When Randy Johnson rookie cards first hit the hobby back in 1989, collectors weren’t quite sure what to do with them.

After all, the player himself was an amazing physical spectacle on the mound, his slender 6’10” frame towering above the diamond like no one before, with an upright delivery that produced frightening power and even more terrifying wildness.

Sure, Johnson had climbed through the Expos’ minor league ranks and had debuted with a 3-0, 2.42 ERA showing late in 1988, but he was already 25 years old.

And that (lack of) control … yikes!

His rookie cards were just as likely to turn into commons-bin fodder when midnight eventually struck on his career as they were to land in display cases next to Gregg Jefferies and Jeff George.

And, so, when we pulled a 1989 Topps Randy Johnson RC (#647) from a new wax pack that spring, about the best we could muster at the time was to slide him off into a pile of other rookies we didn’t know much about, to check in with later.

And, though it was fun to look back through those “anybody good yet?” piles, it took a little while, and a uniform change, before a glimpse of that Johnson RC made our blood pump a notch faster:

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But maybe, just maybe, if we’d been paying close attention and had our baseball history antennae turned the right way, the card back would have changed our tune about “young” Johnson early on.

Here, have a gander…

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Not much there, right?

Just some minor league stats and that cup-of-coffee from 1988. Right?

Well, almost. Because there’s also the point-of-interest-line that seems not so interesting on the first reading:

Randy was signed as a 2nd round Draft selection of Expos, June 9, 1985 by Cliff Ditto & Bob Fontaine, Jr.

Ho-hum, Johnson was so “interesting” that Topps defaulted to talking about the guys who signed him? Yikes!

Maybe he was destined for the commons bin, after all.

Before you go papering the inside of your dog’s bedroom with Big Unit RCs, though, it’s at worth a cursory look into those names up there — Cliff Ditto and Bob Fontaine, Jr.

Ditto had begun his scouting career with the Padres in 1969, when they were beginning their existence. He also coached in their minor league system from 1971 through 1978.

Among the diamond luminaries he helped clad in mustard and cocoa before moving over to the Expos in 1982 were Hall of Famers Ozzie Smith and Tony Gwynn.

Pretty much “ditto” for Fontaine, who also helped land Smith and Gwynn, and who had played a major role in heading John Kruk, Ozzie Guillen, and others down their MLB paths.

If those accomplished evaluators of baseball talent pulled for the Expos to reel in Johnson, maybe we really could be a big fish someday, huh?


We would all just have to wait and see … but the signs were there for us to read.

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Big Unit’s Topps rookie card is plenty popular these days, of course, and the Tiffany version lights up the old price meter on occasion. Check out its ranking among recent top-drawer glossy sales …

1989 Topps Randy Johnson Rc #647 Montreal Expos

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Five Unopened 1989 Topps Baseball Card Wax Packs

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