(Check out our other player card posts here.)

When Hall of Famer Randy Johnson made his way to professional baseball in the summer of 1985, no one knew quite what to do with him.

Here was a towering but skinny and awkward left-hander with a monster fastball but all sorts of control problems. He had been good enough in high school for the Atlanta Braves to select him in the 1982 Major League Baseball draft, but not until the fourth round.

Johnson said no thanks and instead headed to USC. Three years later, the Montreal Expos took him in the second round despite tepid scouting reports like this one from Larry Moore:

Shortarmer with M.L. fastball but change-up and curveball-slider pitch too big. Gives away change now and don’t like his inconsistency with all stuff. Poor fielder, no move to first, and I don’t see enough consistency to like major league, although he has the arm.

This time, Johnson signed his contract and reported to the Low-A Jamestown Expos. In eight appearances — all starts — the Future Unit racked up 21 strikeouts over 27 1/3 innings.

Of course …

He also gave up 24 walks and 22 runs (18 earned) for a sparkling 5.93 ERA.

Johnson was living up to his billing as having a death ray of fire for a left arm but also a wild streak that just might derail the whole thing. Much like fellow fireballer  Nolan Ryan in the late 1960s, it looked like the Big Unit Express might never leave the station.

But then again, it might.

 

1986 procards west palm beach randy johnson

 

No one knew.

Johnson was just unlike any player we’d ever seen.

He was the tallest player of all-time.

He was a project and unlikely to make to the Major Leagues before his 25th birthday, if at all.

He had the physical tools to do something really special.

He had fatal flaws that might stop him cold at any moment.

Would Johnson be able to eventually tame that lightning in his arm, as Ryan had before him, and put together a real MLB career?

Or would he become the Shawn Bradley of baseball, unable to capitalize on his outsized potential?

It was impossible to tell — Johnson and his career were blank slates waiting for fates and the man himself to write his story.

The next year, 22-year-old Johnson reported to the Class A West Palm Beach Expos for his first full season of professional baseball. If things didn’t go well, it might be his last, too.

That summer, Johson also appeared on his first baseball card, in the 1986 Procards West Palm Beach Expos team set.

If you like a lot of whitespace on your cardboard, these cards would have been right up your alley. Blazing white borders with a thick white chunk of real estate at the bottom of the card swallow red piping surrounding the player photo. The Expos logo is prominent in the lower right-hand corner.

On Johnson’s card, he stands with his glove over a flat midsection, staring at the camera with a flat — or blank — expression. He almost looks out of place in his #32 uniform in front of the tree-lined diamond against a blue-sky day behind him.

It’s a pretty good metaphor for his status in the game — did he belong or not?

But the truly apt metaphor for Johnson at that moment was the back of his card:

 

1986 procards west palm beach randy johnson (back)

 

Does it get any more basic than this?

Birthdate … hometown … throws/bats … giraffe-style height and weight.

(And “throws” was apropos, too, don’t you think? No one was quite sure if he could pitch yet.)

The year the card was issued — 1986 — is listed at the bottom, along with the ProCards identifier.

And in between the bio stuff and the legal stuff, where you might normally expect to find stats and maybe a snappy line or two about a player’s accomplishments, there is just a big, empty white box, surrounded by a thin black border.

No numbers from his time at Jamestown.

No, “Randy hopes to one day scare the living shiste out of John Kruk.”

Just a blank slate, waiting for Johnson to write his baseball story.

Luckily for all of us, The Big Unit shook off his writer’s block and became a Nobel Laureate on the mound.

(Check out our other player card posts here.)

 

 

 

1989 TOPPS TRADED BASEBALL 57T RANDY JOHNSON ROOKIE NMMT

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1989 UPPER DECK #25 RANDY JOHNSON RC NRMT/MT

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