Sixteen years ago this week the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Randy Johnson destroyed a bird with a baseball. While that might not strike with the impact of the temporal distinction of “a century ago,” it’s still long enough ago that the footage is grainy, pre-HD and even before the Internet was a commonplace and daily resource for most of us.

For Johnson, the incident stands as arguably the most mythologizing moment of his entire, storied career. He’s a five-time Cy Young winner, he possesses 303 wins, he owns the record for most strikeouts by a lefty and is second to only Nolan Ryan for most strikeouts in MLB history. Yet, for baseball fans of a certain age, “he nuked a pigeon with a pitch” is the most defining moment.

The man’s durability and staying power in the majors is practically unheard of in this day and age of pitch counts and “saving the arm.” But when Johnson broke into The Bigs with Montreal back in the late 1980’s, MLB managers were far more of the belief of “ride ’em until the wheels come off.” Johnson worked his arm and his giraffe-like frame through the abuses and nicks and dinks that come with primarily four-man rotations and short rest cycles. Through all of it, with the consistency of a freight train, Johnson delivered the heat. Fanning entire sides and silencing the mighty Yankees’ bats alongside Curt Schilling in the 2001 World Series. Opponents, avian or man, had to contend with the heat from the Big Unit’s devastating left arm as much as they had to fear the psychological warfare he wreaked with his intimidating glares punctuated with that utterly Johnsonian grimace and temper. We salute you, Big Unit and may the bird you nuked rest forever in peace.

What was popular in 2001?

In baseball? Home runs were all the rage, much like today. Barry Bonds was in the midst of one of the most ridiculously prolific offensive seasons ever. Debate all you want about his usage of PEDs, but Bonds shattered records that were being set in the same juiced-up era, smashing all records from all comers. Finishing the season with a gobsmacking 73 dingers, Bonds rewrote the records in ’01. Unbelievably, the ageless wonder, Rickey Henderson was still in the majors in ’01 and he recorded his 3,000th hit that season.

In other sports, the dominant Los Angeles Lakers, led by Kobe and Shaq, were in the midst of a three-peat, dealing the Philadelphia 76ers a 4-1 series defeat. Of note, the Sixers were the only NBA team to win a game against the Lakers in the NBA playoffs that season.

The Baltimore Ravens, fielding one of the best defenses in NFL history, defeated the New York Giants in the Super Bowl.

Billboard Top 10 for the final week of March in 2001:

Billboard top 10:

  1. Butterfly, Crazy Town
  2. Angel, Shaggy
  3. Stutter, Joe (feat. Mystsikal)
  4. Again, Lenny Kravitz
  5. Love Doesn’t Cost a Thing, Jennifer Lopez
  6. All For You, Janet Jackson
  7. It’s Over Now, 112
  8. Put It On Me, Ja Rule (feat. Lil Mo and Vita)
  9. Don’t Tell Me, Madonna
  10. Promise, Jagged Edge

Okay, full disclosure, having been in college this year, I have no recollection of a song titled “Butterfly” or a band named “Crazy Town.” Even these songs and artists, I mean, I know who Shaggy, Lenny Kravitz, Janet Jackson, J. Lo, et al are, but sheesh, what a bad week for music. Sorry, future generations, March of 2001 really let you down. music-wise.

In lieu of any of the top 10 songs from Billboard, here’s “Whole World” from Outkast (also from 2001):

 

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