Despite having a fine career of his own, Langston may always be known as the pitcher that the Seattle Mariners used to fleece the Montreal Expos out of Randy Johnson in 1989. He was an aggressive and durable workhorse on the mound, an excellent fielder as well as an inning-eater, but towards the latter half of his career became plagued with injuries. In Langston’s early years with the Mariners and the Angels, the lefty overpowered his opponents with blazing fastballs, but as time wore him down, he adjusted his pitching style to utilize craftiness instead of speed.
When he broke into the major leagues, Langston quickly showed signs that he would be a pitching force for Seattle. Runner-up to teammate Alvin Davis in the 1984 Rookie of the Year Award voting, the southpaw became the fourth rookie to lead the league in strikeouts, and he set a Mariners record with 17 wins. A slight elbow injury hampered him in 1985 and kept him below 200 strikeouts for the only time in the 1980s. But he came back to lead the AL in strikeouts in 1986 and 1987. In 1987 Langston set a new Mariner record with 19 wins and became the first Mariner to win a Gold Glove (one of many, it would turn out). He set team season records for innings, complete games, strikeouts, and shutouts. On May 10, 1988 Langston broke his own team record by striking out 16 Blue Jays.
Halfway through 1989, Seattle traded Langston to Montreal in one of the more infamous trades of the decade. In return for their one-time ace, the Mariners got pitching prospects Gene Harris, Brian Holman, and Randy Johnson, a tall, lanky hurler who was having control problems. Johnson, of course, went on to fame and fortune with the Mariners, ironically shattering a number of Langston’s club records, including season wins, strikeouts, and shutouts. Langston, on the other hand, pitched the rest of the season with the Expos, posting impressive numbers (including a 2.39 ERA), but left in the off-season to sign with the California Angels.
Langston was known not only as a good pitcher, but also as a smart fielder, snagging seven Gold Gloves in his career. And he was a workhorse, averaging 247 innings between 1986 and 1993. It wasn’t only the impressive number of innings he totaled but also the sheer number of pitches he tossed, at one point exceeding 11,000 in a three-year span. Yet in the beginning of his career, he seemed impervious to injury, no matter how bizarre. While with Seattle in the mid-80’s, Langston hyperextended his back while doing a backflip into a water park’s pool. Another time, the lefty flipped a golf cart while driving it down a course’s hill, sending him and his partner flying out of the cart with their equipment raining down on top of them. Neither time did Langston miss a start.
But Langston began to feel the effects of age just a week into the 1994 campaign. Having thrown 256 1/3 innings the year before, Langston didn’t get suitable rest in the offseason and began to feel pain in his elbow for just the second time in his career. After just one start, Langston underwent surgery for bone chips in his elbow. Though his 15-7 record indicated that he successfully bounced back in 1995, his 4.63 ERA told a different story. In 1996, Langston fell subject to injuries again, this time having surgery to repair torn knee cartilage.
In the twilight of his career, Langston signed with the San Diego Padres in January 1998, on board just in time to make it to postseason for the first time in his career. Though re-signed by the team, he was released in April 1999, and inked a minor-league deal with the Cleveland Indians. With the team in need of middle relief, Langston was quickly called on to help out from the pen, but went on the disabled list with elbow problems just as rapidly, and finished the year with 25 appearances and a five-plus ERA. The next spring looked bleak, and after letting up twelve runs in nine innings, Langston decided to call it quits in March 2000.