Simply Baseball Notebook's Legends

Walter Johnson

Josh Gibson
Hack Wilson
Roger Maris
Cool Papa Bell
'Home Run' Baker
Satchel Paige
Cy Young
Eddie Mathews
Henry Aaron
Mickey Mantle
Ted Williams
Frank Robinson
Willie Mays
Lou Gehrig
Babe Ruth
Dan Brouthers
Joe Jackson
Walter Johnson
Honus Wagner
Ty Cobb
Wee Willie Keeler
John M. Ward
Grover C. Alexander
'Old Hoss' Radbourn
Warren Spahn
Hank Greenberg
Tris Speaker
Napoleon Lajoie
Jimmie Foxx
Christy Mathewson
Mel Ott
Harry Heilmann
Stan Musial
George Sisler
Roy Campanella
Rogers Hornsby


Washington Senators 1907-27

A superstar and a gentleman; that's how the men he played with and against, described Walter Johnson.  Considered by many to be the greatest pitcher of all time, Johnson won three pitching Triple Crowns, two MVP's, and retired as the game's all time strike out leader.

Walter Perry Johnson was born on November 6, 1887 in Humbolt, Kansas.  After struggling for years on the farm, Johnson's family headed west to the California oil fields in 1901.  By age 19, Johnson had moved to Idaho and began working for a phone company while playing semipro baseball on the side.

Exactly who discovered Johnson is unclear.  Legend has it that either a fan, a traveling liquor salesman, or a retired umpire saw the young flame thrower and began sending letters to major league teams.  The lowly Washington Senators were the first to bite.

The cash-strapped Senators were already interested in Clyde Milan, an outfielder in the Western Association, and sent out an injured catcher to scout both players.  Both Milan and Johnson ended up inking deals with Washington, Johnson's contract included train fare and a $100 bonus.

Success was not immediate for the young hurler, after three seasons (1907-09) Johnson's record was an unimpressive 32-38.  1910 would be Johnson's break out season, he posted a 25-17 with a 1.65 ERA.  He would win at least 20 games for the remainder of the decade, and only twice would his ERA rise above 2.00.

Known for his blazing side armed fastball, Johnson was dubbed the "Big Train" by writer Grantland Rice, who said that Johnson's fastball reminded him of an "express train."  Players of that era didn't stand a chance against Johnson, mainly because they'd never seen anything like him before.  A man truly ahead of his time, he set the standard for power pitchers of today.

In 1912 and 1913, Johnson put together the best two year stretch a pitcher has ever had.  In 1912 Johnson won 16 straight games en route to a 32-12, 1.39 ERA campaign, only to out do himself with a 56 inning scoreless streak, a 36-7 record, and a 1.14 ERA in 1913.  He was named American League MVP following that season.

The only thing dampening Johnson's success was his team's ineptitude.  During his 21 year career, the Senators won just over 49% of their games.  Their ace pitcher however, was able to lead them to victory in nearly 60% of his starts.

Finally in 1924, the Senator's management fielded a team worthy of Johnson and he responded by leading them to their first ever pennant.  The 37 year old went 23-7 that season and took home his second MVP award.

After pitching two complete games in the World Series, Johnson came in during the ninth inning of Game 7.  With the score tied, Johnson held the New York Giants in check until the 12th inning. Earl McNeely's single in the bottom of the inning knocked in the winning run and made Johnson a champion.

The Senators won their second straight pennant in 1925 and took a 3-1 lead in the World Series behind Johnson's two victories.  The Pirates, however, rallied to send the Series to a 7th game.  The Senators raced out to a 4-0 lead, but the weary Johnson could not hold it and lost 9-7.

After that, Johnson's production began to dip.  He retired following the 1927 season after posting a 5-6 record with a 5.10 ERA (he was limited to 18 appearances that season after breaking his leg in spring training).  Johnson finished his career with a 417-279 record, a 2.17 ERA, and 3,509 strikeouts.

The retired hurler tried his hand at managing following his playing days.  He was successful, posting a 529-432 record with the Senators and Indians from 1929-35, but was unable to capture a pennant.

In 1936 Walter Johnson became a charter member of the Hall of Fame.  Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, and Christy Mathewson were also members of this legendary class.  Johnson spent the remainder of his days in Washington before brain cancer claimed his life on December 10, 1946.

-David Zingler, May 2003 


Simply Baseball Notebook

DISCLAIMER: All pictures are assumed to be in the public domain. No violation of copyright is intended here. If one of the photos above is not in the public domain, please notify us and it will be removed.