Acquired: 12/10/1998. Signed as a Free Agent with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Career with AZ: 103-49, 2.65 ERA
Best year 2002: 24-5, 2.32 ERA
Records: Franchise career leader in - really deep breath - ERA, wins, IP, K's, starts, complete games, shutouts (as many as every other pitcher put together), losses, hit batters. Single-season leader in ERA (the top five entries), wins, K's (top four), complete games (top three), shutouts and hit batters.
Other facts: Between 1993 and 2002, Johnson's record in September games was 28-1, with a 2.01 ERA in 39 appearances.
Biggest moment: Pitching the sole no-hitter in franchise history - a perfect game, to boot.
Departed: 1/11/2005. Traded by the Arizona Diamondbacks to the New York Yankees for Javier Vazquez, Brad Halsey, Dioner Navarro, and cash.
Going by our poll results, there'll be little argument about this: by the biggest landslide in SnakePit history (84% of votes at time of writing), the greatest player to wear a Diamondback uniform ever is Randall David Johnson - sorry to disappoint you, Robby Hammock. I can't argue with the popular consensus here at all: the Big Unit is the top of the heap when it comes to the players we've seen in Arizona.
Indeed, Johnson may be the most dominating left-handed pitcher in history, with 4300+ strikeouts: only Steve Carlton comes within fifteen hundred of that total. Certainly, in our time, Johnson rules. The only other active leftie with a season in the all-time top 100 for ERA+ is Johan Santana, whose 2004 performance comes in at #84. Johnson appears on the list five times - 1995, 1997, 1999, 2001 and 2002 - three of them coming in Arizona.
And, I think it's no coincidence that those, and only those, are our playoff seasons: as Johnson went, so did the Diamondbacks, more or less. He arrived after a Jekyll and Hyde season in 1998: he opened by going 9-10, 4.33 ERA in Seattle, but then went 10-1 in Houston, with an amazing 1.28 ERA over the last three months. However, they didn't renew him, as Johnson came to the desert as a free agent on a 4-year, $53m contract.
This form extended into 1999, where he won the NL Cy Young award, going 17-9 - and that record despite a series of four starts where we scored a total of zero runs, and only six hits. 2000 brought a 19-7 record, along with a 2.64 ERA, enough to win him another Cy Young, and Johnson also notched his 3,000th strikeout in September. He even managed a five-game hitting streak.
2001 brought an astonishing 372 K's (13.4 per nine innings, a major-league record), a number reached only twice since the 1880's. He fanned twenty against the Reds on May 8, and added 16 out of the bullpen on July 19, in a contest at Qualcomm Stadium that was held over when the lights blew up the night before. He only lost once in his last eighteen starts.
But it was the post-season where Johnson stood tall. Whispers over his "clutchness" abounded, and he took the loss in his division series start vs. St. Louis. But the rest of the way, he went 5-0 with a 1.08 ERA, and 38 K's in 33.1 innings, becoming the first five-game winner in post-season history, and the first to win three World Series games since Mickey Lolich in 1968. His appearance out of the bullpen in game seven, after winning game six, is the stuff of AZ legend.
If anything, 2002 saw him even more dominant, not just taking home his fourth straight Cy Young (yawn!), but doing so on a unanimous vote. He set a franchise-record for wins with 24, and won the triple crown of ERA, wins and K's, the first National League pitcher to do so since Doc Gooden in 1985. Again, he dominated towards the end, going 11-1 in his last twelve starts, with a 1.31 ERA over 103.1 innings. However, he lost his only post-season start, allowing 10 hits and five earned runs in six innings against the Cardinals.
2003 was a disaster, due to injury. Johnson appeared in only 18 games, the first year since 1996 he started less than thirty. His right knee gave him problems, connected to the cartilage (or lack thereof); this led to two stints on the disabled list as well as surgery which largely removed the cartilage and left Johnson reliant on lubricating injections, like a vintage pickup with a leaky transmission.
Still, the next year saw Johnson back to full health, and he led the league in strikeouts for the ninth time in his career. A 2.60 ERA should have led to another Cy Young, but writers couldn't look past a mediocre 16-14 record, even though the Big Unit alone won more than 30% of all our victories that year, in only 35 starts. He notched his 4,000th K in June and, of course, on May 18th came the crowning glory: a 117-pitch perfect game vs. Atlanta, making Johnson the first 40-year old to do so.
Rumblings had surrounded a deal all year, but with a full no-trade clause, Johnson had the upper hand, and it was made clear that it was going to be the Yankees or nobody. Finally, a little more than six years after it began, the Johnson era ended, with his departure - ironically, for the team against whom he had some of his finest moments, which left many saying, it was probably the only way the Yankees would ever be able to beat him.
Whenever he retires, the Hall of Fame beckons, on the first ballot. The only question is, will it be in a D'backs uniform? Seattle might have a claim: it's arguable that Johnson's best season was 1997 in a Mariners uniform, when he posted a 2.28 ERA in the American league. [The resulting ERA+ of 198 remains the best by any leftie since Ron Guidry posted a 208 for the Yankees in 1978] But the World Series ring, co-MVP and perfect game tilt the balance towards Arizona, in my opinion.