Randy Johnson: Before He Was The “Big Unit”


Randy Johnson was elected to the 2015 Major League Baseball Hall of Fame yesterday after receiving more than 97% of the vote. The 10 time All-Star won five Cy Young awards during his career, taking home the honor four years in a row from 1999 to 2002 as a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks. The 6’10 lefty earned his reputation as the most intimidating pitcher in all of baseball by absolutely dominating hitters, recording 300 or more strikeouts during a season on six separate occasions.

Like everyone in Cooperstown before him, Randy Johnson had to earn his stripes in the minors.

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Before he was the “Big Unit”, Randy Johnson was merely the Expos’ second round pick in the 1985 Amateur Draft.

In low A for the Jamestown Expos, Johnson hardly resembled confident strikeout master we know today. Johnson finished the short season with a 0-3 record in eight starts, showcasing his talents to the tune of a 5.93 ERA, 1.939 WHIP, and 21 strikeouts.

Johnson started to find his niche when he was promoted to the Class A West Palm Beach Expos for the 1986 season. Johnson started 26 games, completing two, including a complete game shutout which added to his 8-7 record. His ERA dropped to an impressive 3.16, while his WHIP improved to 1.529. This was the first year that fans were to a glimpse of Johnson’s future greatness, as he recorded 133 strikeouts in just 119.2 innings.

In 1987 Johnson found himself playing for the Double A Jacksonville Expos. Although Johnson started less games (24) than the previous year, his strength and stamina increased tremendously, leading to 163 strikeouts in 140 innings. This increase in strikeouts lead to an 11-8 record in his third season. Johnson’s strikeout and win total weren’t the only things on the rise, his ERA and WHIP both rose to 3.73 and 1.629 as he struggled with location at times. Johnson issued 128 walks while in Jacksonville, 36 more than his walk total in 1986.

The future Hall of Famer’s final full season of minor league baseball came in 1988 for the Triple A Indianapolis Indians, where he posted an 8-7 record with a 3.26 ERA, 1.385 WHIP, and 111 strikeouts. After 19 starts, Randy Johnson had done enough to earn his call up to the show. Johnson would get called on to start four games for the Montreal Expos that year, winning three and earning a no-decision for the fourth. The Big Unit finished those four starts with a 2.42 ERA, 1.154 WHIP, and 25 strikeouts.

There may never be a pitcher like Randy Johnson again. I, for one, feel fortunate to have watched his illustrious career … even if that meant watching him bully my San Diego Padres for nine years.