It has been said and well documented that Walter Johnson was a humble man. A gentle natured giant that was not only a legendary pitcher, but a role model of good sportsmanship. He was such a gentleman he preferred not to throw a pitch inside due to concerns that he might hit someone.
However, we would error if we judged too quickly. His concerns about hitting someone were legit for a pitcher in his day. See the key to Walter Johnson’s success was his low to mid 90’s fastball which for that era of baseball had never been seen before. It was a consistent, overpowering fastball that buckled the knees of many hitters. My guess is he probably had a bad experience at some point by hitting a batter and perhaps injuring them. Ty Cobb was one that took advantage of his kindness. Knowing that Johnson would not pitch inside he would crowd the plate in order to gain an edge. Later, Cobb would describe Johnson’s fastball as, “Just speed, raw speed, blinding speed, too much speed.”
Even though Johnson offered batters a handicap he was still one of the most dominating pitchers in baseball history and he’s held many records for many decades. The six-foot one inch, 200 pound Johnson was raised in Humboldt, Kansas as a farm boy. He was given the nickname, “The Big Train” in 1911 by sportswriter Grantland Rice. The nickname stuck and was given to him because at the time trains were the fastest and most powerful thing known to man. His numbers are staggering:
1910-1916 he won 25 or more games for seven straight seasons. In 1912 he won 16 consecutive games! And let us not forget his remarkable 1913 season where he won 36 games! He finished that season 36-7 with a 1.14 ERA and earned MVP awards.
In 1924, at the age of 36 years old, he led the league with a 23-7 record and an ERA of 2.72 earning him his second MVP. When I compare these numbers to today’s players I can’t help but think, they don’t make them like they used to. And yet I haven’t told you about his most amazing achievement that is still an MLB record: Walter Johnson remains the all time leader in shutouts with 110. C’mon man are you serious!?
Despite Johnson’s super-hero pitching performances, the Washington Senators were the very definition of mediocre. He has 65 loses in which the Senators failed to score a single run. Overall Johnson’s win/loss record is 419-279 which puts him second all-time and his career strikeouts of 3,508 led all of baseball for 55 years. In 1983 the all time Strikeout King had to give up the crown to Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton and Gaylord Perry, all three men surpassed the previous mark set by Johnson that year.
His greatest career achievement came in 1924 when the Senators finally made it to their first World Series. It was Game 7. Tied score in the ninth inning. Bucky Harris, manager for the Senators called on The Big Train in relief. When Johnson arrived to the mound the skipper told him, “You’re the best we’ve got, Walter, we’ve got to win or lose with you.” Johnson shut down the Giants for four innings and went on to get the win as the Washington Senators were World Series Champs!
Walter Johnson’s Career Numbers: Win/Loss 419-279 | ERA 2.17 | Strikeouts 3,508 | Shutouts 110 | 3x Triple Crown | 2x MVP | 12x Strikeout Leader | 5x A.L. ERA Leader
Did You Know
- In April/May of 1913 he pitched 55 consecutive scoreless innings, still an American League record today.
- In 1999, The Sporting News ranked Johnson No. 4 on its list of Baseball’s 100 Greatest Players, which is the highest ranked pitcher.
- In 1999, he was elected into the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.
ROOKIE CARDS OF HALL OF FAMER WALTER JOHNSON
1909 T204 Ramly (shop eBay)
Ramly was a name of a cigarette brand. In this era many tobacco companies included sports cards inside their packs of smokes, it was their way of marketing their brand. One side of the card featured a photo of a player along with their name, position and team, the other side featured the name, brand, and logo of the cigarette company. The design reminds me of one of them picture frames my grandma had on her dresser with a photo of my great-grandfather. This 121 card set is beautifully designed and in my opinion was ahead of its time. Walter Johnson is the key card in the set and has been embraced by collectors as his true rookie card.
As of the date of this post; average prices are at $1500-$9000 for low end grades, $9000-$34,000 for mid grades and high end grades have sold in the neighborhood of $60,000.
1909-1911 T206 (shop eBay)
The T206 is the most collected set of the prewar era. It’s a 524 card set and features many Hall of Famers. The cards were inserted into packs of 16 different brands of tobacco all owned by the American Tobacco Company. This is a benchmark set in the world of sports card collecting. Iconic and Americana and because of its many variations has lots of hobby appeal.
As of the date of this post; average prices are at $300-$1600 for low end grades, $2000-$5000 for mid grades and high end grades have sold in the neighborhood of $18,000-$72,000.
Honig, Donald. Baseball America. New York, N.Y. Macmillan Publishing Company, 1985.
Shouler, Ken. The Real 100 Best Baseball Players of All Time…And Why! Lenexa, Kansas: Addax Publishing Group, 1998.
Wikipedia contributors, “Walter Johnson,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Walter_Johnson&oldid=778851772 (accessed May 5, 2017).
By Jackson, William Henry, 1843-1942, photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved May 1, 2017 from Wiki Commons.