When the left-handed starter decided to sign with the Giants, it was not all that surprising. Not because he grew up in Livermore, which is a mere 40 miles away from San Francisco.
No. It was not surprising because the move had been foreshadowed years before:
Back in 1999, Giants third baseman Charlie Hayes reached base against Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Mel Stottlemyre. The two continued a heated exchange, which prompted Hayes to charge the mound from second base.
The benches cleared for both teams, and by the end of the brawl, Johnson was donning a Giants cap. It looked like a simple mistake on Johnson’s part, but we know it was more than just a Freudian slip.
Randy Johnson puts on the Giants cap during a brawl
Despite Johnson’s brief time in a Giants hat in 1999, the veteran southpaw still only appeared in one season according to the stat book.
It was a bit odd to see Johnson put on the Giants’ uniform. After all, he spent the better part of a decade tormenting San Francisco. In 24 career starts across 158 innings against his childhood team, the veteran hurler posted a 3.18 ERA.
When he signed, it was to put the finishing touches on a brilliant career. In 2008, Johnson proved to be an effective starter as he generated a 3.91 ERA across 184 frames in his age-44 season.
At that time, the 6-foot-10 Big Unit was stuck on 295 career wins and need just five more to reach that rare 300-win mark.
The Giants offered a rotation spot to reach that milestone. In addition to this, the team thought the veteran hurler could mentor a young pitching staff including Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez, and an emerging Madison Bumgarner.
The 2009 season was an interesting year with Johnson. The Giants were not necessarily preparing for a playoff run, but the talent in the system proved to be almost enough to reach the postseason.
The Big Unit struggled to find consistency early on, but he also flashed glimpses of his former dominant self.
Randy Johnson reached his 300th win as a San Francisco Giant
The quest for five more career wins did not drag on all that long. Johnson earned his 299th career win at the end of May, and took advantage of his first opportunity to notch career win no. 300.
On a rainy day in early June, Johnson faced off against the Washington Nationals. In a bit of cosmic symmetry, the University of Southern California product matched up against the franchise that originally used a second-round pick to draft him back in 1985.
The Nationals were a much different team back in 2009. Prior to that early June game, Washington had a paltry 15-36 record and were in the midst of posting the worst record in baseball. Of course, this worked out in their favor as they received the top overall pick in the 2010 draft, which they used to select budding star Bryce Harper.
Despite the poor record, the Nationals’ lineup had some recognizable names including Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman. It was still a major league lineup.
Once again, Johnson flashed his former dominant self as he mowed down Washington’s hitters. Across six frames, the Big Unit yielded only one unearned run before giving way to the bullpen. He also sacrificed his body to record one of those outs:
To his benefit, the Giants hitters did not waste Johnson’s effort. The team managed to scratch two early runs across the plate and added to it with three more runs later to seal the victory thereby giving Johnson his 300th career win at 45 years of age.
The southpaw went on to win three more games with the Giants before sustaining a rotator cuff injury while swinging a bat, which put him on the shelf. When he returned, Johnson accumulated several more appearances out of the bullpen before the season ended.
In a mild surprise, the Giants were yearning for a playoff spot as Johnson’s career wound down. The team finished with an impressive 88-74 record, which was good enough for third place in a competitive NL West division.
The San Francisco Giants were Randy Johnson’s final team
Despite falling short, the pieces had been put into place for future playoff runs. Johnson had a positive influence on the young rotation and the Giants were interested in bringing back the Big Unit in 2010.
Though, after 22 MLB seasons, five Cy Young awards, and 303 career wins, Johnson decided to hang up his spikes.
Not surprisingly, Randy Johnson was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility with a resounding 97.3 percent of the vote.
Even though he appeared in only one season with the Giants and had a rather unceremonious end to his career, Johnson was part of a team as it flirted with playoff contention. The southpaw was at the end of his line, but gave the fan base several good memories in his lone season.