When Randy Johnson rookie cards made their debut in 1989, the hobby heaved a collective and moderate sigh, then went about our business.
Oh, Johnson was interesting, to be sure. Towering over the field at 6’10”, the Montreal Expos lefthander had spent four summers in the minor leagues terrifying hitters with his blazing fastball and “control” that had seen him walk more than seven batters per nine innings in three of those seasons.
And, considering he was already more than six months past his 25th birthday by the time the 1989 season began, Johnson’s “prospect” days were pretty much behind him.
After a late-season call-up in 1988, though, Johnson opened the new campaign with the big league Expos, making six starts and one relief appearance through the first week of May.
That stint didn’t pan out so well, though, and Johnson was sent packing to Triple-A Indianapolis with an 0-4 record and 6.67 ERA.
Whatever hopes collectors might have had for Johnson’s rookie cards dimmed as those RCs slid ever closer to the commons bin.
The Mariners gave Johnson a start against the New York Yankees on May 30, and he struck out six in six innings at Yankee Stadium to notch his first victory of the season.
Seattle manager Jim Lefebvre left Johnson in the rotation the rest of the summer, and the lefty struck out 104 batters in 131 innings, crafting a 7-9, 4.40 ERA line with the M’s.
Things were looking up, even if just a bit, and the next few seasons saw Johnson establish himself as a legitimate major league starter, albeit one who led the bigs in walks allowed every year from 1990 through 1992.
Then, a late-season confab with the legendary Nolan Ryan in 1992 brought delivery and mindset adjustments that changed the game for Johnson … and for the rest of baseball.
He struck out 18 batters in a game before the end of that 1992 campaign, then uncorked for an 19-win, 308-strikeout performance in 1993.
That was good enough for a third-place finish in the American League Cy Young Award balloting, and Johnson started to look like he just might live up to the nickname that Expos great Tim Raines had hung on him back in 1988 — “The Big Unit.”
Collectors started to take notice, too, and we started pulling his 1989 rookie cards into the hobby limelight, fitting companions to the already-blistering RCs of Seattle teammate Ken Griffey Jr.
Indeed, the Big Unit didn’t let off the gas for another 17 summers, finishing his career with 4875 strikeouts (second all-time to Ryan), nine K crowns, five Cy Young Awards, a World Series title, 10 All-Star berths, 303 victories, and on and on and on.
It was no surprise that Johnson sailed into the Hall of Fame on his first ballot in 2015.
And it’s also no surprise that Johnson’s rookie cards became Cooperstown-worthy in their own right along the way, and that they still loom as hobby superstars today.
As active, vivid proof of that, here are the hottest, most watched Randy Johnson rookie cards on eBay right now. This list is updated every few minutes, too, so check back often!