D-backs celebrate Big Unit's perfect game
Johnson fires first pitch to Hammock; Gibson relishes chance to have lefty around
PHOENIX -- D-backs manager Kirk Gibson can't remember where he was when Randy Johnson tossed his perfect game on May 18, 2004, but he knew where he wanted the members of his current team to be when the Big Unit threw out the ceremonial first pitch before Sunday's game.
"It's great that we can have the day to honor him and what he's done," Gibson said. "As I told the team today, it's important that we're out there [in the dugout] to show our respect for what he's done for the game and everything. People don't realize how hard he worked and how really he worked through things. He didn't take his success. He used it as almost a fear, it seems like, to drive him for his next start. He quickly moved on. While I was here and coached with him, it was like he moved on so quickly, he was almost shy about his success."
The D-backs played every out from Johnson's perfect game on the scoreboard before the game, as well as interviews with then-manager Bob Brenly, teammate Luis Gonzalez and broadcaster Thom Brennaman.
Johnson was then introduced, and when he came out of the D-backs' dugout, the large crowd gave him a standing ovation.
After being presented with a painting that commemorated that night in Atlanta, Johnson, who was wearing a D-backs road jersey from 2004, strolled to the mound and fired the first pitch to Robby Hammock.
Hammock, who caught the perfect game, had taken a day off from managing Arizona's Class A Visalia team to be present for the event.
"It's very flattering to come back here," Johnson said. "I follow the Diamondbacks, obviously, but there's so much that I'm enjoying in life. I'm enjoying traveling with my children and my wife."
After retiring from the game in 2009 with 303 wins and 4,875 strikeouts -- second-most all-time -- Johnson threw himself into his passion for photography, and he has traveled the world on behalf of the USO. His most recent trip was to visit the troops at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"It's fun now to look back at what was," Johnson said. "But even now, I don't do it much because of all the other interests I have."
While the time commitment that comes with being a pitching coach is all but certainly not in Johnson's future plans, he would like to pass along to younger pitchers the mental approach he used to great success.
Gibson has extended Johnson an open invitation to Spring Training for whenever he wants, and the D-backs offered to bring him to Australia when they opened the season against the Dodgers, but Johnson's schedule did not allow it. Johnson spoke with some of the team's pitchers during Spring Training in 2012 but could not fit a visit this year into his busy travel plans.
"He's the kind of guy you watch and you follow and you try to understand what makes this guy tick because, again, I understand it's just not ability," Gibson said. "It's good for us to have a day like this and to share those thoughts and the ideas that he had, what it took to be successful."
The next time Johnson is honored at Chase Field will likely be when he enters the Baseball Hall of Fame, which should come next summer in his first year of eligibility. The team plans to retire his No. 51 at that time, something Johnson said he would welcome when the time was right.
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Inside the D-backs, and follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.