March 24, 2021

"The Day Randy Johnson Killed A Bird" (An Oral History)

I enjoy reading oral histories of certain events.

It might be the cult television show Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, Aerosmith's Toys in the Attic, Legs McNeil's Please Kill Me, the earthquake before Game 3 of the 1989 World Series, Pedro's relief performance in Game 5 of the 1999 ALDS, the movie Office Space, or the three impossible-to-believe weeks of the 2004 Red Sox's postseason. (I really like that last one.)

Zach Buchanan (The Athletic) has published an oral history of a brief moment in a spring training game from March 24, 2001, between the Diamondbacks and Giants, in which a pitch from Randy Johnson to Calvin Murray struck and obliterated a bird flying in front of home plate. Buchanan spoke with 17 people who were there that afternoon.

Mark Gonzales, Diamondbacks beat reporter for The Arizona Republic: It kind of struck me as one of those old "Batman" episodes where someone gets punched and — POW! — you see all the feathers fly. Everybody froze. . . .

Jim Currigan, Diamondbacks video coordinator: What was actually going through my mind at the time is almost silly to say out loud.

Calvin Murray, Giants outfielder: My initial reaction was the ball had exploded. I thought it was a practical joke or something, that he threw some tricked-up exploding baseball. It just took a minute for it to process.

Currigan: Oh my god, that's outstanding that he thinks the same thing. That's exactly what I thought. I thought we threw an exploding-ball trick into the game . . .

Henry Schulman, Giants beat reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle: It's incredible when you consider the diameter of a baseball, the millions of square feet where that bird could have been at that very moment, the timing of the pitch . . . The funny thing was that I actually put in my story that the umpire called it "no pitch." Like, no kidding. . . .

Murray: It was probably 25 feet from home plate when it got hit . . . Randy has had people swing at sliders that hit them before, but it would have been really bad if I had swung at a pitch that never got there. . . .

Rod Barajas, Diamondbacks catcher: The next day, I'm sitting by the dugout and two birds fly right by home plate. They did a flyby for the bird that passed away, in remembrance of their buddy. . . .

Currigan: I'm running the only camera in the building, and I'm sitting in the center-field camera well, 420 feet away from home plate. I had a separate Hi-8 tape for every player. . . . When we're pitching, I can just pop in the Randy Johnson one and all I've got to do is start, stop and record in between pitches. . . . Randy Johnson is set and looking in and getting ready to pitch . . . I'd just hit record. And I obviously stopped recording at the end and I wish I hadn't. I wish I'd grabbed the camera and zoomed in a little bit. I wish I would have done all of that. But I had no idea what had happened. When I was rolling all my equipment back to the clubhouse after the game, I walked by Richard Saenz, who now does stuff for the Spanish-language broadcast. He goes, "Dude, please tell me you got Randy killing the bird." I look back at him and said, "Is that what that was?"

Mike Swanson, Diamondbacks PR director: I literally ran down to our clubhouse after the game. Jim was at the tape deck.

Currigan: He's like, "If you got this, I need copies immediately." I popped in the tape and cued it up on my monitor. Everyone's first reaction was the same as ours. "Oh my god, that is unbelievable that we got that on tape." I'm grabbing every blank tape I have and I'm going through and making a copy. I don't even know how many I made. I remember asking him, "What do we need copies for?" He's like, "Everybody wants to see this. I need ESPN, I got local TV. I got Peter Jennings and World News Tonight."

Swanson: We literally ran the VHS over to the local TV stations and they distributed it from there. . . .

Schulman: Maybe I've gotten more PETA-ish as I've gotten older. I look back at my story, the few paragraphs that I wrote, and I'm mortified of how much light I made of it. We're all a little more attuned to the value of life and all that. I believe we had to write about it, because it was the big story of the day. But in the end, Randy was right. I don't think it's funny. I think it's remarkable, but not funny. . . .

Murray: I guess it's a fun fact for a lot of people who don't realize I was at the plate. I mean, I didn't actually do anything. Sometimes I'll get introduced with: "This is the guy who was hitting when Randy Johnson hit the bird." I'm like, "… Thanks." I did wind up with a double that at-bat.

"No pitch"? . . . Come on, ump. It was obviously a fowl ball.

1 comment:

wallythe24 said...

Blimey !
The world just got a bit tinier.
I was at a family friend's house in Georgia and Baseball was on TV.
They showed this about 10,000 times.
As it was 20 years ago this week , that trip's been on my mind quite a bit recently.
Somehow I'd forgotten all about it.
Nicely done.