Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center honored Rangers pitcher Jake Diekman — who started the Gut It Out Foundation — with the 53rd annual Hutch Award. Legendary pitcher Randy Johnson spoke at the ceremony.
Fans bemoaning Edgar Martinez falling shy of the Hall of Fame might not want to hear about it now, but the greatest pitcher in Mariners history was back in Seattle Wednesday. Invited to Safeco Field to serve as the keynote guest at the annual Hutch Award luncheon, Randy Johnson answered a series of questions from M’s play-by-play man Rick Rizzs.
Johnson declined to talk to media afterward, so we couldn’t get his thoughts on Edgar, a potential number retirement in the future, or the Mariners’ 16-year playoff drought.
But the Big Unit didn’t mind strolling down memory lane or discussing his passions — past and present.
Rizzs opened the conversation by asking Johnson about the day he was inducted into the Hall of Fame, and Randy answered with humility. He called the moment “truly indescribable” and one he never envisioned when his playing career began.
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And though Johnson went into Cooperstown as a Diamondback — a team he won four of his five Cy Young Awards with — he did credit the M’s for paving the way.
“Seattle was a huge part of getting me there,” he said. “This was my apprenticeship in getting there.”
One of the standout moments of that “apprenticeship” was the no-hitter Johnson threw against Detroit in 1990. He didn’t delve into the details too deeply, but he did recall a conversation he had with his father afterward.
Remember, this was the first no-no Johnson had ever thrown, so he was pretty thrilled to talk to his old man about it. Dad’s reaction?
“You were far from perfect with those seven walks.”
Johnson told that story with a smile, and it seems like he has fond memories of his time here. He mentioned the burgeoning music scene and bustling industry during the 1990s. He talked about walking around Pike Place Market and capturing a photo of the landmark on a snowy Seattle day. And, of course, he talked about his greatest memory — the 1995 season.
That was the year it seemed as though Seattle might lose the Mariners. There was political unrest. There had been empty seats for a few seasons. Johnson remembers games in the Kingdome when he could hear fans having conversations in their seats.
Then, the ’95 M’s won the division thanks in part to Johnson’s Cy Young season, when he went 18-2 with a league-best 2.48 ERA and league-high 294 strikeouts.
“It was a very exciting moment for the city and the franchise,” Johnson said. “The players, the fans that witnessed the 1995 season really embodied the legacy of the Seattle Mariners.”
The average fan might not remember that it took a few years for Johnson to develop into the unhittable force he became. His ERAs through his first four full seasons went 4.82, 3.65, 3.98 and 3.77.
Obviously the talent was there, but the consistency wasn’t. Then came a turning point.
Before a game vs. Texas at the Kingdome, Rangers pitching coach Tom House — who, like Randy, went to USC — approached Johnson. He then took him to Texas’ bullpen to watch Nolan Ryan throw.
House pointed out how Johnson would land on his heel whenever he threw a pitch, whereas Ryan would land on the ball of his foot. It was a simple but critical mechanical change — and baseball was never the same.
“I said, ‘OK, I’ll give it a try,’ and then I turned it around,” said Johnson. “Then, the game became fun.”
Though as Rizzs retorted: “It wasn’t fun for the hitters.”
Johnson also discussed his passion for photography, mentioning he studied photojournalism at USC and was interested in it well before retiring. And now that he can’t pitch anymore, snapping pictures has become his outlet for creativity.
But his main purpose for speaking Wednesday wasn’t to revel in what he’s accomplished in the past — but to help save lives in the future.
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center honored Rangers pitcher Jake Diekman — who started the Gut It Out Foundation after ulcerative colitis forced doctors to remove his colon last year — with the 53rd annual Hutch Award Wednesday. And the first thing Johnson did when he took the mic was congratulate Diekman on his perseverance.
The last thing he said was this:
“Doing Make-A-Wish Foundation here and in Arizona, I got to meet a lot of young children with cancer. And the one thing I always thought was that they haven’t been given a chance to have life, because they’re already fighting an uphill battle against cancer. So we do need to find a cure, and it starts across town at Fred Hutch. And I praise them and I praise everybody here that does their part in trying to see it happen.”