Here, from the Mariners Magazine for April 1996, is Randy Johnson and Nolan Ryan talking about how Ryan, and Tom House, helped fix Johnson’s mechanics in 1992. The article first appeared in Nolan Ryan’s Pro Baseball Yearbook 1996 and was reprinted by the magazine with a new introduction:
In early September of 1992, Ryan helped correct a flaw in Johnson’s delivery that catapulted Johnson to his current status as baseball’s new strikeout king. After his meeting with Ryan, Johnson went on to record 45 strikeouts in his next three games, the second-highest total in baseball history-next to Ryan’s 47 in 1974. 18 of them came in a no-decision against Texas [with Nolan Ryan pitching].
The two strikeout kings recently discussed the art of pitching. The following is a transcript of their conversation:
Nolan Ryan: Randy, I wanted to start out by having you talk about your 1995 season and also get your thoughts on the success you’ve been able to put together over the past three or four years.
Randy Johnson: First of all, I don’t think it’s any secret that I struggled early on in the Major Leagues and throughout parts of my minor league career. And I don’t think I had any breakthrough to where I am now until I met with you and (then-Texas Rangers pitching coach) Tom House. I think a great deal of my success started after that meeting. I had some success in the minor leagues and some early on in my Major League career, but not even close to the extent that I have now.
Lots of people have tried working with me and they were all helpful, but it was the one thing that the two of you taught me about landing on the ball of my foot as opposed to landing on the heel of my foot that has helped me the most. I was always throwing the ball hard, but I was never consistent with my mechanics early on.
The ability has always been there and I’ve always worked hard, but that seemed to be the one little element that wasn’t there – being consistent with my arm angle and mechanics.
Nolan: I think you hit on something. Once you became consistent with your delivery, I think you became more consistent with all your pitches.
Randy: In any sport, no matter what you’re doing, there are mechanics, and you have to be consistent with them in order to be successful. I’m 6-10, so you’re dealing with more arms and more legs. To keep them under control is a job in and of itself. And then to be able to get my whole body going toward home plate, instead of toward third base like I was doing, was also a lot of work. But, now that I realize the right way of throwing, I have been able to cut down my walks the last three years. And we all know that when you walk people and give up your normal share of base hits, you’re essentially giving up free runs.
And because I’ve been able to keep my number of walks down, I’ve been able to lower my ERA and stay in games longer. . . .
Nolan: Now, when you’re struggling out there with your delivery, do you feel you can make adjustments and stay in the game and be competitive where say, five years ago, you couldn’t?
Randy: Five years ago, if I had problems with my delivery, I was done. It was just a matter of when the manager was going to come and get me. But now, for the most part, I know when I’m doing something wrong because I’ve become so consistent in my mechanics. For instance, when I’m falling off toward third base, I know how to correct that now.
There are still going to be games where you’re mechanically sound and the other team is still hitting you. But more times than not, if I’m mechanically sound, things will work out well for me.
I really think the improvement in my mechanics and in my ability to make adjustments out there has helped me turn into a pitcher rather than a guy that just goes out and throws. Now, because I have confidence in all three of my pitches, I can throw a changeup or slider in a fastball situation. And that’s been real beneficial. Because when you get a hitter looking for one pitch, say a fastball, and you throw another pitch, then you have a good chance of freezing him. . . .
Randy: I have been very fortunate to run across some very giving players, the most generous being you, Nolan. It’s unheard of, unfortunately, to have other people on another team take the time to help another professional athlete. Sure, hitters will talk about their swings here and there. But you and Tom House didn’t have to help me. You two guys are good people and you’ve taught me more than proper mechanics. You’ve taught me to go up to a young player when he’s struggling and maybe try and help them. So you’ve really helped me, not only physically and mentally, but as a person to go and try and help other people. Not only do some of the younger players come to me for help, but the manager encourages me to help them. Now, I’m enjoying baseball more than I ever have because I’m in the position to help some of the younger players, like you helped me.