Gomez: Iconic ‘Big Unit’ Unlike Any Other On, Off Field

This weekend will be a special one for Randy Johnson as he will take his place among the all-time greats with his enshrinement into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

ESPN baseball insider Pedro Gomez followed “The Big Unit” throughout his storied career and reflected back with Sports360AZ.com’s Brad Cesmat on his fondest memories of Johnson and what helped mold him into one of, if not the most dominant left-handed pitchers in baseball history.

Would it be safe to describe Johnson’s attitude as “surly?” “Absolutely. Randy Johnson was as surly as they come. If I had to put together a top five list, he would absolutely be on the list but there was also a level of respect and it was mutual respect. If he did respect you as a reporter he did give you time.”

How would you describe him on the day he pitched? “I was in the clubhouse beforehand and literally Brad, it was like watching a caged lion maybe before he was going to be unleashed into the coliseum back in the Roman Empire days. He was just so fidgety and pacing and could not wait to take the mound. I remember talking to teammates of him who said, ‘I think he’d almost rather have us score one run in the first and then have us be three up, three down, three up, three down every time we come to bat. He just wants to be on the mound. That’s the only time he’s challenged.'”

Did Curt Schilling’s time in Arizona help push Johnson to an even more elite status? “There’s no question about that especially when you look at ’01. When you look at the first few months of the season Schilling was on pace to go something like a 25-2 record. He was on pace to just crush everybody and Randy had some hard luck the first two months and wasn’t getting the same numbers. It’s almost like Randy said, ‘Ok, now I’m just going to lap the field.’ He put it into a different gear and at the end of the year Randy’s numbers had surpassed Schilling’s when it didn’t seem possible…Randy wound up winning the Cy Young. Look, if there was any type of competition involved, Randy just always wanted to win. It didn’t matter what it was. To a degree the great ones all have that.”

Johnson wasn’t the most popular in the D-backs’ clubhouse–fair to say? “That was everywhere Randy was. I remember talking to some Astros after Randy got traded to Houston…Randy only played for the Astros for two months. It was his second or third start for the Astros and the game in zero, zero in the six inning. Randy is dealing but whoever he was up against, maybe it was Kevin Brown, was throwing up zeros. Johnson, who was only with the team for about two weeks…was walking into the dugout and just yells out loud, ‘Are we going to score any [expletive] runs today or what?’ Jeff Bagwell. Craig Biggio. That group of Astros and he’s just yelling at them, ‘Can you guys do your job?’ That was Randy, too…he rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. But if you talk to anybody about who they want on the mound every five days, his name always came up.”

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