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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Congrats to Randy Johnson On Quest For 300 -- But It's Still Just a Number (and a Terrible Film)

Posted By on Wed, Jun 3, 2009 at 8:30 AM

click to enlarge A portrait of the strikeout artist as a young man...
  • A portrait of the strikeout artist as a young man...
The omphalos of the American sporting world will be occupied by one Randall David Johnson tonight, as the 6-foot-10 San Francisco Giants pitcher -- whom harried members of SF Weekly's staff say has trouble remembering to keep his bike off the sidewalk -- attempts to win his 300th game.

Merely calling this an "impressive achievement" would be like simply labeling Johnson "tall" -- to win 300 baseball games shows a maniacal combination of skill and longevity that only 23 men of all the tens and thousands who have taken the mound have been able to pull off.

And yet, in this, the most statistically obsessed of sports, 300 is still just a number. If a squadron of doves surrounded Johnson in Washington, D.C. and carried him off in retaliation for the famous incident in which he inadvertently disintegrated one of their colleagues with a 97-mph fastball -- would that make him any less of a pitcher?   

This is not an article meant to knock the baseball geekery that has come into vogue since the writing of Moneyball; if it comes down to a trove of neglected statistics to determine a player's worth or a scout admiring his form (or even his looks), I'll go with the former.

This is about confusing numbers as the source of greatness as opposed to greatness as the source of numbers. A number of writers have opined how fortunate it was that Roberto Clemente managed to stroke career hit No. 3,000 in his last-ever at-bat, before his untimely death in 1972 in a plane ferrying supplies to earthquake victims. The nice, round number and sense of achievement sit well with those concerned with posterity -- though we're reasonably certain it was little comfort to Clemente when that plane went down. The point is, though, whether Clemente notched 2,999 hits or 3,000 he was a great player -- and, to listen to those who saw him play, great in a way that transcended the box score.

So, congratulations to Johnson on reaching the top of the mountain -- and, let us hope, this doesn't turn out to be the highlight of the Giants' season. But make no mistake. Randy Johnson isn't great because he'll have won 300 games. He'll have won 300 games because he was great.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" is a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly, which he has written for since 2007. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers... more


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