One of the most remarkable moments in baseball history didn’t happen in October, it wasn’t at Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium, it wasn’t a walk-off home run or a game saving catch. And while this is certainly not the first time this has been written about, it is so spectacular that, as a society, I don’t think we can ever write too much about the time Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Randy Johnson exploded a bird with a seventh inning pitch in a Spring Training game. Before reading any further, watch it. Watch it now!
First, The Renaissance Fan staff does not endorse animal cruelty in any form, and it’s unfortunate that this bird lost its life. But it was clearly a freak accident. How do we know? Because Johnson was annoyed that the bird messed up his pitch:
“I didn’t think it was all that funny”, said Johnson after the game.
Here’s what makes this particularly amazing. There are 30 MLB teams, each with 5 starting pitchers and around a half dozen relievers that see regular work. That’s about 330 different guys that could be on the hill at any point in time during an MLB game (this number is likely even higher in Spring Training when this happened). A bird flying through just the right lane between the pitcher and the catcher to get hit by a pitch has to be considered a very random occurrence. So this could have happened to any one of these pitchers. But it didn’t happen to just any pitcher. It wasn’t a soft thrower like Jamie Moyer or Tim Wakefield. It happened to one of the hardest throwers in the history of the game! That type of “coincidence” might be one of the better pieces of evidence that there is a higher power at work in the universe. And on March 24, 2001 that higher power thought to themselves, “I wonder what that would look like!”
There is also something to be said about the juxtaposition of the two creatures involved in this incident. First, you have the dove: an international symbol of peace and love, and a popular fixture at weddings, or in illusions:
And then you have the six-foot-ten Johnson. “The Big Unit”. A symbol of raw pitching dominance and a gloriously bad hairstyle that he clung to long after his peers ditched their mullets:
Hell, he’s still kind of rocking that look:
Good for you Randy.
It will be a long time before this incident is repeated. In fact, it will likely never happen again. So let’s celebrate the oddity of sport as a new baseball season is set to begin and conclude with the words of Rod Barajas, Johnson’s catcher that day:
“I’m sitting there waiting for it, and I’m expecting to catch the thing, and all you see is an explosion,” Barajas said. “It’s crazy. There’s still feathers down there.” (re-watch the clip above, Barajas’ reaction is priceless).