16 Years Ago Today, Randy Johnson Made This Happen – What Do Bird Experts Have to Say?

On this day, 16 years ago, I was sitting in my college dorm room watching ‘SportsCenter’ (whoa, am I really that old?). I remember the anchors setting up the next clip with some kind of tease about it being something you’ve never seen before and wouldn’t believe.

It was not an oversell. I remember thinking, “What just happened!?!? Did that baseball explode?”


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By now, you’re all familiar with one of the most famous Spring Training pitches of all-time, when a Randy Johnson fastball met with the unluckiest bird ever:

Today is the 16th anniversary of that completely unbelievable and implausible pitch, which always makes me feel a mix of astonishment (WHAT ARE THE ODDS?!) and sadness (THAT POOR BIRD!).

When poking around about the story today, I happened upon a Newsweek article from last year, where a group of bird experts were interviewed about the pitch. It is the most scientific discussion you will ever read about a bird being exploded by a fastball, but it does help illuminate my two reactions to the event. For example, what are the odds? Well, quite long:

How unlikely was this event, from your perspective? What are the chances of this happening?

Gavin Leighton, postdoctoral researcher at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology: “This is an extremely rare event…. Since there are about 2,400 Major League Baseball games per season and about 250 pitches per game between both teams, and if we limit ourselves to thinking that this happened once in the last 20 years that we can be sure of—that amounts to 1 pitch in 12,000,000 pitches.”


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And should I be sad? Well, if you ask a scientist that kind of question, you should expect this kind of answer:

Henry Streby, researcher at the University of Toledo: “There are many reasons why Mr. Johnson should not feel bad about this event. First, the mourning dove is one of the most common species in urban areas of Arizona and across the country, and it is not a species of conservation concern. So he didn’t impact the future of a species or anything like that. Second, although he did hit the bird outside of the dove season in Arizona, which happens in September, it is a game species, and there are plenty of hunters who wish they could get off such a clean shot. Third, millions of birds are killed each year by outside cats, glass windows, wind turbines, airplanes and other human-related problems. So in perspective, it is just an amazing coincidence that got caught on camera.”

All right. I’m sold. Forget that bird, man.

For more on this historic, unlikely, and totally-not-sad event, read the Newsweek piece.


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