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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Hall of Fame Pitcher Randy Johnson’s Wild Second Act

  • He was one of the most successful and intimidating pitchers in MLB history.
  • Now the Hall of Famer turns that same intensity toward photographing sports, wildlife, and rock concerts.
Former Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher and hall of fame member Randy Johnson throws out the ceremonial first pitch before game three of the 2023 World Series against the Texas Rangers at Chase Field on Oct. 30, 2023, in Phoenix, Arizona.
Joe Rondone/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

On weekends, Front Office Sports brings you one of the week’s best conversations from our daily podcast, FOS Today. This week we’re highlighting host Owen Poindexter’s interview with MLB Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson. The Big Unit had one of the most storied careers in the sport’s history, and now he’s keeping busy with equally epic adventures as a photographer. To hear the whole conversation, check out the episode here. The following has been edited for clarity and length.

Front Office Sports: You’re a very serious photographer. Do you think of it as a prominent hobby or a full-on second career?

Randy Johnson: It’s just something that’s given me an outlet. The way I go about a photography trip is kind of the way that I would go about the day that I was pitching against the team that was coming into town. I would have already prepared and known all the strengths and weaknesses of my opponent and done my research, done my due diligence. It’s no different than if I’m going to Africa on a photography trip. I’m doing all my research, and I’m knowing where I’m going to go and why I want to go there. 

FOS: You’ve taken images of wildlife, a lot of rock concerts, plenty of travel photography, some sports, of course. Do you have a favorite subject?

RJ: They’re all a little different, and that’s what’s so interesting about it. You have to have the ability to shoot different things. There’s different settings and different equipment that I’m going to be using for the various subjects. 

The concerts all started back when I was in college shooting for the college newspaper. There was a real need for that at USC shooting for the college newspaper. They might be doing a review of the concert and they would obviously need a picture of the concert. So I would go and take a picture of the concert and bring it back and I just enjoyed that. 

It’s pretty fun to look back at some of the pictures of the concerts that I took back in the early ’80s when I was at college. They hold up just as well as any of the concerts that I’ve been to in the last 10 years, 15 years.

FOS: Anything wild happen while photographing wildlife?

RJ: Going to Africa and being in your Jeep and you’re sitting up on the bluff and you’re getting ready to watch 10,000 wildebeests cross over the Mara River. That’s part of the great migration. They start off down south and they’re moving up north. They’re traveling about 1,800 miles and they’ve been doing it for thousands of years, because they think that the pastures are greener on the other side of the river. 

You’re looking across the river and you’re seeing thousands of wildebeests and zebras, and they want to come over to your side. Well, the Mara River is pretty rough. There’s going to be some current in the river. And then you’ve got the huge 20-foot Nile crocodiles sitting on the bank and you’re going to have to deal with those. Usually one of the wildebeests is not going to make it.

Every trip is a little different because you see different things, and some of the crossings are bigger. Some of them can be five to 10 to 20,000 wildebeests, and it’s just sheer chaos.

FOS: That sounds absolutely incredible. I’m pretty jealous. Switching over to your baseball life, the logo for your photography studio is a dead bird and for everything you did on the field for your incredible career, the moment you’re probably best remembered for is that out-of-nowhere, absurd moment when a bird intercepted your pitch and didn’t make it through that experience. How do you think about that moment, 23 years later? 

RJ: Yeah, 23 years later, it’s still out there. It still seems to be relevant. People still bring it up. It’s just one thing after 22 years in the major leagues. It’s one thing everybody remembers that I did. They may not know a lot of my accomplishments in baseball, but they’ve seen me hit the bird at one time or another. 

FOS: Did you happen to see the tandem Halloween costume that went viral last year of you and the bird?

RJ: Yes. I would say that they’re probably in their 20s. And so they probably remember a little bit of my career. But the beauty of it is, it’s not ever going away. It was caught on camera and someone who, maybe, wasn’t born then can actually watch it and see it and then be in awe of it.

FOS: You pitched more than 200 innings in 14 different seasons. Some of those were like 250, 270. No one does that anymore, and also, of course, we’re seeing a whole lot of pitcher injuries. I’m just wondering what you think about the modern approach to pitching. 

RJ: I’m wondering if you’re ever going to have someone like a Nolan Ryan or a Tom Seaver—someone that can go out there and win 20 games, and strike out 300 batters and throw 230, 240 innings. I’m not sure that’s going to happen in today’s game anymore because the pitchers aren’t groomed to pitch that way anymore. It’s more about pitching five, six innings and then letting the bullpen come in. 

My concern would be, I’m out there to win a ball game because that’s my livelihood. And if I’m coming out after five or six innings and the game is still tied 1–1 and I’m coming out for no other reason than that’s the theory in today’s game, then you’re taking away my livelihood in some regards, because I would think that you would want an opportunity to win that game.

FOS: Other than winning the World Series, what’s a favorite moment from your career?

RJ: Well, the World Series was obviously the main objective in my career and accomplishing that was the pinnacle. And then I would say, pitching a perfect game when I was 40 years old against the Atlanta Braves.

And then just some of those pitching duels. I wasn’t out and they weren’t out after five or six—we were going seven, eight, nine innings. You really learn how to pitch in those games. You really see what you’re made of, because physically, you’re in uncharted waters. If you do that once and you show to yourself you can do that, then you build up a tolerance to being able to do that. But if you never do that, you’re never going to be able to put yourself in that situation. It’s a mindset as well. So it’s a mindset and a physical need that you need to be put in those situations. And then when you are, you’ll be able to get through those a little bit more.

But pitchers in today’s games aren’t put in those situations.

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