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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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