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On This Date in Sports March 24, 2001:

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A mundane spring training game between the San Francisco Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks becomes an internet sensation as Randy Johnson kills a dove that was flying by. The bird’s demise came in the seventh inning of a game in Tucson with Calvin Murphy at bat for the Giants. Johnson’s pitch never made it home as it hit the bird and landed at the backstop among a pile of feathers.

Randy Johnson was born September 10, 1963, in Walnut Creek, California. After staring at USC, Johnson was drafted by the Montreal Expos in the second round of the 1985 MLB Draft. A six feet ten inches, Randy Johnson nicknamed the “Big Unit” was one of the tallest players in baseball history. A top prospect, Johnson made his debut with Montreal in 1988, but the Expos thinking they were a team that could win the World Series in 1989 traded him to the Seattle Mariners for the more experienced Mark Langston.


With a rebuilding Mariners team featuring future Hall of Famers Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez also in their first full seasons in the Majors, Randy Johnson became one of the most dominant left-handed pitchers in baseball with a fastball topping out at 100mph. Due to his size and power, Randy Johnson scared even the boldest left-handed hitters, as many of the game’s top left-handed hitters chose his starts to ask for a day out of the lineup. In 1995, Randy Johnson won the Cy Young Award, while leading the Mariners to the first division title.

The Mariners won a second division title in 1997 but were unable to keep the Big Unit in the Pacific and thus traded him to the Houston Astros at the trade deadline a year later. The Astros would win the Central Division with Johnson pitching the final two months but watched helplessly as he signed as free agent with the Arizona Diamondbacks. In 1999, Randy Johnson played on third straight division champion with a different, winning his second Cy Young. Johnson would win the Cy Young again in 2000.

The Randy Johnson bird killing fastball, became a viral sensation as it was shown all over television and became one of the internet’s most downloaded videos, even in the era before modern social media. The pitch and the bird just happened to be in the same place at the same time, as the bird was flying by when Johnson was delivering a pitch. All that was seen by the fans in the stands was a puff of feathers as the ball rolled to the backstop. Umpires would rule no pitch as a result of avian interference. The grounds’ crew came out to clean up the mess as Jeff Kent of the San Francisco Giants played the dead bird’s body.

Some may suggest that killing a dove is bad luck, but Randy Johnson won a third straight Cy Young and helped the Diamondbacks, a fourth-year expansion team win the World Series. He would win another Cy Young in 2002 and finished his Hall of Fame career in 2009 with a record of 303-166, becoming what is likely the last pitcher to win 300. He also finished with 4,875 strikeouts second all-time to Nolan Ryan.