Contrary to popular belief, the most wanted criminal in the world is not Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, head of the Sinaloa Cartel, who broke out of a Mexican prison earlier this month. No currently, the most sought after fugitive from justice is quite a lot taller than the diminutive drug kingpin and will soon be spotted lurking around the grounds of the historic Otesaga Resort Hotel in the tiny hamlet of Cooperstown, New York. This is because on Sunday, Randy Johnson is scheduled to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame but, if aviary officials have their way the 6’10” inch “Big Unit”, as he is commonly known by accomplices, will be standing trial for murder.
Here are the facts as we know them. On March 24th, 2001, Johnson, already more than halfway through his two decade long career and pitching for the Arizona Diamondbacks, took the mound in a Spring Training game against the San Francisco Giants. It was during the 7th inning of this contest that the absurdly length left-hander delivered one of his patented 95 mph pitches directly into the flight path of an innocent dove. The force of the fastball reduced the the bird to feathers as its lifeless carcass faltered to the earth. Below you can watch the raw, uncut video of the moment Randy Johnson blew up a bird. (Caution…this video contains disturbing images that you’ve probably already seen before. Proceed with caution.)
The Diamondbacks would go on to win this meaningless game while in 2001 the Big Unit enjoyed one his best seasons in professional baseball leading the league in both ERA and strikeouts as well as winning his 4th Cy Young and first World Series.
Immediately following the gruesome incident Johnson demonstrated very little remorse in saying, “I didn’t think it was funny”. Failing to find the humor in the moment does not absolve one of any wrong doing and if the pitcher were really concerned about the well being of the bird perhaps he would have approached the featherless remains to assess whether or not CPR was warranted. Instead he remains dumfounded in front of the mound waiting for catcher Rod Barajas to throw him a clean baseball without any bird blood on it.
Now, 14 years and lord knows how many more dead doves later, Randy Johnson is a free man soon to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame alongside fellow inductees Craig Biggio, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz, none of whom, as far as we know, has ever been suspected of murdering a bird with a baseball.
Maybe if Johnson didn’t already have a history of attempted manslaughter could we then believe that he didn’t intend to harm that dove however we baseball fans, remember the 1993 All-Star Game at Camden Yards in Baltimore when the Big Unit, then pitching for the Seattle Mariners, almost decapitated Phillies’ first baseman John Kruk. Kruk was so visibly shaken by the near death experience that he could barely muster even a few feeble swings while the only sign of emotion from the sinister Seattle pitcher was a conniving wink and smile.
With members of the Audubon and Humane Societies amongst the thousands of people flocking to upstate New York for this weekend’s Hall of Fame festivities, Major League Baseball remains confident that the statute of limitations on murder of bird by baseball has expired and that the celebration will go off without incident.
Nevertheless, it’s very difficult to appreciate Randy Johnson’s remarkably dominant baseball career while also thinking about that dove’s family, waiting in vain for their daddy to return to the nest. Little did they know that their father was killed by a fastball. But not just any kind of fastball, a Hall of Fame fastball.