Randy Johnson’s retirement again hits the reset button on my personal perspective machine. Iconic athletes retire, you feel older, your appreciation grows for the life you’ve led.
That’s one of the wonderful things about the privilege of being a chronicler of sports and its personalities. There is no shortage of milestones on this yellow brick road.
The Big Unit and I spun in parallel orbits for nearly a quarter century, crossing paths only occasionally. This held true down to the finish.
On Sept. 22, I got to witness the last time Johnson struck out the side. It came in a one-inning relief appearance against the Diamondbacks in Chase Field, three subsequent relief outings from the end of his line.
Pretty significant, considering how many times the fearsome lefty fanned the side in his 4,135 innings. But it falls way short of other occasions where history and I happened to intersect — Johnson’s retirement is just another excuse for reflecting on them.
For instance, I am positive to have been the only person to have been on site for — not to mention the only reporter to have covered — each of these:
- Nolan Ryan’s last five strikeouts.
Came in seven four-hit innings against the Angels on Sept. 17, 1993 — five days before he tore an elbow ligament and walked off the Kingdome mound without having retired any Mariners, never to return. This was four years after the end of my newspaper career and into my decade as a magazine freelancer, but I was covering the game for The Associated Press.
- Hank Aaron’s last home run.
Came on July 20, 1976 in Milwaukee’s County Stadium, in the seventh inning off Dick Drago. I just happened to be there, making a trip in relief of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner’s Angels beat writer, Dick Miller. Then Aaron just happened to play his next, and last, 24 games without again going deep, leaving the new magic number at 755.
The one that broke Babe Ruth’s record. April 8, 1974 … Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium … fourth inning, off Al Downing. In my first full year on the Herald staff, beloved sports editor Bud Furillo assigned me to accompany legendary baseball writer Bob Hunter on the Dodgers’ first roadtrip of the season, with the expectancy of history in the air.
- Barry Bonds’ 756th homer.
The one that broke the record I’d seen Aaron set 33 years earlier. August 7, 2007 … AT&T Park … fifth inning, off Mike Bacsik. I was assigned there by MLB.com earlier in the week, with instructions to hang until BB slew the record. My vigil was a lot briefer than that of the other BB in this equation — Barry Bloom.
Not a bad confluence of a forgettable man and unforgettable moments.