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Tim Kurkjian’s Baseball Fix – Randy Johnson brought fear, real fear, to every hitter who stepped into the batter’s box

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You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we’ll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.

ON THIS DATE IN 1990, Randy Johnson threw his first no-hitter.

At the Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 1999 featuring, among others, Nolan Ryan, I interviewed Ted Williams about what it would be like to face Ryan. Instead, for five minutes, Williams went in another direction, saying, “The guy I’d really like to face is Randy Johnson. Left-hander. That slider. Man, I’d love to try to hit that slider. And I would love to face someone that big. He’d be my biggest challenge. That’s why I’d love it.”

The full “On this date …” archive

That’s how good Randy Johnson was. His second no-hitter was a perfect game: He was the oldest pitcher (40) ever to throw a perfect game. He won five Cy Young Awards, including four in a row with the Arizona Diamondbacks; he finished second three times and third once. He won 303 games with a .646 winning percentage, he won four ERA titles and finished second to Ryan in career strikeouts. He was as dominant as any pitcher of his or of any era. He is at least in the conversation as the greatest left-handed pitcher of all time.

“A left-handed hitter could see his slider better than a right-handed hitter,” Tony Gwynn said.

“No left-handed hitter other than Tony wanted any part of that slider,” Adam Dunn said, laughing.

Johnson was legendary, all 6-foot-10 of him.

“He is so tall,” veteran coach Rich Donnelly once said, “he doesn’t have a pickoff move to second, he just reaches out and touches the runner.”

Johnson accidentally killed a dove with a pitch in a spring training game. He purposely threw over the head of John Kruk in the 1993 All-Star Game; Kruk patted his heart as if to keep it from beating out of his chest. In the 1997 All-Star Game, Larry Walker put his helmet on backward and got into the right-handed batter’s box. In the 2001 World Series against the Yankees, Johnson started Game 6, won it, then pitched in relief the next day in Game 7; from then on, the toughness in a pitcher would be measured by the Unit.

So many hitters, when listing their least favorite at-bats or their worst at-bats, mention Johnson. He might be the scariest and the most intimidating pitcher the game has ever seen. Jeff Huson, a former infielder and a left-handed hitter, once said, “What’s the worst thing that Michael Jordan can do to you? He can dunk on you. So what? What’s the worst thing Randy Johnson can do to you? He can kill you.”

Other baseball notes for June 2

  • In 1891, Old Hoss Radbourn won his 300th game. He made 502 starts in his career and completed 488 of them. It makes you wonder about the other 14.

  • In 1940, second baseman Horace Clarke was born. I heard Hall of Fame broadcaster Curt Gowdy say it a million times: Clarke became a switch-hitter because on the field where he played as a kid, when he hit from right side, he hit the ball into the ocean.

  • In 1938, Gene Michael was born. The master of the hidden-ball trick as a shortstop. I haven’t met many more astute baseball men than him.

  • In 1972, Raul Ibanez was born. He hit the most career homers (305) of anyone whose last name begins with I. He, Davey Lopes and Hank Sauer are the only non-pitchers to hit more home runs in their 40s than in their 20s. In order to make a major league roster in the mid-1990s, Ibanez took up catching so he could improve his value as an emergency catcher. He went to the minor leagues to learn the position. His first game behind the plate, he whiffed on the first pitch, a fastball. The ball hit the umpire directly in the chest protector. “What the hell are you doing?!” the umpire yelled at him. Ibanez told the umpire, “Sorry, I’ve never caught before.”

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Hitting coach Chili Davis will not attend Mets preseason workouts

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Hitting coach Chili Davis will not be at Citi Field when the New York Mets resume their preseason workouts on Friday.

Manager Luis Rojas confirmed that Davis, 60, who signed a two-year deal with the Mets to come back as the team’s hitting coach last winter, will not be attending workouts in person, and his presence during regular season games this abbreviated 2020 season is also questionable.

“Chili will be working remotely with us,” Rojas said in a videoconference call Thursday afternoon. “He’ll be helping out the players; helping out the coaching staff. He won’t be (with us) at the start of camp. The timing for him to join us is uncertain, but he will be working remotely.”

Rojas stated that every other Mets’ coach and every player in their 60-man pool has reported to camp and initiated the intake protocols and COVID-19 testing process. The Mets will resume their “spring training” workouts Friday at Citi Field in Flushing.

“I think we’re gonna get the best of Chili, whether he’s with us as the start of camp or whether he’s working remotely,” Rojas said. “We’re in constant communication. Chili and I practically talk every day. He’s in communication with the rest of the coaches like (assistant hitting coach) Tom Slater. (Hitting coordinator) Ryan Ellis is going to be filling in for him; he’s going to be assisting Slater.”

Last year was Davis’ first season with the club, and he had immediate impact. The Mets had a .257 batting average as a team, which tied them for 10th overall – with the defending NL champion Dodgers.

Davis was the Oakland Athletics’ hitting coach in 2012-14 before serving in the same role in Boston (2015-17). The Chicago Cubs then hired him under manager Joe Maddon, where he lasted just one season after reported negative feedback.

“Chili is going to be helping us,” Rojas explained. “He’s a great asset. He’s got great knowledge, great experience. He helps the players with the hitting, with playing the game. He helps the coaches as well with his view of the game. He’s going to add all that experience and repertoire that he can bring to the table.”

Rojas also discussed the challenges of playing a 60-game season with the extensive health and safety protocols that will be required.

“It’s challenging times,” he said. “We started living this in baseball since March, and we are educating ourselves, we are educating the players and we’re in constant communication. We’re very optimistic that we’re going to come into camp, finish the intake process, go through camp, get into the season, and finish it. We know it’s challenging. We have an uncertain future. We’ve seen it in the last few months, it’s just tough to predict some things, but we’re definitely getting prepared to go ahead and face it.”

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Cubs’ Jose Quintana hurt washing dishes, has surgery

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Chicago Cubs left-hander Jose Quintana needed surgery to repair a laceration he suffered washing dishes.

The team said the 31-year-old was injured at his home in Miami, suffering a laceration on his left thumb that required five stitches.

“This morning in Chicago, Quintana underwent microscopic surgery on his left thumb to further determine the extent of his injury,” the team said Thursday in a statement. “The procedure identified a lacerated digital sensory nerve in his left thumb, which was surgically repaired.”

Quintana is expected to start throwing again in two weeks, and then the team will determine how long he will be out.

Teams are starting to ramp up for a 60-game season that will start in late July after the coronavirus pandemic halted baseball early in spring training. Quintana is scheduled to be part of a rotation that includes Jon Lester, Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks but that already had question marks on the back end.

Quintana was 13-9 with a 4.68 ERA last season, his third with the Cubs. After he had an All-Star season in 2016, the Cubs acquired him from the White Sox in a deal that saw young slugger Eloy Jimenez head to the South Side.

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Tigers first MLB team to partner with bookmaker

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The Detroit Tigers on Thursday announced a multi-year deal with sportsbook PointsBet, the first such partnership between a franchise and a bookmaker in Major League Baseball history.

Beginning this season, PointsBet signage will be displayed at Comerica Park. The sportsbook will be featured on the Detroit Tigers Radio Network and on the team’s twice-weekly live streaming show, “The Word on Woodward.” PointsBet also will be integrated into The District Detroit app, which details the area surrounding Comerica Park, as well as in MLB’s ballpark app.

“Our great fans will enjoy the unique experiences and innovative offerings that PointsBet’s personalized platform provides,” Chris Granger, a group president for Ilitch Holdings, the company that represents the Tigers, said in a release announcing the partnership. “As we usher in legal and responsible sports betting, we look forward to the fan-friendly enhancements that it will make to the game-day experience in and around Comerica Park.”

Financial terms of the partnership were not disclosed.

Leading to the deal with the Tigers, PointsBet became the latest sportsbook to become an Authorized Gaming Operator for Major League Baseball. PointsBet will receive access to Major League Baseball’s official data feed and the right use MLB marks and logos within the sportsbook’s products. Sportsbook operator theScore Bet announced a similar partnership with MLB on Tuesday.

“I view baseball as arguably the most disruptable sport when it comes to innovation around betting,” Johnny Aitken, CEO of PointsBet, told ESPN. “I think there’s a huge amount of innovation that can happen around baseball betting.”

Last year, PointsBet’s first in the U.S. market, the sportsbook offered betting odds on individual at-bats throughout MLB games. Bettors could wager on whether a batter hits a home run or strikes out, among other options.

“Even if you join the broadcast in the seventh inning, and the Tigers are winning 6-0 over the Red Sox, there’s still an exciting way to place some action for the remainder of the game,” Aitken said.

The Tigers are the first professional sports franchise in Michigan to partner with a sportsbook, but aren’t expected to be the last as the state enters into the expanding U.S. sports betting market. Legal sportsbooks have opened in 18 states and the District of Columbia since 2018, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal statute that had restricted regulated sports betting to primarily Nevada. Along the way, the major U.S. professional leagues pivoted their long-held opposition to legal sports betting and began developing business relationships with the gambling industry.

In June, the Denver Broncos became the first NFL team to partner with a sportsbook, teaming with FanDuel. The NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball each have partnerships with multiple sports betting companies.

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