Big Unit heads Hall of Fame's class of 2015
Johnson earns 97.3 percent of vote in first time on ballot, joined by Smoltz, P. Martinez and Biggio
SEATTLE -- Randy Johnson's towering presence helped put the Mariners on the map in the mid-1990s, and now the Big Unit is carrying his former Seattle club into the Hall of Fame with him in 2015.
The flame-throwing southpaw with the flowing locks and fierce demeanor earned first-ballot induction to Cooperstown on Tuesday, garnering 97.3 percent of the vote (534 of 549) of Baseball Writers' Association of America members, the eighth-highest voting percentage for any player in Hall of Fame history.
"My time in Seattle was wonderful," Johnson said, noting his Mariners tenure was the time when he learned how to harness the ability that eventually led to his induction into baseball's most exclusive club.
Johnson becomes the first player with significant Mariners ties selected to the Hall of Fame. Outfielder Rickey Henderson (elected in 2009), reliever Rich Gossage ('08) and starting pitcher Gaylord Perry ('91) all played briefly for Seattle at the end of their careers.
Former Mariners general manager Pat Gillick (2011) and former skipper Dick Williams ('08) were elected to the Hall of Fame by the veterans committee and one-time batting coach Paul Molitor ('04) was elected the same year he worked in Seattle. Broadcaster Dave Niehaus was the Ford C. Frick Award winner in 2008 and thus has a plaque in Cooperstown, though Frick Award winners aren't technically members of the Hall of Fame.
Johnson thus becomes the first Hall of Fame player who spent a major part of his career wearing a Mariners uniform, though he'll undoubtedly receive company next year when Ken Griffey Jr. becomes eligible for the first time.
The Big Unit played 10 of his 22 seasons in Seattle and earned five of his 10 All-Star bids, the first of his five Cy Young Awards and one of his two no-hitters while with the Mariners from 1989-98. Johnson went on to add five more All-Star berths and four Cy Young honors in eight years in Arizona, but accrued more wins (130), games (274), starts (266), complete games (51), shutouts (19) and strikeouts (2,162) in his Seattle tenure than with the D-backs.
Johnson sidestepped the question of which team's hat he'd like to have on his Hall of Fame bust. The Hall of Fame now has final say in which team's logo is on inductees' hats, though they work in conjunction with the player on that decision. Some players go in with no specific logo if their career was equally divided, which is what Greg Maddux did last year.
"I'm just kind of celebrating the 22 years I've played and being inducted into the Hall of Fame," Johnson said. "That question is out of my control. That's more of a Hall of Fame decision at this point and I'll cross that bridge in the next couple days, I understand."
The 6-foot-10 lefty also made brief stops with the Expos, Yankees, Giants and Astros in a career that also included eight postseason runs and a World Series title and MVP award with the D-backs in 2001.
Johnson said that World Series championship was the pinnacle of his career, but he spoke glowingly of his earlier days with the Mariners as well.
"My time in Seattle was really my apprenticeship," Johnson said. "That's where I learned how to pitch and go out there every fifth day, good, bad or indifferent. It wasn't always easy pitching in the Kingdome, which was a hitter's park. But Seattle was a wonderful time in my career. The ability to play with Edgar Martinez and Jay Buhner and Omar Vizquel and Ken Griffey Jr. and to finally do something in '95 was something special."
There was no doubt Johnson deserved Hall of Fame nomination as he ranks second in MLB history with 4,875 strikeouts, first in strikeouts per nine innings (10.61) and 22nd in wins (303). He'll head to Cooperstown as the top vote-getter in a 2015 induction class that also includes Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio, the first time four have been selected since 1955.
Johnson made a pitch as well for Edgar Martinez, his long-time Mariners teammate who finished 12th in the voting in his sixth year of eligibility and now has four remaining years on the ballot to climb to the necessary 75 percent for induction. Martinez was named on 27.0 percent of the ballots, a slight hike from last year's 25.2 percent.
"Edgar Martinez was hands down the best hitter I've ever seen," Johnson said. "I'm glad I didn't have to face him too much. But I got to see him hit a lot against great pitchers. Hands down he is the best pure hitter I ever got to see on a nightly basis, and I hope his time comes soon, that he gets a phone call saying he is a Hall of Fame player, because he is."
Tom Seaver got 98.9 percent of the vote in 1992, the highest Hall of Fame voting percentage in history. The only other players ever receiving a higher percent than Johnson were Seaver (98.9), Nolan Ryan (98.7), Cal Ripken Jr. (98.5), Ty Cobb (98.2), George Brett (98.2), Hank Aaron (97.8) and Tony Gwynn (97.6).
But while there was never a doubt Johnson would reach this day when he retired, the big man said he never pondered that possibility during his two-plus decades playing the game.
"The Hall of Fame was never, ever something I surely thought about," he said. "I just really enjoyed playing the game. I truly did. I've been very blessed to have played as long as I did. It was fun. … Despite what a lot of people think -- because I wasn't smiling and laughing a lot -- but I enjoyed the competition and tried to make it last as long as I could. Playing 22 years at the Major League level was something I never would have imagined."