Historic Baseball

Historic Baseball

Bringing Baseball History To Center Field

Walter JohnsonWalter Perry JohnsonBorn: Nov. 6, 1887 in Humboldt, Kan.Died: Dec. 10, 1946 in Washington, D.C.Debut: 1907 | Pos: PH: 6’1″ | W: 200 | B: R | T: RYRWLGSVIPSOERA21417279802345914.135092.17>> Visit the Walter Johnson biography on Baseball Almanac for complete statistics.As much fact exists about Walter Johnson’s pitching abilities as fiction. Sometimes, it’s hard to distinguish between the two when looking at the career of one of the greatest players in the game.He was thought to have the fastest fastball in all of baseball history — though it could have never been accurately measured — and he won 416 games (second only to Cy Young) in 21 seasons with the Washington Senators. His career statistics include 110 shutouts — the most by any pitcher — and 38 1-0 wins and 26 1-0 losses.Where do you start when you are trying to describe the career of Johnson? Let’s start by looking at some of the incredible accomplishments.16 straight wins during the 1912 season56 consecutive scoreless innings in 1913A 36-7 record and a 1.14 ERA in 1913Five wins — three of them shutouts — in nine days during the 1908 seasonBecame only pitcher ever to win 20 games and hit over .400 in the same season (his .433 average in 1925 still stands as a record for pitchers)Pitched 7 shutouts on Opening DayOn the field — and off — Walter Johnson personified the values that Americans thought were important at the time. Writers even gave him the nicknames, “Sir Walter” or the “White Knight.” But, he also had his moments — before the 1911 season, he walked out of spring training when the team president refused to give him a salary equal to that of Ty Cobb. How did this Kansas native make his way into professional baseball? According to the various versions of the story, a fan, a liquor salesman, or an an aging umpire spotted a young Walter Johnson. The Washington Senators acted quickly and signed the future star. Joe Cantillon, manager of the Senators at the time, sent a catcher west to scout both Johnson and an outfielder named Clyde Milan. Both players were signed to deals with the Senators.Johnson’s first contract included a $100 bonus, train fare to Washington and a professional baseball paycheck of $350 a month. His debut was not stellar. Johnson had problems picking up bunts. Despite an ERA of less than two, Johnson had a 32-48 record at the end of his first three seasons. That’s when things started to change.In 1910, Johnson finished 25-17 with an incredible 1.36 earned run average. With his success, Johnson started to earn even more nicknames including the famed “Big Train.” Johnson also developed a reputation as a kind pitcher — the type of player who might ease up on a rookie or an old friend. He never argued with his teammates, he never drank, he never cursed and he never argued with the officials.Johnson hit 206 batters in his career, but he had the reputation of never throwing at batters. Ty Cobb said he would crowd the plate when he faced Johnson because he knew the Big Train wasn’t going to throw at him. Johnson also earned a reputation for his incredible control. In 802 games, Johnson only gave up 1,405 walks. However, he also holds the American League record for wild pitches in a season with 21.Johnson was also considered a mainstay in baseball. That’s why the upstart Federal League had their eye on him. Following the 1914 season, Johnson was told by the team president that his “mere 28 wins” would not merit the same bonus he had been awarded for winning 36 in 1913. Johnson apparently was ready to sign a contract with the Chicago Whales. Charlie Comiskey, “concerned” over the effect Johnson could have on ticket sales for the White Sox, offered the Griffith family enough money to keep Johnson playing in Washington. Clark Griffith made the trip to Johnson’s home — without informing the team hierachy — and got him back as a Senator. Despite his dominance from the mound, the Senators didn’t make it to the World Series until 1924, when Johnson was 37 years old. After a 23-7 regular season, Johnson stepped up and carried the Senators on his back in the series. Two days after pitching a complete game, Johnson made a relief appearance and held the Giants scoreless for four innings until the Senators could score a winning run.In 1925, Johnson he won 20 games, helping to lead the Senators back to the World Series. Johnson won two games against the Pirates. However, in Game Seven, he was tagged for 15 hits and fell victim to a 9-7 loss.Johnson’s pitching career ended in 1927. When he retired, he had compiled a 417-279 record and a career 2.17 earned run average.Johnson stayed in baseball after his playing days ended and became a manager for Newark (one season), Washington (1929-32) and Cleveland (1933-35). As a manager, Johnson went 529-432, but most say he was just too easygoing to be an effective manager.As a tribute to the career of Walter Johnson, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame’s original class. In his career, he was American League MVP in 1913 and 1924. He achieved the pitcher’s triple crown (wins, ERA and strikeouts) in 1913, 1918 and 1924. He had the league’s lowest ERA in 1912, 1913, 1918, 1919 and 1924. He led the American League in wins from 1913-16, 1918 and 1924. Johnson was the dominant AL pitcher in strikeouts in 1910, 1912-1919, 1921, and 1923-24. He is also the career leader in shutouts with 110.