PHOENIX (CBS / AP) — In an expansive 42-minute news conference marking his election to baseball’s Hall of Fame, Randy Johnson mixed humor, memories and humility in recalling a career he called “a great ride.”
“I never joined a fraternity in college,” he said. “Now I’m amongst one of the coolest.”READ MORE: Fire Crews Contain 15-Acre Vegetation Fire In Discovery Bay
Johnson has spent the five years since he retired mostly away from the game — traveling the world, engaging his love of photography and making a series of USO tours.
“I knew that I needed that time to kind of unwind,” Johnson said. “I was wound pretty tight for 22 years, especially probably the last 15, when I really came into my own in this game.”
Born in Walnut Creek, Johnson played most of his 21 seasons with the Seattle Mariners and Arizona Diamondbacks. He played the 2009 season with the San Francisco Giants, earning his 300th career victory before retiring that year.
His most successful years came with the Diamondbacks, where he won four consecutive Cy Young Awards — he had a total of five — and his only World Series championship. He struck out 20 in nine innings once, and at age 40 pitched a perfect game.
The Diamondbacks announced Tuesday that Johnson had been named special assistant to President Derrick Hall.
Hall said that the left-hander’s No. 51 would be retired soon.
Johnson’s first-ballot selection to the Hall of Fame after a 22-year career was a foregone conclusion.
Still, he said, when he got the call on Tuesday he “got goose bumps and felt like I’ve never felt before in my life.”
He called his 87-year-old mother to tell her, and she reminded him that at age 7, he had left Little League tryouts frustrated and came home, then she brought him back and made sure he got registered to play.
Johnson recalled that as a youngster growing up in Livermore, he would throw tennis balls at a taped “strike zone” on his garage door.READ MORE: 1 Dead, 1 Injured In Shooting Near San Jose Park
“And I was Vida Blue with those tennis balls,” he said.
“I didn’t envision any of this and I’m sorry I couldn’t share more of what I was really about when I was playing,” Johnson said. “But I guess it was more about how my dad raised me and taught me to not ever be content with what you’re doing because there’s always somebody better than you doing it.”
Johnson spoke of trying to harness some control in his pitching early in his career.
“I was a really bad pitcher growing up,” he said. “Being almost 7 feet tall, 6-10, you’re not meant to be a pitcher. My limbs are too long and the biggest thing in being a pitcher is you need to have a consistent release point. Well it’s pretty hard when you’re all arms and legs. So that took me a long time to overcome.”
Johnson said the issue of what cap he would wear on his Hall of Fame plaque was out of his control. He said he expected the subject to come up when he meets with Hall of Fame officials later this week.
And while he said there was something special about all six of his major league teams, his years with the Diamondbacks were “career-changing.”
Current Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick said his best memory of Johnson was in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series against the New York Yankees, when after pitching the previous day, the Big Unit came out of the bullpen to thunderous cheers to get the final four outs as Arizona rallied for a 3-2 victory.
“It was astounding,” Kendrick said.
Johnson said he’d trade four Cy Young awards for a couple more World Series chances.
“To be dogpiling on the pitcher’s mound, and be celebrating, and be riding down the street with your family on a fire truck, I mean, who doesn’t dream about that?” he said. “That’s pretty cool stuff. That’s what you play for and I got to do that.”
When he runs into fans, they always talk about that World Series, Johnson said. That, he added, and the time he killed a pigeon with a pitch in spring training.MORE NEWS: Hertl Scores Twice In 500th NHL Game, Helps Sharks Defeat Avalanche
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