Randy Johnson had a Hall of Fame baseball career, winning 303 games and striking out 4,875 batters during his 22-year career. But the “Big Unit” might be best known for a pitch that didn’t count.
Well, it counted to a bird. And Johnson’s reputation of having a killer fastball was enhanced, but not the way the conservationist wanted.
On March 24, 2001, during a spring training game in Tucson, Arizona, the Diamondbacks left-hander threw a fastball that connected with a dove that was darting across the field. Warning: the video below is graphic.
“It was an explosion,” Rod Barajas, the catcher who was awaiting the pitch that reached the plate, told Pinal Central. “I don’t know any other way to put it.”
In an interview with Fox Sports Arizona, Johnson called the pitch “a blur going across home plate and the ball simultaneously hitting that blur. It’s just hard to really put that into perspective. It happened so quick.”
“I saw the bird coming across. But I didn’t think it’d get in the way because of the action that was going on,” Diamondbacks first base coach Eddie Rodriguez said. “But it just kept going and going and going. All you heard was “poof.”
The scene was captured by Jim Currigan, the Diamondbacks’ video coordinator. Had it not been caught on film, the incident might have faded away. Instead, it is a staple on YouTube, with millions of views.
After some deliberation, the umpire ruled “no pitch,” referring to Major League Baseball Rule 8.01(c) under the heading of “common sense and fair play.”
Jeff Kent walked from the dugout and picked up the carcass.
“Jeff Kent, being Jeff Kent, picked up the carcass,” Diamondbacks public relations spokesperson Mike Swanson told The Athletic. “It seemed as if he was going to take a bite out of it. I think about half the people on the first-base side passed out. There was just this loud, “Ewwww.” I think he was like, “You know what, I’m going to see if I can gross out a few thousand people here.”
Newsweek interviewed bird experts about the bird, who decided that Johnson had hit a mourning dove (Zenaida macroura).
The batter that day, Calvin Murray, is the uncle of current Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, The Arizona Republic reported.
“My initial reaction was the ball had exploded,” Calvin Murray told The Athletic. “I thought it was a practical joke or something, that he threw some tricked-up exploding baseball. It just took a minute for it to process.
“All I remember is just a big puff of feathers that exploded between home plate and the mound,” Chris Speier told the magazine.
The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals considered pressing charges against the pitcher on the bird’s behalf for animal cruelty but none were filed.
“I was considered a bird killer,” Johnson told Fox Sports Arizona. “What became kind of funny, actually became a very serious moment.”
“It’s incredible when you consider the diameter of a baseball, the millions of square feet where that bird could have been at that very moment, the timing of the pitch, everything like that,” San Francisco Chronicle reporter Henry Schulman told The Athletic. “It’s just astounding to me.”
Johnson was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015. He now runs an online photography business. The logo? A dove, belly up.
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