The words macabre and baseball are rarely used in the same sentence, but 15 years ago today, they most definitely were. It was on this date in a 2001 Spring Training game between the Diamondbacks and Giants, that pitcher Randy Johnson struck and killed a dove with a fastball. Mind you, Johnson wasn’t throwing at the bird. He wasn’t trying to brush the bird back. In fact, the bird didn’t even play for the other team. Johnson threw the pitch, the bird flew through the path of the pitch, and what happened next was… well… exactly what you would expect to happen, if you’d ever expect such a thing to happen. Most baseball fans have seen the video. If you haven’t, here you go. Though, I do warn that this ornithological Zapruder film may be disturbing to the most avid birders.
I need to thank the folks at Deadspin and SB Nation for reminding me of this ghastly anniversary. As a lifelong baseball fan, I have seen a number of crazy things happen in games, weird spring training occurrences and even weirder regular season anomalies. I would love to say this was a one of a kind situation, but alas, other birds have met their demise on the diamond. For example, there was this instance in a minor league park:
You can’t see the bird very well when the pitch is first thrown, but keep watching and the slow motion replay at 1:30 shows it more clearly.
And, it’s not only pitchers that do damage. Though there’s no available video of the incident, Eric Davis apparently killed a bird with a warm up swing in a 1981 minor league game. Also, in 1983, Dave Winfield was accused of murdering a seagull:
Seriously! Winfield was arrested for the incident and could have faced up to six months in jail, but the charges were eventually dropped.
On a Sunday afternoon in April of 1987, Atlanta Brave Dion James doubles off a bird against my New York Mets (the bird incident is just the first 20 seconds of this video, but if you watch the rest, you’ll understand why Mets’ fans like myself are unstable):
There have been a few other incidents involving birds and other animals in baseball, but I think this day 15 years ago was the most profound. The Big Unit “exploded” a bird. Let’s take a moment to reflect and remember.