Topps card. He
may be the ugliest great player in
baseball history.
I keep a mental checklist of the great pitchers I've seen in person.

Roger Clemens, at least three times. Greg Maddux twice. Tom Glavine and John Smoltz -- the latter one of four players elected Tuesday to the Hall of Fame --  in the 1991 World Series. I saw Jim Palmer and Steve Carlton with a foot out the door. I rearranged my schedule to see Pedro Martinez (another winner Tuesday) almost a decade ago. Curt Schilling. Bert Blyleven, of course. Jim Kaat started the first major league game I attended.

I never saw Randy Johnson. The Big Unit spent a big chunk of his career in the National League, and for a variety of reasons our schedules never meshed. The year Arizona came to Minnesota for interleague play, for example, Johnson was on the DL.

And, supposedly, when he was with the Mariners. Lou Pinella sought to avoid pitching Johnson at the Metrodome. The story was that Johnson's father was buried in Duluth and the pitcher, when the team came to Minnesota, would make the trip north to visit the grave, and Pinella thought that made Johnson emotionally unprepared to pitch.

True or false?

For his career, Johnson made 11 starts in the Metrodome, which sounds like a low figure but isn't hugely out of line with other AL parks (excluding Seattle and New York, the two AL teams he pitched for). He had, for example, 13 starts in Kansas City, 11 in Detroit and nine in the White Sox's two stadiums.

But presumably, if the grieving-son theory is correct, it took a few starts for Pinella to deduce a pattern. Johnson's Metrodome starts by year for Seattle:

1989: 2
1990: 2
1991: 1
1992: 0
1993: 2
1994 :1
1995 :2
1996 :0
1997: 0
1998: 0

It sure does look as if Pinella was avoiding using Johnson at Minnesota at the end.

For what it's worth. Johnson had a career ERA in the Metrodome of 4.11, more than a run above his career ERA. But it's worth remembering that he didn't become good, much less great, until 1993, and he had a big chunk of his Minnesota starts behind him at that point.

1 comment:

  1. Jim Kaat pitched one of the first games I ever attended too, vs KC A's.

    Earl Battey c, Vic Power 1b, Bernie Allen 2b, Zoillo ss, Rich Rollins 3b, Killibrew lf, Lenny Green cf, Bob Allison rf. I think Twins won. I think Pasqual pitched the second games I saw. Fun days, I was awestruck.