Hall of Famers gather to honor Big Unit

Hall of Famers gather to honor Big Unit

SAN FRANCISCO -- There was Gaylord Perry, taking a break from farming in North Carolina. Tom Seaver drove down from Calistoga after literally getting his hands dirty at his vineyard. Another guest was Nolan Ryan, whose visit was partly a business trip, since he's president of the Texas Rangers.

Time has set the triumvirate of Hall of Famers on divergent paths, but they merged Saturday night at AT&T Park to help celebrate Giants left-hander Randy Johnson, the latest pitcher to notch his 300th win and join their exclusive group. Seaver, known through the years for his eloquence, summarized what defined Johnson -- and others like them who broke the 300-victory barrier -- beyond mere statistics.

"In my mind, he's a foxhole guy," Seaver, 64, said at an informal news conference before the Giants' on-field pregame ceremony commemorating Johnson's achievement. "If you're going to win this game, you have to go through him, if you're an opponent. I read that kind of mentality from his physical presence. ... It's a very animal instinct. It's a fight. There's no question about it."

Sometimes the punches are more subtle than forceful. Ryan, the all-time strikeouts leader, pointed out that both he and Johnson developed effective off-speed pitches as their careers lengthened.

"I think you have to have something that offsets what you lose in the natural aging process," said Ryan, 62.

Perry, 70, credited Johnson for a significant off-field feat: helping keep the Mariners in Seattle. The former Giant, who pitched for Seattle from 1982-83 and won his 300th game there, said that Johnson, a Mariner from 1989-98, "kind of saved that franchise. Sometimes we would have trouble getting our families to go there to see us play."

Sharing the baseball experience with loved ones wasn't an issue for Johnson, the 24th pitcher to win 300 games. Thirteen of his relatives sat in a ring in front of the pitcher's mound during the pregame festivities, including his wife, Lisa, and their four children. They were soon joined by Giants players and coaches, who stood in a ring behind them and the other guests.

Following a two-minute video featuring Johnson's other significant victories, Giants managing general partner Bill Neukom announced that a renovated baseball field near Livermore, where the Big Unit was raised, will be dedicated in his honor on Aug. 11.

Jeff Idelson, president of baseball's Hall of Fame and Museum, received four mementoes from Johnson's 300th win in Washington on June 4: the cap he wore, a ball he threw, the pitching rubber and Giants broadcaster Duane Kuiper's scorecard. Letters were read from two other 300-game winners who couldn't attend, Phil Niekro and Tom Glavine.

Perry, Seaver and Ryan each received noisy ovations and addressed the crowd briefly.

"I'm a Giant at heart and I always will be," said Perry, who played his first 10 years (1962-71) with San Francisco. "It's very special that you won [No. 300] here."

The crowd saved plenty of adulation for Johnson, who joined the Giants before this season. He thanked his family for their sacrifices throughout his career, each of the teams he played for (Montreal, Seattle, Houston, Arizona and the New York Yankees), the teammates, doctors and trainers he encountered "and, of course, San Francisco and all the fans."

Video salutes to Johnson continued to appear on the Diamond Vision screen through the game -- from Ken Griffey Jr., his Seattle teammate; Washington broadcaster Don Sutton, another 300-game winner and Hall of Famer; fellow Giants; and 300-game winner Roger Clemens.

It seemed as if the tributes would go on and on -- much like Johnson's career itself.

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.