The Jackson Hammerheads are hoping for a second-half surge that will carry them to the playoffs in a competitive Eastern division. They’ve certainly got the bats to contend; their hard-hitting lineup is one of the league’s best run-producing units. But their struggling pitching staff threatens to undermine Jackson’s championship aspirations.
Looking for a spark to get their pitching staff turned around, the Hammerheads today announced the firing of pitching coach Steve Parkinson and the hiring of Hall of Famer Randy Johnson to replace him.
“I’ve made it clear from the beginning that I expect titles from this team, nothing less,” said Hammerheads owner/whiz-kid GM Steven Butler. “Our pitching staff isn’t holding up their end of the bargain, so it’s time to make a change. And if you’re going to bring in someone to teach your staff, why not have them learn from the best?”
Jackson’s pitching definitely needs some help. The Hammerheads are 8th in the league in ERA, 9th in OPS against, and 10th in WHIP. They’ve struggled both in their rotation, where lefty Kiko Walton has been the only consistently reliable arm, and the bullpen, where the team lacks depth and has struggled to identify a closer.
“Before I took this job, I asked them to send me film on all their pitchers, so I could see what I was up against,” said Johnson. “After about five minutes I had to switch it off, because it was making me sick to my stomach. These guys suck like a vacuum cleaner.”
Johnson’s credentials are beyond reproach. He won 303 games in his 22-season career, and is second on the all-time strikeouts list with 4,875. He was a ten-time All-Star and won his league’s ERA title four times.
“I could suit up right now and do a better job than any of these clowns,” said Johnson of the Hammerheads staff. “And I’m in my fifties. It’s gonna take a lot of work to whip these losers into shape. Fortunately, I could take any of them, easy.”
The Hammerheads aren’t the only Patriot League team to turn to an all-time great for pitching help. Last year, the Orlando Calrissians brought in John Smoltz (who was inducted into the Hall in 2015, the same year as Johnson) in midseason to fix their floundering staff. Smoltz didn’t work any miracles in season, but Orlando’s pitching has gotten markedly better in this campaign.
“I looked at what Orlando did under Smoltz, and I said to myself, ‘I wonder if I could make that happen here,’” said Butler. “I started thinking about who I could get, and I started reaching out to some of the retired greats. Most of them didn’t return my calls, but Randy did. He was skeptical at first, but once my check cleared, he was willing to work with us.”
Parkinson’s firing ends his second stint with the club. In 2015, he stepped down at midseason for family reasons; he was replaced by Eddie Harris, who later became interim manager after Lou Hayes was sidelined by a heart attack. Harris was let go at the end of the season, and new manager Bob Henley elected to bring Parkinson back to his old position.
“Nothing personal against Steve,” said Butler. “We wish him the best.”
Now Johnson takes on the formidable challenge of molding the Hammerheads’ ragtag group of hurlers into a winner. “I’m ready to do what it takes to take this staff to the next level,” said Johnson. “They’re obviously desperate for help, and I think I can make an impression on them. With my fists, if I have to.”