Atlanta Braves fans are in for a treat in this year’s World Series. The Braves have made it to the postseason for the first time since 2013, a year that was one of the best in franchise history. The team has won 102 games in the regular season and advanced to the National League Division Series (NLDS) by defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games.
At the end of the 2001 MLB season, the Arizona Diamondbacks selected Randy Johnson with the first overall pick of the 2002 MLB Draft. At the time, Johnson had already made a name for himself with the New York Yankees, where he had posted ERAs of 2.00 and 2.91, respectively, in the two previous seasons. During the Draft, the Diamondbacks made a deal to get Johnson, who was traded to the Braves shortly after the Draft.
If you grew up reading “Forbes” as a kid, then you probably remember the story of Randy Johnson. The Oakland Athletics drafted Johnson in 1987, and he spent a decade as their ace. In 2001, however, he was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks. In 2002, he led the league with ten wins, while posting a record of 18-4 with an ERA of 1.90. The following year, he led the league in wins again, this time with 16. In 2004, he led the league in ERA for the third time, and also matched his career-best in wins with 17.Randy Johnson is certainly one of the most formidable and dominant pitchers in MLB history. In his 22-year career, he won 310 games, 303 in the regular season and another seven in the postseason, including three in the World Series alone. During his career, Johnson played for seven teams, including the Seattle Mariners and Arizona Diamondbacks. He was a five-time Cy Young Award winner, ten-time MLB All-Star, four-time ERA leader, World Series champion and MVP. There had two no-hitters (including a perfect game), was the new leadoff hitter and had the second highest strikeout rate in MLB history with 4.875.
Imagine Johnson doing all that in an Atlanta Braves jersey. It’s strange to think about, isn’t it? Honestly, since the Big One was one of the best pitchers of the 1990s and 2000s, imagine if he had been part of the Braves’ dominant pitching staff, which included several Cy Young holders and future Hall of Fame members.
But it really could have been, because most people forget that the Braves were the first team to take Johnson in the MLB draft.
Johnson, who was considered a promising player after graduating from Livermore High School (California), was selected in the fourth round of the 1982 MLB Draft by the Atlanta Braves with the number 89.
He was only 18 at the time, and the lanky left-hander was considering whether to sign with the Braves or accept a full-time contract to stay in his home state and play at UCLA. Then-Atlantic recruiting director Paul Snyder, who spent five decades in the organization as a player, scout and manager, remembers offering Johnson a bonus of $42,000 to $44,000, which was more than his bosses would allow.
But that clearly wasn’t enough, and Johnson chose USC, where he spent three seasons. In 1985, he entered the draft again and was selected in the second round at number 36 by the Montreal Expos. After a few years of solving some control problems…. Well, the audit… He made his major league debut in 1988 and was traded to the Seattle Mariners the following year. And the rest, as they say, is history.
But if the story were a little different.
Randy Johnson during the Diamondbacks vs. Angels game in 2008. Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
Let’s assume Johnson accepted the Braves’ offer in 1982. Of course, there is no guarantee that he would have become the pitcher he has become. Atlanta certainly wasn’t a heavyweight in the 1980s, with the exception of an NLCS defeat in 1982, when they were defeated by the St. Louis Cardinals. After that, however, they never made the playoffs and finished below .500 in seven of the next eight seasons.
But as we all know, everything changed in Atlanta in the early ’90s, and that was when Johnson figured things out and made his first All-Star Team in 1990. By this time, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Steve Avery had already played in the Major Leagues for the Braves and had become players. In 1991, the Braves made the playoffs for the first time since 1982, and those three arms were clearly a big part of that success.
But after beating the Pittsburgh Pirates in a thrilling seven-game series in the NLCS, the Braves lost in seven games to the Minnesota Twins in the World Series, which many consider the greatest fall classic of all time. The next year, Atlanta qualified for the World Series again, but lost in six games to the Toronto Blue Jays. Imagine if Johnson had been on that team. In 1991, were there seven in any of these series? Will the Braves lose to Toronto in 1992?
And that was all before the Braves brought in Greg Maddux, who won three consecutive Cy Young Awards in Atlanta from 1993 to 1995 after winning his first in 1992 with the Chicago Cubs. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Steve Avery and Randy Johnson? Are you kidding me?
And it wasn’t even the Braves’ best pitching staff, it was the 1998 team with Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, Danny Neagle and Kevin Millwood. They all won at least 16 games this season before losing to the New York Yankees in the World Series.
Don’t you think the Braves would have won more than one World Series in the 90s if Johnson had been there? On the other hand, Johnson didn’t have to wait that long for his first Fall Classic appearance, which finally came in 2001 as a member of the Diamondbacks.
Of course this is a large scenario and therefore with many moving parts. If Johnson had been there, Atlanta might never have taken Maddux. But there’s no guarantee that Johnson would have developed the way he has elsewhere, though that seems unlikely given the way the Braves develop their pitching staff.
But it’s just interesting to think about.
Johnson beat the Braves en route to his only World Series title, and they too fell victim to his perfectplay.
In 2001, his third season with the Diamondbacks, Johnson won his third consecutive NL Cy Young Award and led Arizona to the postseason for the second time in three years. After beating the Cardinals in all five NLDS games, Johnson opened NLCS play against the Braves with a three-hit shutout, then picked up his second win in the fifth and closed out the series with just two runs in seven innings. Arizona, of course, beat the Yankees in the World Series in seven games, with Johnson and Kurt Schilling sharing the MVP award.
A few years later, Johnson again showed the Braves what they were missing with a home run on 18. May 2004 at Turner Field against Atlanta, a perfect game, squandering a 13 point lead at 2-0. Atlanta fans were noble in defeat, giving him a standing ovation that might have been common if the story had gone a little differently.
statistics provided by Baseball ReferenceEveryone knows that by 2001, Randy Johnson was the most dominant pitcher in the history of the game. He had won the Cy Young Award in 1998, and was widely considered one of the best pitchers of all time. But, what if the off-season had gone differently for the six-time All-Star? What if the Mariners had drafted him in the first round of the 1998 draft, instead of the first pick overall?. Read more about how tall is randy johnson and let us know what you think.
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