MLB.com Columnist

Barry M. Bloom

Price recalls time coaching Big Unit

Reds manager happy to be at Johnson's number retirement in Arizona

Price recalls time coaching Big Unit

PHOENIX -- By the time Reds manager Bryan Price became pitching coach in Seattle, Randy Johnson was long gone -- first to the Astros, and then the D-backs. But Price was the pitching coach for the D-backs when Johnson joined Arizona for the second time, returning from the Yankees for the 2007-08 seasons.

With that in the background, Price was proud to be at Chase Field on Saturday night when the D-backs retired Johnson's famous No. 51 in a pregame ceremony less than two weeks after the Big Unit was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame along with Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio. Johnson pitched for six teams, but went into the Hall as a D-back.

"When he was here those last two years, he was limited that first year because of a back injury," Price recalled before his club played the D-backs in the second game of the three-game series. "In 2008, his last game of the year, he pitched a complete game against Colorado. I'm thinking, 'This guy is as old as I am.' He was 44! You've got to be kidding me. This guy can still do it."

Price was 46 at the time.

As of now, Johnson is the only player Price has either coached or played with who has been elected to the Hall of Fame. The 6-foot-10 left-hander is a great one, having won 303 games, striking out 4,875 batters, throwing a no-hitter and perfect game, and winning five Cy Young Awards

As fate would have it, the D-backs didn't bring Johnson back for the 2009 season, choosing instead to sign Jon Garland. Then six weeks into that season, Price left the D-backs on the day manager Bob Melvin was dismissed.

It worked out fine for Johnson, who went home to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2009 and won his 300th game for the Giants. Johnson grew up in Livermore, Calif., just a few miles east of what was then called the Oakland Coliseum. Price joined the Reds as pitching coach later that season and eventually replaced Dusty Baker as manager after the 2013 season.

The paths taken by Price and Johnson hadn't crossed much in the last seven years, until Saturday night. But that didn't stop Price from being flooded with memories.

"What I remember most is that he had that big delivery with a lot of moving parts going this way and that," Price said. "When he figured out that delivery, he threw the ball easier than I've ever seen for a person with that kind of velocity and command. It looked like it was effortless and I marveled at it. His arm health was pristine. It was always the back that gave him trouble. There wasn't a lot of coaching. What was I going to say? 'That's 75 pitches, Randy.' He's going to the Hall of Fame."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.