Objects collide constantly. Some collisions are an inevitable force of nature, such as asteroids capable of life altering changes on Earth. Other collisions appear so highly implausible that they make for great arguments, like two bullets colliding and fusing during wartime. Then there is the tale of Randy Johnson, a fabled figure in his own right without any help, destroying a bird with a pitch during Spring Training 2001. Insane, but true as evidenced by video. The fact that it was even caught on film was a fluke in and of itself because Spring Training games were hardly even broadcast at the time.
The 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks have so many storybook moments that it can be broken down into volumes. You have already read about some of them in this “Greatest Moments” recap series with more to come. That fairy tale season, similar to the more mundane ones, had its beginning in Spring Training. Before Randy Johnson’s 20 strikeout game, before Tony Womack’s grand slam on Father’s Day following the death of his father, and before Luis Gonzalez won the Home Run Derby and eventually the World Series with a bloop over Derek Jeter’s head, Randy Johnson exploded a bird in Spring Training with a perfectly timed pitch. Unintentionally of course. Consider it a good omen of things to come.
That preseason tune up was being played against the San Francisco Giants on March 24th, 2001. Johnson’s opponent at the plate, no not the bird, was center fielder Calvin Murray. Murray was a two time first round draft pick having signed with the San Francisco Giants as the 7th overall selection in the 1992 draft. It took him seven years to make his MLB debut, and he mostly hung on as a career AAAA player until 2005.
Randy Johnson and his 6’10” frame wound up and hurled the projectile (baseball) towards home plate. It never landed as intended in the glove of catcher Rod Barajas, instead impacting and instantly killing a mourning dove.
“I’m sitting there waiting for (the pitch), and I’m expecting to catch the thing, and all you see is an explosion,” said Diamondbacks catcher Rod Barajas. “It’s crazy. There’s still feathers down there.”
“It exploded, feathers and everything, just ‘poof!’” said Murray. “There were nothing but feathers laying on home plate. I never saw the ball, nothing but feathers.”
In 2016, a group of ornithologists and a geophysicist held a round table of sorts to discuss the event. Asked to place odds on such a tragedy happen, responses excluding obvious snark ranged from one in twelve million pitches to one in fifty million pitches. Unfortunately for the future Hall of Famer, PeTA unsuccessfully pursued legal action against Randy Johnson on the bird’s beahlf.
“I was considered a bird killer, and they were actually considering filing charges on the bird’s behalf.”- Randy Johnson
The legacy of the event lives on in The Big Unit’s post playing career. Now a remarkable photographer, Johnson uses the logo of a dead bird for his photography business.