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The Loop

No Egrets

20 years ago, Randy Johnson blew up a bird

March 24, 2021

It’s iconic. At some point in all of our lives—either by sheer luck, the YouTube algorithm or a recommendation from a friend—we happen upon the truly unbelievable video of Randy Johnson hitting a bird with a pitch.

We could wax poetic about its insanity, but whatever is said will never match the actual video. Roll the clip!

The 36-second recording from March 24, 2001 (aptly named “Randy Johnson Kills Dove”) has been viewed almost two million times and that’s not including the countless times it’s been shared on social media. Between the gasp from the crowd, the catcher backing up ominously and the flurry of feathers out of seemingly nowhere, this scene has more in common with a horror movie than a run-of-the-mill baseball sequence.

It’s a phenomenon and the Hall of Fame pitcher says that this bizarre circumstance is brought up to him by fans just as much as his World Series win.

You might have some questions (we do too), so this humble reporter did a bit of research to see what he could find about this once-in-a-lifetime event.

What kind of bird was it?

For the 15th anniversary, which was five years ago (20-5=15), Newsweek interviewed Bird Experts about this moment and the eventual conclusion was that Randy Johnson had hit a mourning dove (Zenaida macroura). The irony of it being a mourning dove that was vaporized is not lost on us.

What were the odds of this happening?

This depends on the scientist/researcher, but the most detailed explanation we could find was from Michael Wunder, associate professor at the University of Colorado in Denver. He ended up with the conclusion of “one in 50 million or so over the past 20 years” due to looking at the number of baseball games in a year combined with the number of pitches in a game and that fact that doves don’t normally fly that close to the ground.

What kind of pitch was it?

A fastball, which, as we all know, is the worst kind of pitch to hit a low-flying bird with.

What did the umpire call?

Even though something was struck, this was certainly not a strike. After some deliberation, a no pitch was called, which essentially is a redo. Under MLB Rule 8.01(c) "common sense and fair play" is critical in these situations and this was deemed the fairest thing to do.

What did the players on the field think?

It seems to be a medley of confusion, bewilderment and shock after the initial explosion. Chris Speier, Arizona Diamondbacks third-base coach, put it best in The Athletic when he said “everybody realized, ‘Holy shit, he hit a bird.’”

Has Randy Johnson ever memorialized the bird? Perhaps through a photography venture?

That’s… that’s a very leading question.

Should we feel bad for the bird?

Yes.

Has this sort of thing happened before or since?

Somehow, the answer to this question is also yes.

How did the birds react?

That’s an odd but great question. Rod Barajas, Diamondbacks catcher, claims that the next day, he saw a memorial of sorts from other mourning doves. “I’m sitting by the dugout and two birds fly right by home plate. They did a flyby for the bird that passed away, in remembrance of their buddy.”