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The Big Unit bids farewell

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In the coming days, people throughout baseball will pay homage to Randy Johnson, who is announcing his retirement today. They’ll talk about his power, his ferocity, his toughness. They’ll recall his pitch to John Kruk in the All-Star Game, and how he helped put Seattle baseball on the map. All around the baseball media world, men and women will leap from their seats to praise the Big Unit.

But not me.

I have nothing but negative thoughts for Randy Johnson, a brilliant pitcher but a pathetic human being. I covered baseball for a good chunk of time. I had direct access to such unpleasant men as Will Clark, John Rocker, Barry Bonds, Arthur Rhodes. But nobody—and I mean absolutely nobody—possessed the pure dismissive cruelty of Randy Johnson.

I’ve heard it a million times—no one cares how athletes treat the media. Well, I care. And Johnson was a punk. He bullied reporters, he snarled at reporters, he occasionally threatened reporters. He is one of the far-too-many professional athletes who believes the ability to throw a round piece of animal skin 100 mph grants you the right to treat other human beings as dog excrement. Just ask anyone who covered Johnson during his days in Montreal, Seattle, Houston, Arizona, New York and, lastly, San Francisco. He was a first-class pitcher and a first-class creep.

Should that prevent people from voting Johnson into the Hall of Fame? Of course not. His record of greatness is undeniable—303 wins, 4,875 strikeouts, a World Series title. But when you think of Randy Johnson, I urge you not to remember the 6-foot-10 pitching giant, but the little man who inhabited his body.

84 replies on “The Big Unit bids farewell”

Jeff: I am wondering… has any one post ever generated so many comments? Seriously, this will be #51 and it’s about Randy Freeking Johnson.

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An example or two of Randy Johnson’s behavior would do a lot of good for this post. I do recall the cameraman shoving incident but that’s all that comes to mind.

As it is, the reader is left to take your word for it…

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Wow. Been a few hours since my comment, but wow. Jeff, don’t take a lot of them too seriously, man. Maybe you were wrong about Randy Johnson, but you’re a good guy, too.

For those of you ripping into Jeff here for being an a-hole, a petty man, a little man, you should know he’s spent a lot of time advising me, answering pretty much any stupid question I could come up with as I’m working on my first book and trying to get my career going in this crapper of an economy.

I don’t agree with you all the time, Jeff. I don’t agree with you about Randy Johnson and lots of other things. But you don’t deserve a lot of the crap these guys are throwing your way.

Keep working hard, man. Looking forward to your next book.

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JR: Randy Johnson played baseballs for 22 years, won 300 games, and sold a LOT of tickets for his respective franchises during the best years of his career. He’s one of the five best left-handed pitchers of all time. And Jeff seemed to have no reservations about devoting a post belittling his career due to being a “little man.” So is calling Pearlman out for it a low blow? Not by the example he set by calling Johnson a “pathetic human being.”

It’s kind of like saying five years from now, “When you think of Jeff Pearlmen, I urge you not to think of the author and dedicated sportswriter who penned multiple bestsellers, but the little man who barked his dislike for Randy Johnson to the empty reaches of the blogosphere.”

In the internet age, you have to practice what you preach if you want to get away with panning someone like this. Generalizing your opinion to such a large degree is irresponsible journalism. Period.

Does it make Mr. Pearlman a bad person? No. But I think he demonstrated poor judgment in this instance.

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Chris – That’s fair enough. Really. But the personal attacks on Jeff as a person were way out of line. Basically saying that he’s a loser because he writes sports books. I always laugh at the irony of people attacking sports writers for not doing something more important when most of those people would kill for the job, and while away their leisure hours posting on blogs and obsessing over games.

There was a good example in the NYT today. Tyler Kepner wrote that Johnson got angry with him when he lobbed a softball to him about his guest appearance on “The Simpsons.”

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“So an aging platoon player who hits .322/.392 stinks? Really?”

Yeah really. He had 218ABs and showed no power.

And he really wasn’t a platoon player at all. He was supposed to provide off-the-bench pop and spell Youkilis on random days.

He obviously didn’t do his job, because the Sox had to go out and get Mark Kotsay to fill his role.

So yeah, I’d say that he sucked in Boston.

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Reader comments can be the scariest thing in the world. You people taking the time to rip a reporter a new one really need to find something else to do with your time. Pearlman was there; he works with these guys; he knows more about them than you do. He’s here to give his perspective; you are, apparently, here to insult and whine.

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The vast majority of fans who have actually met a pro athlete met him at a FanFest or during a game when the player took five seconds to sign a baseball. Maybe a few people here and there have actually had a conversation with a player (I talked photography with Barry Zito once), but that still doesn’t give us a full picture of what kind of human being a guy is.

My personal experience with Randy Johnson was in Toronto in 1997 when the Mariners were in town to play the Blue Jays. After the game, a few dozen kids were waiting outside the players entrance with their parents when every kid’s dream came true. In a span of about two minutes, Johnson, Alex Rodriguez and Roger Clemens each walked out of the stadium. All three of them breezed right past us. Clemens and Rodriguez didn’t even make eye contact with us peons (A-Rod even bumped into me, almost knocking me over, and just kept on walking), while Johnson stopped and signed a ball for one kid before he moved on, saying he had to catch his cab.

When I think back to that experience, I tend to think of each of those players as jerks. But what do I know? Maybe all three of them signed fifty autographs before the game. Maybe Johnson really did have someplace he needed to get to, and he didn’t want to look like a total jerk by not signing for anyone.

The point is, we don’t really have the right to judge these guys – whether it’s the athletes or the reporters who cover them. And when it comes to the media’s opinion of players, I really only tend to trust beat reporters who are basically with the team non stop for eight months out of the year.

In short, I really don’t think it’s fair for Jeff Pearlman to call Randy Johnson “a pathetic human being”. Jeff – I’m sure you may act a bit different at work, when you’re under a deadline, than you do at home. And when it comes to Randy Johnson, how do you know that he isn’t an amazing husband and father and a great friend? You’re certainly entitled to your opinion, but perhaps you should have left that part out, as your experience with Johnson was limited to baseball clubhouses.

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Dear JR: I agree with your comment. The amount of hate being hurled at Jeff is utterly astonishing. A pitcher like Randy Johnson makes $15 million a year and yet still behaves like a sour, unhappy person. It boggles the mind.

And just once, I wish many of you could experience the feeling of humiliation caused unnecessarily by athletes toward a media person. Many of you seem to be under the impression that the writers got what they deserved from a guy like Johnson. In a minority of cases, that might have been true. In the vast majority of instances, however, that absolutely is not true. Of course, when somebody acts rude to you in public, I’m sure every last one of you turns the other cheek and thinks to yourself that somehow you must have had it coming.

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jb: I don’t know Jeff Pearlman, and if you actually read my comments, I don’t do anything of the sort. I said that he “demonstrated poor judgment in this instance.” Randy Johnson doesn’t particularly need defending, and I would stand by my comments if this were about Johnson, Carlos Zambrano, A-Roid, or any other professional athlete (except maybe John Rocker, but his bigotry is well documented).

This is Mr. Pearlman’s blog, and it’s his right to post anything he wants here. But as someone who makes his living as a journalist and published author should understand that there is a certain expectation – albeit an unfair one – that anything he writes will be ready for consumption. Particularly since most of the negative crowd here was likely drawn here through a link by Rob Neyer on ESPN.com, where the blogging is passed off as more journalism amidst their 24-hour news cycle. So, perhaps there is a bit of a double-standard at work here on the part of the commenters.

I’d still like to hear evidence to substantiate the claims that “nobody—and I mean absolutely nobody … possessed the pure dismissive cruelty of Randy Johnson.” So if Mr. Pearlman, a journalist, doesn’t want to be held to journalistic standards for reporting, he should post a simple disclaimer as a header or footer to his blog. If this content, as is, were published in a book, you can be sure that he would be dogged about it by the 24-hour news cycle, like Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas, and numerous other examples.

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Pearlman, who gives a shit. Sports writing is the most worthless profession in the world, Johnson doesn’t owe you shit, you probably deserved it.

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Dear Mr. Pearlman,
It would be fortuitous and fortunate were you to heed your own advice regarding Mr. Johnson:

He is one of the far-too-many professional athletes who believes the ability to throw a round piece of animal skin 100 mph grants you the right to treat other human beings as dog excrement.

With only minimal adjustment it can read

He is one of the far-too-many professional [writers who believes that access to 3 inches of national byline] grants you the right to treat other human beings as dog excrement.

I have read far too many of the Rick Reillys of the world ever to blame an athlete for holding all sports writers in perpetual distrust [and perhaps scorn], presuming that anyone of them will twist, slant and otherwise distort any quotation to create a story where there would have been none. They are by and large as narcissistic and callous as any group of people outside of Washington D.C. as may exist. Judging from your product, you are no exception. The Steve Carleton’s of the world are not rare nor without reason.
SEC

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As a Seattle fan, I’m sick of the unfounded accusation that The Big Unit tanked the first half of the ’98 season in order to get traded. Ridiculous on its face, since he was a free agent at the end of the ’98 season and went on to sign with Arizona.

The brillian http://www.USSMariner.com website provides a comprehensive analysis that convincingly refutes this insulting garbage accusation about one of the most relentlessly competitive pitchers ever to play the game.

http://ussmariner.com/2007/01/15/refuting-the-randy-johnson-quit-on-us-canard/

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Jeff,

It’s fine if you’re going to remember him for being nasty, especially if he was nasty directly to you. But to “urge” other people to remember him the same way when they haven’t had the same experiences?

C’mon. You’re better than that.

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Sorry, but without substantiation, this sounds like either sour grapes, or the birds coming home to roost. And even with examples, let’s have some anecdotes that tell the FULL story, not just the side where the Unit gets cranky at the end of a long day.

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Again, I don’t claim to be deeply familiar with your work; my opinion is largely based on your post “Why this site is so negative.”

“There. I said it. The blog is my vent. My chance to moan, to whine, to complain, to gripe, to rip. If you read my work on SI.com, I’d say 80 percent of the columns are either neutral or positive. OK, maybe 40 percent. But, if you come here, I’m pretty harsh. Randy Johnson is a jerk. Brit Hume is a tool. Sarah Palin stinks. On and on and on and on. Whine after whine after whine. Why? Because it feels good to get stuff off my chest. For 11 hours per day, I sit in a coffee shop, working on my book. I love the gig—absolutely love it—but it can be extremely isolating. Hence, every so often I feel the need to scream. Or, to blog.”

That’s a perfectly understandable and defensible sentiment. You are fully entitled to your opinions. But again, for every blogger writing, there are twenty bloggers critiquing, and in your case as a writer, people expect you to poop out finished work that’s ready for page 1 of the New York Times. Is it a double standard? Absolutely. But a rejection of it doesn’t save anybody from it.

There will always be dissenters, there will always be haters, there will always be trolls and homers every other variety of person you might never want to meet but will always Google you anyway. My best advice, honestly, is to trim down the paragraph I pasted above, throw in a “This blog is not edited for content and may make you want to claw your eyes out, but I don’t apologize for it, have a jolly day,” and post it into your blog as a header on every page for the people who are too lazy to scroll to the bottom.

Hell, Jim Rome gets away with saying things far worse than this on cable TV. He just has the good fortune of only having those comments exist for 30 minutes a day, without a chance for his viewers to respond. At least you’re engaging your readers, on some level.

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I did have the fortunate opportunity to have Mariners PR rep Dave Aust set up an interview for me with Randy Johnson in the Seattle Kingdome clubhouse in the 90s.

He gave me a very thoughtful and insightful interview on topics ranging from his family, little league career, his rationale for choosing college baseball at USC over the minor leagues, and his major league career to date.

I found him friendly throughout, and we had a nice conversation afterwards. I look forward to seeing him take his deserved place in Cooperstown.

I was very grateful that he took the time to talk to me

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Technically, Randy Johnson was my first interview subject as a reporter. It was the M’s magical ’95 season andI was an intern at the NBC station in Seattle. Randy plunked Jim Leyritz, and I was sent to get his “reaction” to the game (the M’s won on a 3r dinger from Tino) and the plunk. Let’s just say Randy wasn’t interested in sharing his reaction. He was a great pitcher, but he was also a jerk. Mr. Pearlman, you had a lot more ab’s with the Big Unit than I did, but he definitely went 0-1 with me.

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a lot of you clown writers and reporters are such sensitive bitches. athletes dont have to be nice to you at all. if you made 10 million a year or more you would probably be a jerk too. you shouldnt determine their hall status because of some personal vendettas. you got racist clowns like bill madden who kept jim rice out because he didnt like him. you are complaining about randy johnson. so what? what the hell does randys actions toward you and everyone else have to do with how he played? i love how bonds acts because he acts like hes militant like his father.

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What a sad article. Johnson was clearly a reclusive person, which by nature makes it difficult for him to be comfortable talking to people. Does that make him a jerk? Probably not – just incredibly shy and recluse.
It’s a shame that a journalist would write such a nasty article because he didn’t like a guy’s personality…..get over yourself Jeff Pearlman. I’ve decided I don’t like you now, but I’ll do the classy thing and keep it to myself.

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Just ask anyone who covered Johnson during his days in Montreal, Seattle, Houston, Arizona, New York and, lastly, San Francisco. He was a first-class pitcher and a first-class creep.

How about if we ask players who you covered what they thought about you?

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Jeff, sadly you’re not better than this. It is truly disturbing that someone pays you to write for the public. Please, do the world a favor and quit.

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Just because Jim Rome is a well-paid embarrassment to humanity doesn’t mean you need to be a poorly-paid one. Go back to your mom’s basement before the stat-geeks beat you up.

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Perlman’s history and evidence seem to show that he’s a prime example of ‘Those who can, do, those who can’t do, coach/teach and those who can’t do either, criticise and/or write negative commentary’

No, RJ was not a pleasant interview. However, many of the previous posters have documented a lot of the reasons why this was so.

If y’all would learn how to treat athletes like human beings instead as objects to be exploited/used to get you your ‘story’, you still might not get your interview, but I’ll bet you also wouldn’t get the antagonistic response that your attitudes/actions deserve!

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I just wonder why writers like Jeff write really badly for SI/ESPN/Yahoo etc etc and actually manage to write fairly interesting stuff for Deadspin and occasionally for their own blogs.

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I do not understand why journalists think that they are entitled to anything from the figures they cover. The Marshawn Lynch fine is bizarre to me. Journalists should deal with what they get, and then write about it. If an athlete is sulky and uncommunicative, then that is what they are. If that is a boring story, move on and find another one. Don’t poke at the uncommunicative guy until he blows up. If you cannot get a quote from someone, then be done with it.

Athletes have no responsibility to the media, and it is silly to be sulky about that. I say Randy Johnson yelling at people twice, and he is definitely an imposing guy, who admitted that he worked himself up into a rage as motivation. So, maybe find someone else to talk to right after a game.

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Pearlman reminds me of the kid that “thought” he was being picked on by jocks in high school. In reality, it was worse. Nobody knew who he was. But, with a pen and an “audience,” he can be the bully now.

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