Say What: Randy Johnson’s Fowl Ball Mishap

Randy Johnson, a famous baseball pitcher faced the ire of  “People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals” (PETA) around twenty years ago, for a tragic yet comical incident that he caused on the field. Unfortunately for him, training to become a world-class athlete, did not include a guide on how to escape the wrath of an animal rights organisation.
So, why exactly did PETA want to file a case on Johnson?

On the bright and sunny morning of March 24,  2001, a solitary dove decided to embark on a journey around Tucson. As it flew across the skies, feeling the pleasure of the breeze on its wings and the warmth of the sun on its face, the dove realised that it was indeed living the American Dream.  Its thoughts about freedom and liberty, however, were interrupted by a large, green field in front of it.

On the field were players from the San Francisco Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks, two baseball teams playing a Spring Training game before the regular season started. Yes, baseball – the American version of cricket in which chucking is allowed.
Randy Johnson from the Diamondbacks, one of the best pitchers at that time, faced Calvin Murray at the plate. On any other day, this match would have been inconsequential, lost somewhere in the pages of history – that day however, fate had other ideas.

The 6-foot, 10-inch Johnson pitched the ball at a 100 miles an hour towards Murray. However, the ball was slightly off the mark, moving a little more towards the left than it should have.
At this exact moment, the dove, blissfully unaware of the chaos around it, chose to fly through the field. Just as it crossed the batter, the baseball, moving at a speed faster than expected, hit the bird.
The spectators gasped as they saw an explosion of feathers, and the dove dropped dead – along with the feathers, the American Dream also laid shattered to bits on the ground.

The odds of an incident like this happening are astronomically low – you are probably more likely to see a dove bring world peace in your lifetime before you see one being accidentally hit by a baseball. Think about this – it takes about 0.4 seconds for a baseball to travel the entire pitch length. Of all the places in the whole wide world that the dove could have been at 0.4 seconds after Randy Johnson released the ball, it happened to fly at the exact spot where the ball was. Had the bird started its journey half a second earlier, flown a few inches higher, or slowed down a little, I would perhaps be telling you the story of a dove that changed the wildlife conservation movement. But unfortunately for the dove and the environment, destiny was not very kind on that day.

Randy Johnson has since established himself as one of the greatest baseball pitchers of all time. After an outstanding career that lasted 22 years from 1988 to 2009, Johnson was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015. In the popular imagination, however, this incident remains the most prominent part of Johnson’s legacy. The one fowl ball that he pitched 19 years ago still remains etched in public memory.

Written by Sudarshan Sivakumar for MTTN
Featured Image from Forbes

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