There’s a great picture of Randy Johnson that GC uses often here (above) and it involves both a drum set and a perfectly executed Heavy Metal Parking Lot affect on its subject’s part. The photo is great not just because Photos of A-Holes With Drum Sets is kind of a foolproof visual subgenre, but also because it seems to get at something essential about Johnson. As brilliant a pitcher as Randy Johnson was — and Tim Marchman’s argument that Teh Unit was the best left-handed pitcher in MLB history makes a lot of sense to me — there was always something kind of small and ridiculous about Johnson that deflated somewhat the greatness of his achievements. Even as Johnson announced his retirement on Tuesday and some artisan got to work on casting Unit’s epochal mullet for a Hall of Fame plaque, Johnson’s greatness remains secondary in my mind to his transcendent unpleasantness.
Probably my own anti-bully bias deprived me of the ability to better enjoy Johnson’s brilliance, but thanks to his obvious and unrelenting surliness and his numerous instances of rumored/substantiated jerkery, Johnson always came off to me more as a Bully Savant rather than a generation-defining ace. That is, as a small, vain and nasty schoolyard bully who happened, as it turned out, to have a surpassingly rare talent for throwing a baseball. It shouldn’t take away from his achievements on the mound, really, but I just have the sense that Todd from Beavis and Butthead should be listed among Johnson’s Baseball Reference player comparisons.
Jeff Pearlman, who doesn’t suffer bullies and jerks (or, seemingly, all that many people in general) gladly, gives Johnson a less-than-reverent sendoff at his blog. Even John Rocker thinks this is a little harsh:
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.
Buried lead alert here: Arthur Lee Rhodes is a jerk? I guess we’ll have to wait for Pearlman’s long-rumored unauthorized bio of the veteran reliever to find out more.