|Birth||November 6, 1887|
|Death||December 10 1946|
|Debut||August 2 1907, Washington Nationals vs. Detroit Tigers, American League Park II|
|Team(s)||Washington Nationals/Senators (1907-1927)|
|Walter Perry Johnson|
|"The Big Train"|
|Inducted as a member of the Washington Nationals/Senators (None)|
|Year Inducted: 1936|
|First Year Elligible: 1936|
Walter Perry Johnson (November 6 1887 - December 10 1946) was an American right-handed pitcher in Major League Baseball. Born in Humboldt, Kansas, he was a farm boy who grew up to become one of the major leagues' greatest stars. He was the second of six children and his family moved to Orange County, California in 1901, where he attended Fullerton High School. While pitching for Weiser in the semi-pro Idaho State League (and working for the local telephone company), Johnson was scouted and signed a contract with the Washington Nationals (later Senators) in July 1907 at age nineteen.
Johnson won renown as the premier power pitcher of his era. Although a lack of precision instruments prevented accurate measurement of his fastball, Johnson is believed to have thrown as high as 99 miles per hour from a sidearm angle. This power is exceptional even today, but it was virtually unique in Johnson's day.
The overpowering fastball was the primary reason for Johnson's exceptional statistics, especially his fabled strikeout totals. Johnson's record total of 3,508 strikeouts stood for more than 55 years until both Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton surpassed it in early 1983. Johnson is now 9th on the all-time strikeout list, but his total must be understood in its proper context. Among his pre-World War II contemporaries, only two men were within a thousand strikeouts of Johnson: runner-up Cy Young with 2,803, more than 800 behind, and Tim Keefe at 2,562. (Bob Feller, whose war-shortened career began in 1936, ended up with 2,581.)
Nicknamed Big Train, as a right-handed pitcher for the Washington Nationals/Senators, he won 417 games, the second most by any pitcher in history (after Cy Young, who won 511). He and Young are the only pitchers to have won 400 games or more.
In a 21-year career, Johnson had twelve 20-win seasons, including ten in a row. Twice he topped thirty wins (33 in 1912 and 36 in 1913). Johnson's record includes 110 shutouts, the most in baseball history. Johnson had a 38-26 record in games decided by a 1-0 score; both his win total and his losses in these games are major league records. On September 4, 5, and 7, 1908, he shut out the New York Yankees in three consecutive games.
He thrice won the triple crown for pitchers (1913, 1918, 1924). Johnson twice won the American League Most Valuable Player Award (1913, 1924). This feat has been accomplished by only two other pitchers, Carl Hubbell in 1933 and 1936 and Hal Newhouser in 1944 and 1945. Johnson's 3,508 all-time strikeout record stood for 56 years, until Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan, and Gaylord Perry (in that order) broke it in 1983. His earned run average of 1.14 in 1913 was one of the lowest of all time, and indeed held the post-1901 record, though only for a year, as Dutch Leonard would break the record the next year.
That 1.14 ERA in 1913 should have been lower if not for one of manager Clark Griffith's traditions. For the last game of the season, Griffith often treated the fans to a farce game. Johnson actually played center field that game until he was brought into pitch. He allowed two hits before he was taken out of the game. The next pitcher - who was actually a career catcher - allowed both runners to score. Some record books still indicate that Johnson had a 1.09 ERA for 1913. The official scorekeeper ignored the game, but later, Johnson was charged with those two runs, raising his ERA.
Although he usually pitched for losing teams during his career, Johnson led the Washington Nationals/Senators to two World Series, a victory in 1924 (including the final, 12-inning game) and a loss in 1925.
Johnson was a better-than-average hitter for a pitcher, compiling a career batting average of .235, including a record .433 average in 1925. He also made 13 appearances in the outfield during his career. He hit over .200 in 13 of his 21 seasons as a hitter, and actually hit 12 doubles and a triple in 130 at bats in 1917.
In 1928, he began his career as a manager in the minor leagues, taking up residence at 32 Maple Terrace, Millburn, New Jersey, and managing the Newark team of the International League. He continued on to the major leagues, managing the Washington Nationals/Senators (1929-1932), and finally the Cleveland Indians (1933-1935).
One of the first five players elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936, Walter Johnson retired in Germantown, Maryland and was elected Montgomery County commissioner in 1938. He lost a very close election to the U.S. Congress in 1940 losing to William D. Byron by a 60,037 to 52,258 vote margin. He died of a brain tumor in Washington, D.C. on December 10 1946. He is interred in the Rockville Union Cemetery in Rockville, Maryland.
He was also called Sir Walter and the White Knight because of his gentlemanly gamesmanship, and "Old Barney" later in his career. In 1985, the rock musician Jonathan Richman recorded a song entitled "Walter Johnson" that celebrated Johnson's kindness.
Johnson's gentle nature was legendary, and to this day he is held up as an example of good sportsmanship while his name has become synonymous with friendly competition. This attribute worked to Johnson's disadvantage in the case of fellow Hall of Famer Ty Cobb. Virtually all batters were concerned about being hit by Johnson's fastball, and many would not "dig in" at the plate because of that concern. Cobb realized that the good-hearted Johnson was privately nervous about the possibility of seriously injuring a batsman. Almost alone among his peers, Cobb would actually stand closer to the plate than usual when facing Johnson.
Johnson's rookie season was Cobb's third, and Johnson retired one year before Cobb. Cobb faced Johnson at bat more times in their overlapping careers than any other hitter-pitcher combination in major league history.
- Baseball Hall of Fame
- Baseball-Reference.com - Major league career statistics
- Baseball Almanac
- Homage to Johnson
|American League Most Valuable Player|
|American League Most Valuable Player|
|Washington Nationals/Senators Manager|
|Cleveland Indians Manager|
|Major League Baseball | MLB All-Century Team|
Nolan Ryan | Sandy Koufax | Cy Young | Roger Clemens | Bob Gibson | Walter Johnson | Warren Spahn | Christy Mathewson | Lefty Grove