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An In-Depth Look at the Time Randy Johnson Hit a Bird

There are some crazy things that have happened in baseball, but nothing compares to one of the most bizarre no-pitch calls in all of MLB History, where a pitcher hit a bird with one of his pitches. Sounds too strange to be true, but it was a play that thousands of fans got to witness on that day. To kick things off with this story, let’s start off with answering the question of what pitcher hit a bird.

Pitcher Randy Johnson, also known as the “Big Unit”, hit a bird with a pitch during a spring training game on March 24, 2001. The play occurred in the seventh inning when Randy Johnson threw a fastball, but accidentally hit a dove that was flying by.

A dove resting on a rounded wood board
Randy Johnson hit a dove with a fastball during a spring training game on March 24, 2001

The play was ultimately ruled as a “no-pitch”, meaning the pitch was neither called a ball nor a strike, but let’s take a closer look at everything you ever wanted to know about the time Randy Johnson hit a bird.

The Play When Randy Johnson Hit a Bird

Over the years, people have had many questions around the play where the dove got hit by a pitch. Before we jump into those questions, let’s take a moment to watch the actual play.

Breaking Down the Play

It was a beautiful, sunny day at Tucson Electric Park in Tucson, Arizona. The date was Saturday, March 24, 2001, and the Arizona Diamondbacks were playing the San Francisco Giants in one of Randy Johnson’s final outings of that year’s Spring Training.

The game was in the seventh inning, Randy Johnson was on the mound for the Diamondbacks, and Calvin Murray was up to bat for the Giants.

In one of the most bizarre plays in MLB history, Randy Johnson geared back to throw a fastball, but the fastball never made it to the plate. Instead, the fastball made it about three-quarters of the way to the plate before it collided with a bird, killing it instantly.

As you can see from the video above, when the ball made contact with the bird a cloud of feathers appeared, startling everyone involved. Very quickly, both players and fans caught on to what they had just witnessed – Randy Johnson had just hit a bird with a pitch.

Catcher Rod Barajas was quoted as saying “I’m sitting there waiting for it, and I’m expecting to catch the thing, and all you see is an explosion” (source: ESPN).

After the play was over, Jeff Kent picked up the bird with his bare hands and walked it off the field. If you visit the article from nydailynews.com, you’ll see a photo of Jeff Kent holding the bird with his bare hands as he is jokingly pointing the dove in Randy Johnson’s direction.

Randy Johnson was quoted as saying “I didn’t think it was all that funny”, referring to Jeff Kent’s sense of humor.

Afterward, a groundskeeper came in to clean up the left-over feathers and the game resumed, with the Diamondbacks winning that game 10-6 and Randy Johnson striking out eight batters.

Umpire Ruled the Play “No Pitch”

With the help of a “common sense and fair play” rule, umpires determined this play to be a “no-pitch” play, meaning that this play never officially occurred. So the pitch that killed a bird was neither a strike nor a ball, courtesy of the play being ruled a “no-pitch” play.

How Fast Was the Pitch that Killed the Bird?

Randy Johnson was known for being a pitcher who threw hard. In fact, he would regularly throw over 100 mph. So when people are looking up the famous pitch that hit a bird, they often wonder how fast the pitch was traveling.

According to multiple reports, the pitch that killed the bird was traveling between 100mph and 103mph at the time it made contact with the dove.

The speed of the pitch can be difficult to determine for this play because the speed of the pitch is normally gauged on how fast the ball is traveling from the pitcher’s mound to home plate. But because the ball hit the dove around halfway to three-quarters of the way to home plate, it changes the calculation on how fast the ball was traveling.

According to Cronkite News, the pitch that killed the bird was traveling around 100 mph when it hit the dove. While according to hypertextbook.com, the speed of the pitch can be calculated at 102.9 mph.

What Happened to the Bird that Randy Johnson Hit?

Unfortunately, the bird that was hit by the pitch died on contact. After the play occurred, Giant’s player Jeff Kent came out of the dugout to pick up the bird with his bare hands and brought the bird back to the dugout. There haven’t been any reports of what happened to the bird after it went into the dugout.

However, after his retirement from Major League baseball, Randy Johnson started up his own photography business where the logo of his business is of a bird laying on its back with feathers coming out of it. This logo is a direct reference to the bird he accidentally hit with a fastball on March, 24, 2001.

What Kind of Bird did Randy Johnson Hit?

Another common question people have around this incident is what type of bird was hit.

The kind of bird Randy Johnson hit with a fastball was a mourning dove (Zenaida macroura). Newsweek interviewed a few ornithologists and they all agreed that the bird hit was a mourning dove.

Has Anyone Else Ever Hit a Bird With a Pitch?

It seems like hitting a bird with a pitch is such a rare occurrence that it would only happen one time ever, but lots of people still wonder whether a pitcher other than Randy Johnson has hit a bird with a pitch.

Turns out, another pitcher did hit a bird with a pitch! This time it happened in a Class-A Minor League baseball game in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Jonathan Maciel hit a bird with a pitch on July 5, 2014 while he was pitching for the West Michigan Whitecaps, an affiliate of the Detroit Tigers.

Below is the video where you can see this rare event happening one more time.

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Steve Nelson

I'm the owner of Baseball Training World. I live in Denver, Colorado and I enjoy playing baseball in an adult baseball team in the surrounding area. Read more about Steve Nelson.