Walter Johnson

I just read Walter Johnson: Baseball’s Big Train by his grandson Henry W. Thomas. I recommend this book to any baseball fan. The game back then has more similarities than I ever thought to the modern game.

There was a joke about the Washington Senators at one time.  “Washington: First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.”

They had some bad teams and Walter Johnson was the lone bright spot for a long time. If he would have played for a good team in his prime…He may have have won over 500 games. As it was…his record was 417-279 with an ERA of 2.17…imagine that…losing 279 games with a 2.17 ERA. He pitched in 64…1-0 games, winning 38 and losing 26 which that stat alone is amazing. He had a career 110 shutouts and pitch 5,914.1 innings.

He finally made the World Series in 1924 and won the deciding game. The next year the Senators/Nationals made it again…despite Walter winning 2 games…they lost the series to the Pirates.

He had a blazing fastball…the fastest pitcher of his time. The players that batted against him say he had more velocity of anyone else. There were others who were fast…Smokin’ Joe Wood, Rube Wadell, and others. How fast could he pitch? That has been debated…a munitions laboratory tried to measure his pitch in 1917. They didn’t have a radar gun of course…that was 30 years in the future.

Walter had just pitched a complete game, had 3000 innings on his arm, pitching off flat ground, and in street clothes…they measured it the best they could. What they came up with was 91.36. The 91.63 mph was not clocked out of his hand, but when it passed through the device he threw it in. Fastballs can lose 3-4 mph by the time they get to the plate. Most radar readings today measure ball speed out of the pitcher’s hand and not when it crosses the plate.

So going by that…when he debuted 10 years earlier in 1907 he could have very well been around a 100. We will never know for sure and its all speculation.

Regardless…not only was he a great pitcher…he was just as good of a human being. He would often be cheered in opposing parks because of respect for the man. Johnson died in December 10, 1946 of a brain tumor.

On a side note I found this on modern radar techniques.

  • Pitch F/X captures the velocity at either 50 or 55 feet from home plate (sources differ as to the exact spot and it may have changed over time), so not out of the hand but slightly afterwards to get a consistent viewpoint irrespective of the pitcher (whose height’s vary and whose release points are all slightly different in terms of distance from home).
  • Stat Cast captures the fastest measurement of the ball at any point from the point it leaves the pitcher’s hand to the moment it crosses the plate.

A bit of trivia from Wiki that I didn’t know about the Senators. The team was officially named the “Senators” during 1901–1904, the Nationals during 1905–1955 and the Senators again during 1956–1960, but nonetheless was commonly referred to as the Senators throughout its history.

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