Big Unit out only to pad career stats


ON A DAY when the 2005 Hall of Fame inductees were announced, and in a week when Randy Johnson's trade to the New York Yankees was approved, there's little for us in the baseball-loving city of Baltimore to do except live vicariously through others.

Either that or cry ... unless Javier Vazquez comes (via Arizona) to Camden Yards, where the Orioles wanted him last year and where Vazquez would be able to work out his feelings of abandonment by the buy-'em, dump-'em Yankees.

Happy new year.

Perhaps we residents of this Carl Pavano-less, Tim Hudson-less, Vazquez-less (so far) burg could soothe our aching soul with this thought: When the Big Unit enters Cooperstown, he could do so wearing an Orioles cap because they'll be helping him embellish his career stats.

Hang with us here.

If Wade Boggs, elected to the Hall yesterday in his first year of eligibility, once said he'd like to go into Cooperstown as a Devil Ray, then the lords of baseball ought to consider allowing Johnson to wear an Orioles cap.

After all, when Cal Ripken gets awarded his bronze plaque, it's going to be a long dry spell for a franchise formerly known as a titan of the industry - at least back when Brooks and Frank Robinson, Jim Palmer and Eddie Murray were making Baltimore must-see baseball.

Now the titan has gone Titanic, with developments in the American League East proving Lee Mazzilli correct: Maybe the Orioles should look for a transfer out of the division.

Now there's the Big Unit to deal with. Oh, my.

With a collective 49 at-bats against Johnson, Orioles batters Javy Lopez, Miguel Tejada and Rafael Palmeiro have managed an anemic .143 batting average.

In other words, Johnson's main purpose for moving from Arizona to New York ought to be thoughtfully accommodated by the boys in Birdland. Johnson is out to further establish that he isn't the most dominating lefty since Sandy Koufax, he is the most dominating ever.

At the very least, the Yankees give Johnson the best shot at getting his numbers.

See, it's not about winning another World Series that made Johnson covet a trade to New York, allowing him to appear in an American League city this summer near you, dressed in pinstripes and striking out 10.62 batters per start.

It's about Hall of Fame stats.

Ever since Nolan Ryan gave Johnson those priceless tutorials on pitching mechanics, Cy Young Awards have followed the Big Unit. First in 1995 with Seattle, then four more in Arizona, where Johnson turned his emotional immaturity into a burning obsession to prove everyone - i.e. the Mariners - wrong.

In 1997, Johnson flipped out when the Mariners didn't rush to give him Greg Maddux money, back when that was the industry standard for future Hall of Fame pitchers.

This was when Johnson forged a framework for his career. In a self-serving snit, he took his "bad back" and cranky disposition and sought to embellish his stature elsewhere.

That Arizona gave Johnson a World Series ring and co-MVP award has allowed Johnson to concentrate on other important career accomplishments. Then came the implosion of the D'backs, who couldn't muster enough offense to support Johnson's record-padding campaign - at least to his satisfaction.

Why continue to go 16-14 in the desert when you could go 21-9 in the Big Apple?

At first, the idea of Johnson's trading the comforts of his Arizona home base for the pressure cooker of New York didn't make sense - not for the Randy Johnson of '98, who pouted and fretted and refused to pitch to his ability during the first half of the season when he felt slighted.

But the new Randy Johnson has everything - including the ring and the perfect game and all the hardware a player could want. Now, it's about numbers. With a lifetime record of 246-128, Johnson's quest to notch 300 career wins would have taken a lot longer in Arizona than his right knee has left to give. Hence the trade to New York and the expected two-year contract extension.

Here's the extended line Johnson needs to notch over the three years the 41-year-old left-hander thinks he can keep it going: 20-20-20.

With their All-Star lineup, the Yankees are expected to win 105 regular-season games. With his customary 34 starts, Johnson understands that the Yankees give him the best shot at winning 54 more games.

It's irrelevant that Johnson has already firmly established himself as one of the best pitchers of all time. He wants to kick himself up a notch into the most hallowed Hall of Fame company.

Boggs went to the Yankees to do what could not be done in Boston - at least not for 86 miserable years. Roger Clemens eventually went to the Yankees for the same reason: to garner the kind of World Series jewelry that amplifies and affirms a Hall of Fame career.

Curt Schilling, who shared the World Series MVP with Johnson, wanted to be the man who helped kill the curse in Boston. It was a goal that suited Schilling's competitive spirit and ego.

With Johnson, it's a little different. No doubt he'd like to shut up Schilling, but the Unit won't call up sports radio or blog Internet sites, like Schilling. Johnson won't insinuate himself into the middle of the great baseball rivalry.

The Yankees may want Johnson to come bring the World Series championship to the Bronx, but Johnson has additional goals.

On a day when the Hall of Fame gets ready to welcome Boggs and Ryne Sandberg, Johnson is working out the details of a deal that puts him in the best position to get what he wants most: 4,000 innings, 4,500 strikeouts, 300 wins.

The stuff of his legend.

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