D-backs to honor Big Unit's perfecto on Sunday
Johnson to throw out first pitch in pregame ceremony on 10-year anniversary
PHOENIX -- Throughout his career, one could have used many adjectives to describe Randy Johnson's work on the mound. Dominant, winning, electric, overpowering, intense and fearsome are all fair descriptions.
But 10 years ago Sunday, the former D-backs pitcher was simply perfect. Johnson retired all 27 Atlanta Braves hitters on May 18, 2004, to throw the 17th perfect game in Major League history.
The D-backs will honor Johnson on Sunday in pregame festivities that will conclude with him throwing the first pitch to the man who caught him that day, Robby Hammock.
"It's a significant, historical event in our franchise history," D-backs team president/CEO Derrick Hall said. "Randy deserves this, and I know he's excited about it. As soon as I invited him, he enthusiastically accepted it, so we're thrilled with that."
Johnson had two stints with the D-backs. He initially signed a four-year free-agent deal prior to the 1999 season and was in Arizona until being dealt to the Yankees following the 2004 season.
Johnson returned to the D-backs in 2007, and his parting following the '08 season was not without hard feelings.
Time and a regime change in the front office has helped smooth that over a bit. And in recent years, Johnson appeared at Chase Field for the 10-year reunion of the 2001 World Series team. The organization was also ecstatic when he spent one morning at Spring Training in 2013 talking with some of the team's pitchers and watching them throw bullpen sessions.
"[Johnson] was going to come out again this year," said Hall, adding that the timing didn't work out. "I think he's in a place now where, I hope, he's much more comfortable to come around, and know that he's always got an open invitation to Spring Training, to the offices or to the clubhouse. He's important to us."
Since taking over as CEO, Hall has worked hard to bring Johnson back into the fold.
"It's important to me that he has good feelings about this organization, because this is where he achieved some of his greatest accomplishments," Hall said. "Our relationship has been really strong the last couple of years. The communication has been very positive, and I feel really good about where we are and where we're headed."
When he visited Spring Training in 2013, Johnson explained that following his retirement after the '09 season, he wanted some time away from the game. So Johnson focused on spending time with his family, while also traveling to visit U.S. troops as part of the USO. He also found time to pursue photography, which he studied in college.
"For me, it was just a matter of detoxing, a little bit of detachment from it," Johnson said then. "It was a long grind, lots of injuries and a lot of hard work. I anticipate being around a little bit more over time."
Johnson will be eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame this winter, and with 303 wins and a strikeout total of 4,875 (second only to Nolan Ryan), he figures to be a first-ballot shoo-in.
Once that happens, the D-backs would like to retire Johnson's No. 51. In fact, it's something they've wanted to do for a while now, but Johnson said back in 2013 that he did not want anything like that until he potentially entered the Hall of Fame.
"I've talked to Derrick about that," Johnson said then. "I think when the time comes, I think yeah, absolutely. I've never not wanted them to do it. I just always thought the timing was more important to me."
In other words, it is likely we'll see another ceremony for Johnson at Chase Field in the near future.
"No. 51 will be retired," Hall said. "It's just a matter of when, and we'll do that in correspondence with [Johnson], when he's most comfortable with it. I think that will be when he's in the Hall of Fame, which should be on the first ballot, no doubt."
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Inside the D-backs, and follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.