Historical Trade Rumors: How Randy Johnson Nearly Joined Curt Schilling in Philadelphia

Tim Kelly
March 31, 2020 - 9:19 am

Eight years before they were co-MVPs of the 2001 World Series with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling nearly became teammates with the Philadelphia Phillies.

The 1993 Phillies - a team that epitomized the term "upstart" - seemed to have a legitimate chance to acquire Johnson from the Seattle Mariners before the July 31 trade deadline. Ultimately, though, first baseman John Kruk, an All-Star that season, told Sam Donnellon of The Philadelphia Inquirer that the Phillies got cold feet:

"If you remember the trade deadline, we had a chance to get Randy Johnson and they didn't want to give up, I think, Mike Lieberthal," the Krukker was saying yesterday. "Either him or Tyler Green . . . "

Kruk paused.

"Look, I love Lieby, he's one of my favorite people. But, at the time, I wish he was a Mariner."

"We were all gung-ho because we heard Randy Johnson was coming here," Kruk said. "That puts us over the hump. That's a win that day. Now you have him and Curt Schilling and Terry Mulholland? There's wins there. They didn't pull the trigger. So, there was some animosity, yeah."

Green did make an All-Star team in 1995, but he largely ended up being a disappointing major leaguer, as he made just 68 total starts in a big league career that lasted just four seasons. In a sense, the Phillies general manager Leroy Thomas was proven right in coveting Lieberthal. In 13 seasons with the Phillies, Lieberthal was a two-time All-Star and won a Gold Glove Award. He had a very nice career, and was ultimately inducted onto the Phillies Wall of Fame in 2012. However, in his 13 seasons with the team, the Phillies didn't make the playoffs once. And his contributions over the course of his career paled in comparison to those of Johnson.

Though 1993 was his age-29 season, Johnson was just beginning to hit one of the most extended peaks that a front-line pitcher has ever had. Between 1993 and 2004, Johnson finished in the top five in Cy Young Award voting nine different times, winning the award in his respective league on five of those occasions.

Imagine if the Phillies - who won 97 games and eventually the National League pennant in 1993 - had acquired Johnson for just one of those seasons. As is, Schilling won the 1993 NLCS MVP and pitched a complete-game shutout in Game 5 of the World Series:

A game later, the Phillies would lose the series to the Toronto Blue Jays, who won their second consecutive World Series on a walk-off home run by Joe Carter off of Mitch Williams.

In the summer of 1998, the Mariners would ultimately trade Johnson. After being dealt to the Houston Astros, Johnson went 10-1 in 11 starts with a minuscule 1.28 ERA and four complete game shutouts. It was one of the greatest halves of baseball that a pitcher has ever had. After winning 102 regular season games and the National League Central title, the Astros would lose to the eventual National League Champion San Diego Padres in the NLDS. Johnson wasn't perfect in the series, but it's hard to fault him too much. He gave up two runs over eight innings in Game 1 of the series and two runs over six innings in Game 4 of the series - the Astros lost both games.

Would Johnson have performed as well if traded to the 1993 Phillies as he ultimately did for the Astros in 1998? We'll never know. What we do know, is that the one time he was injected into a pennant race midseason, he turned in one of the most dominant stretches of his illustrious career.

Of course, we don't need to imagine a world where Johnson and Schilling ultimately became teammates. After his half season with the Astros in 1998, Johnson signed a four-year/$52 million deal to join the Diamondbacks ahead of the 1999 season. The Diamondbacks would acquire Schilling from the Phillies in the summer of 2000. In 2001, Johnson and Schilling finished one and two in National League Cy Young Award voting, leading the Diamondbacks to 92 wins and the National League West title. In Game 7 of an iconic World Series against the New York Yankees, Schilling pitched 7.1 innings and gave up two runs. Johnson, a night after throwing 104 pitches in a Game 6 victory, ultimately pitched 1.1 scoreless of relief, setting up Luis Gonzalez's walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth against future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera, giving the Diamondbacks their first championship. Johnson and Schilling, fittingly, split the World Series MVP.

Would the two have led the Phillies to a World Series title if paired together in 1993? That will remain a mystery that we'll never get a definite answer to.

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