A Look Back at the Time Randy Johnson Hit a Bird

- September 5, 2023

We all know Randy Johnson had a “killer” fastball. Well, that was more than just a term used to describe the blazing speed on March 24, 2001. In a spring training game in Tucson, Arizona, a fastball thrown by Johnson hit a dove that was flying across the field.

Randy Johnson Hits Bird

What Kind of Pitch Was It?

Without a doubt, it was one of Randy Johnson’s 95-plus MPH fastball that vaporized the mourning dove.

What Were the Odds of This Happening?

The odds depend on who is conducting the research, but it’s the only time in the game’s history of such a recorded incident.

Michael Wunder, associate professor at the University of Colorado in Denver, concluded that the odds would be about 1 in 50 million.

He based this on the number of pitches thrown in a game and the number of games per year. Also factored in is the fact that doves usually fly much higher off the ground.

What Was the Umpire’s Call On the Pitch?

There was no way to know whether or not the pitch would cross the strike zone. Even though the pitch squarely struck something, in this case, a dove, the umpires deliberated over the situation. Under Rule 8.01(c), “common sense and fair play” was considered.

In this case, a no-pitch was the result. Essentially, it’s the same result as if a pitcher throws a pitch after a batter is granted time out by the home plate umpire. A redo was the fairest thing to do in this scenario.

How Did the Players React?

Catcher Rod Barajas, who was awaiting the pitch, said, “it was an explosion. I don’t know any other way to put it”.

There seemed to be a bit of confusion, shock, and bewilderment as to what transpired.

Perhaps Chris Speier put it best when he said, “everybody realized, ‘Holy shit, he hit a bird.'”

In an interview with Fox Sports Arizona, Randy Johnson notes that he noticed a blur going across home plate and the ball simultaneously hitting that bird. It was hard for him to put into perspective since it happened in a split second.

Diamondback’s first base coach Eddie Rodriguez said he saw the bird coming across the field. But, due to the action going on, he didn’t think it would get in the way of a pitched ball. However, he noticed the bird kept coming and then “poof” when the ball struck the bird.

Jeff Kent, coming off an MVP season and playing for the Giants at the time, walked from the dugout to pick up the dead bird. In typical Jeff Kent style for those that know him, it wasn’t surprising that he’d pick up the bird. As Diamondbacks public relations spokesperson Mike Swanson told The Athletic, “he seemed as if he was going to take a bite out of it. I think about half the people on the first-base side passed out. “Swanson believes Kent intended to get a few thousand people grossed out. Mission accomplished.

At the plate at the time of the incident was Calvin Murray, who happens to be the uncle of NFL star quarterback Kyler Murray of the Arizona Cardinals. Murray initially thought the ball exploded, that it was some preseason practice joke. Murray thought Johnson threw an exploding baseball as a prank. 

The bizarre nature of the incident became even more so when the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) seriously pondered pressing charges against Johnson for cruelty to animals.

Still, in the end, none were filed. Johnson was considered a bird killer, and what was once a crazy, kind of funny moment turned out to be more serious.

The moment was like something out of The Twilight Zone, considering the size of a baseball, the vast amount of feet the bird could have been at the very instant, the timing of the ball. Yet, it happened, and 20 years later, it’s still a topic of discussion.

Had it not been for Jim Currigan, Diamondback’s video coordinator, the entire incident likely would have vanished the same way the bird did.

Now, it’s on YouTube where millions upon millions of people will view for years to come.

Randy Johnson Profile

Randy Johnson played 22 seasons of Major League baseball from 1988 through 2009. This was for six teams, mainly the Seattle Mariners and Arizona Diamondbacks.

Nicknamed “The Big Unit,” at 6′ 10″ tall, Randy Johnson was one of the tallest players and most intimidating pitchers in baseball history.

Known for a dominating fastball and devastating slider from the left side, Johnson struggled early in his career. He led the league in strikeouts nine times, six times surpassing 300 strikeouts in a season.

Randy Johnson led the league in complete games four times, ERA, winning percentage four times, innings pitched twice. He was co-World Series MVP with Curt Schilling in 2001 when he won three games for the Arizona Diamondbacks in taking down the New York Yankees. 

Johnson joined an exclusive club in 2002 when he led the league in wins, ERA, and strikeouts, known as the Triple Crown for pitchers.

Randy Johnson won four consecutive Cy Young Awards from 1999 through 2002, and his 303 wins are the fifth most among left-handed pitchers in league history. In addition, Johnson’s 4875 strikeouts rank second only to Nolan Ryan.

On May 18, 2004, Johnson made history by becoming the oldest pitcher to throw a perfect game. He did so against the Atlanta Braves, striking out 13 in a 2-0 win. Johnson was a 10-time All-Star, won Cy Young Awards in both leagues, and was one of only two players to win the award in four consecutive years.

Attributed to his longevity and dominance, Johnson was one of only 20 pitchers in the league to defeat all 30 MLB teams at least once.

Retiring after the 2009 season, Johnson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015. He was the first member of the Hall of Fame with a Diamondbacks uniform on his plaque. He is still the only one.

The list of Johnson’s accomplishments is nearly endless. Let’s take a closer look:

  • Johnson threw his first no-hitter as a member of the Seattle Mariners on June 2, 1990, against the Detroit Tigers.
  • Johnson made his first of ten All-Star teams in 1990 and his last 14 years later in 2004.
  • Led the league in strikeouts 1992-1995, 1999-2002, 2004
  • Led the league for lowest 
  • ERA in 1995, 1999, 2001, 2002
  • Won three games in the 2001 World Series and the Triple Crown in 2002
  • Won the Warren Spahn Award four consecutive seasons from 1999 through 2002
  • Struck out 16 in a relief appearance against the Padres on July 18, 2001
  • Holds the record for most games with 11,12,13,14, or 15 strikeouts
  • Co-Winner of the Babe Ruth Award in 2001 with teammate Curt Schilling
  • Earned his 300th career MLB win by defeating the Washington Nationals, 5-1 on June 4, 2009.
  • Defeated every team in MLB at least once
  • Set the record for most strikeouts in a game by a left-handed pitcher when he fanned 20 Reds on May 8, 2001
  • Set an American League record for strikeouts in a nine-inning game by a left-handed pitcher with 19 punchouts against the As. He did it again against the White Sox in 1997.
  • Johnson ran off a streak of 16 consecutive decisions with a win from 1995 to 1997
  • Elected to the Mariners Hall of Fame
  • Most strikeouts for any left-handed pitcher in the history of MLB
  • Recorded three strikeouts in an inning on nine pitches twice (September 2, 1998, against the Braves and August 23, 2001, against Pirates)
  • Johnson received the third-highest vote for the Baseball Hall of Fame (97.3%) among all pitchers.
  • Despite all of Johnson’s accomplishments over a two-decade career, he is most known hitting a bird in a preseason game.
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