Friday, January 12, 2007

Randy Johnson is a Ford Super Duty

There's been a curious lack of attention paid to the Yankees' trade of Randy Johnson to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Perhaps "trade" is too generous a term; it was more like a $14 million salary dump in exchange for Luis Vizcaino - a guy who barely cracks a list of last year's top 40 relief pitchers - and three unknown and unheralded minor leaguers.

People might think that a 43-year-old starter who's posted ERA's of 3.79 and 5.00 the last two years isn't worthy of big headlines. Those same people also claim that a guy who's recovering from back surgery and couldn't win a single playoff game in New York is not worth our consideration. Granted, he's got a ton of mileage on him, and the declining strikeout rate is troubling.

But the fact that the Big Unit needed back surgery after last season should make us pause before condemning his 2006 as proof of declining skill. If past is prologue, recall that Johnson had a similar surgery ten years ago. The Unit's results the following season? 20-4, with a 2.28 ERA and 291 strikeouts in 213 innings pitched. Looking just at 2005, Johnson was a top 30 starter, and may yet be again, moving to the easier league. Rather than sending him to the scrap heap, we should compare Randy Johnson to the Ford Super Duty pickup truck. Let's break it down, Get Untracked-style...

It dominates the field.
Ford's pickup has been the best-selling vehicle in America for the past 26 years. One auto writer back in 2004 even wrote, "If Ford's F-Series pickup were to lose its position as America's best-selling vehicle, the effect would be similar to that of a World Series victory by the Boston Red Sox: the end of an era." Chants of "1918" won't be heard in Yankee Stadium again, but the F-Series remains the country's best-selling vehicle. Randy Johnson dominates as the best lefthanded pitcher of his generation, seated in the pantheon between Steve Carlton and Johan Santana. Johnson's a lock for the Hall of Fame, with 280 wins and 4,544 strikouts, good for third all-time (and counting).

Its size is unmistakable.
The F-450 Super Duty 4x4 measures almost 22 feet long and weighs 8,687 pounds. The Honda Fit subcompact, for comparison purposes, measures a scant 13 feet long and tips the scales at 2,551 pounds. Yes, a Ford Super Duty could easily fit the Fit in its truckbed. Randy Johnson - despite his "Big Unit" nickname and 6'10" frame, is not the tallest pitcher in major league history. That distinction goes to Washington Nationals righty Jon Rauch, at 6'11". Still, Johnson's unique combination of height, left-handedness, three-quarters delivery and blazing fastball has always made hitters feel tiny.

It doesn't mesh with New York City.

A researcher extrapolating a sample of automobiles in the five boroughs of New York would probably conclude that the best-selling vehicle in America was the Lincoln Town Car. Or maybe the Ford Crown Victoria. You can't even drive the Super Duty on New York City parkways. Randy Johnson's first experience in the city wasn't a pleasant one. At least he didn't assault the cameraman like fellow southpaw Kenny Rogers. Both the Super Duty and Johnson are more suited to rural locales. Like Houston or Arizona - but nowhere as perfect as Atlanta.

It's linked to country music themes.

You've heard the phrase "Texas Cadillac?" A large, customized pickup like the Super Duty is just what they mean. Jeff Foxworthy said you might be a redneck if you spent more on your pickup than on your education. Before joining the Yanks, Johnson had a Foxworthy-caliber mullet. Other country music themes connected to the Unit include divorce and child support. But perhaps the most popular country music theme is redemption, and that's what I think Randy Johnson's going to provide next year for the Diamondbacks.

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