NEW YORK (Reuters) - Randy Johnson was the tallest player to reach the majors when he broke in and the newly-minted Hall of Famer said on Wednesday difficulty controlling his frame and pitches nearly convinced him to quit the game.
Standing at 6-foot-10 (2.09 meters), Johnson was blessed with an arm that could fire the ball up to 100 miles per hour (160 kph), but he was plagued with wildness through his early seasons.
“It was a hindrance at first, it was an uphill battle,” Johnson told a news conference a day after being elected to National Baseball Hall of Fame. “There were moments I wanted to quit the game.”
Young pitchers of all sizes struggle with the moving parts in their delivery, a challenge made more complex for someone whose arms, legs and trunk are so long that a miscalculation of a few inches can yield frustrating results.
“Early on when I started with the Expos, I was a major project for that organization trying to get me to be consistent with my delivery,” said Johnson,
Johnson, who made his Major League Baseball debut in 1988 with the Montreal Expos, was soon traded to Seattle and led the American League in walks three seasons in a row and twice led in hit batters.
“No one wanted to face me because they were afraid I was going to hit them and it wasn’t on purpose,” the big lefty said. “I just didn’t know where it was going.”
Johnson showed glimpses of greatness, including a 1990 no-hitter, and in 1992 began to put it together.
He sought out the Rangers’ fire-balling Nolan Ryan, who was nearing the end of his own Hall of Fame career, and the Texan suggested a few adjustments to his delivery.
That Christmas, Johnson’s father died, which the pitcher said was another milestone in his 1993 drive to success.
“It was unfortunate my dad had died. But it put me at a whole other level of understanding my threshold,” said Johnson.
Johnson said he disregarded pitch counts and soreness in going 19-8. ”My pain threshold, I didn’t think about that because all I could think about is what my dad went through.
“So between meeting Nolan that helped me with my mechanics and that was my determination to not give up, give in.”
Johnson went on to win 303 games and five Cy Young Awards, including four in a row from 1999 with the Arizona Diamondbacks. His 4,875 career strikeouts rank second all-time behind Ryan’s 5,714.
Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue