CRONKITE SPORTS

A dove, a fastball and the day D-backs’ Randy Johnson had PETA calling

Mar 25, 2020, 7:15 AM
Nineteen years ago, Randy Johnson hit a bird with a pitch. It became a viral sensation, much to the...
Nineteen years ago, Randy Johnson hit a bird with a pitch. It became a viral sensation, much to the dismay of the Diamondbacks pitcher. (Photo by Pio Roda/Atlanta Braves/MLB via Getty Images)
(Photo by Pio Roda/Atlanta Braves/MLB via Getty Images)

PHOENIX – Former Diamondbacks pitcher Randy Johnson accomplished a lot during a 22-year Hall of Fame career. The “Big Unit” was a 10-time All-Star, won the Cy Young Award five times and was named Most Valuable Player of the 2001 World Series when Arizona beat the Yankees for the championship.

However, one of his most memorable feats might have been something that happened during spring training on Mar. 24, 2001.

It was the seventh inning of a split-squad Cactus League game between the Diamondbacks and the San Francisco Giants at Tucson Electric Park. The flame-throwing left-hander was on the mound and Calvin Murray, the uncle of Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, was in the batter’s box.

What happened next wasn’t intentional, but it gave a new definition to foul ball. Or rather, fowl ball.

As Johnson delivered a screaming fastball and catcher Rod Barajas raised his glove to receive the incoming Rawlings, a dove flew between the mound and home plate.

The bird and baseball intersected in an eruption of feathers, drawing an audible reaction from the crowd.

“It was an explosion,” said Barajas, now a member of the San Diego Padres coaching staff. “I don’t know any other way to put it.”

In an interview with Fox Sports Arizona, Johnson described it as “a blur going across home plate and the ball simultaneously hitting that blur. It’s just hard to really put that into perspective. It happened so quick.”

The scene was only captured by the team’s video coordinator because spring training games were not broadcast as much as they are today. Had it not been caught on camera, it might have been soon forgotten.

Instead, it lives on thanks to YouTube, and has become part of Johnson’s legend.

One quirk from that pitch is that, technically, it never happened.

The collision was ruled a no pitch by the umpiring crew because the ball never reached home plate, and there is no official rule that covers the bizarre scenario of a pitch hitting an animal en route to the plate.

Unfortunately for the dove, the near-100-mph pitch ended the feathered creature’s life on impact. The bird was eventually picked up by Giants second baseman Jeff Kent, who jokingly pointed toward Johnson before taking it to the dugout.

However, Johnson, who is a conservationist, wasn’t amused by the ordeal.

And he wasn’t alone. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) considered pressing charges against the pitcher on the bird’s behalf for animal cruelty.

“I was considered a bird killer,” Johnson said in the Fox Sports Arizona interview. “What became kind of funny, actually became a very serious moment.”

No charges were filed against Johnson and it seems that time has softened his view on the whole thing. The logo for his photography website rj51photos.com is a dove lying on its back.

“A lot of people didn’t know what that stood for,” Johnson said. “Those are the people that I probably want to talk to about my baseball, because they have no idea what the bird stood for. But everyone that wants to talk about baseball, first talks about the bird.”

Johnson is considered one of the greatest pitchers to ever play the game, and the impact his most notorious pitch had on his legacy might be debatable. But there is one thing that is certain:

The story will always be a part of his history.

Cronkite Sports

In the near future, the Arizona sports fan’s experience could include the ability to place bets i...
Cronkite Sports

Sports gambling in Arizona moves closer to reality

In the near future, the Arizona sports fan’s experience could include the ability to place bets inside sports venues while the action unfolds.
8 months ago
Higley quarterback Kai Millner committed to Cal this spring, despite visiting the campus just once ...
Cronkite Sports

Arizona high school football recruits still committing amid coronavirus

Despite visiting campuses few times if at all in some cases, class of 2021 high school football prospects from Arizona are committing at record rates.
1 year ago
(Photo via Cronkite News courtesy Mesa Community College Facebook)...
Arizona Sports

COVID-19 prompts junior colleges to push for cancellation of sports

The 2020-21 school year for Maricopa County community colleges may not include sports, schools await a decision by the district chancellor.
1 year ago
New Coyotes President and CEO Xavier Gutierrez believes outreach in the Arizona Hispanic market is ...
Cronkite Sports

New Coyotes CEO Xavier A. Gutierrez looks to reach Latino community

New Coyotes CEO Xavier A. Gutierrez is the first Latino president and CEO in NHL history and hopes to reach new fans in the Valley.
1 year ago
Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, who joined the Phoenix Mercury in the offseason, is ready to get the WNBA...
Cronkite Sports

Full pay, 22-game season in Florida on tap for Phoenix Mercury

Another league has agreed on a return-to-play plan in the month of July. This time it’s the WNBA, whose members include the Phoenix Mercury.
1 year ago
Phoenix Rising FC assistant coaches Peter Ramage (left) and Blair Gavin are awaiting details about ...
Cronkite Sports

Phoenix Rising players await news on resumption of USL Championship

Phoenix Rising FC and the USL Championship are set to resume play July 11 while players wait on more details for the return.
1 year ago
A dove, a fastball and the day D-backs’ Randy Johnson had PETA calling