Remembering the "Big Train" Walter Johnson"
A traveling salesman watched in awe as a big
right-handed pitcher struck out batter after batter on an Idaho sandlot.
The salesman, a loyal fan of the Washington Senators, contacted manager
Joe Cantillon and raved.
Cantillon dispatched his injured catcher Cliff
Blakenship to see the pitcher.
"Take along your bat, Cliff," said the
Washington skipper. "And if you can get a loud foul off him, leave
him where he is," joked Cantillon to his light-hitting backstop.
A few days later Cantillon received a telegram.
"You can't hit what you can't see. I've signed him
and he is on his way," Blankenship wrote.
His name was Walter Perry Johnson and this Saturday
(November 6) marks the 112th anniversary of his birth.
He joined the Washington Senators in 1907 and remained
with the team known as "first in war, first in peace, and last in the
American League" until 1927. Literally carrying the Washington team
year after year, Johnson was selected 14 times to pitch the Senator season
opener. Seven times he pitched Opening Day shutouts - a major league
record. His nickname, "The Big Train," came from the fact that
he seemed to always be moving his team down the track. Another reason for
the nickname was his almost mechanical, precision harnessing durability
and power on a 6-foot-1, 200-pound frame.
A non-smoker and nondrinker, Johnson's strongest
expression was "Goodness gracious sakes alive." Batters had
choicer words for the side-arming, whiplashing right-hander with the
blinding speed. Although Johnson holds the record for the most hit batsmen
in history (206), he was too nice of a man to ever dust off a batter on
"It was a disgrace the way I took advantage of
him," Ty Cobb had said. "Knowing he would not throw at me, I
crowded the plate outrageously and hit the outside pitch from him more
often than I was entitled to."
Baseball records are made to be broken, and Johnson's
career strikeout mark of 3,508 was shattered by Nolan Ryan. But the
"Big Train's" record of 113 career shutouts should stand for a
long time, especially the way complete game hurlers have become a
vanishing breed these days. Johnson's career won-loss record was 416-279.
Once Johnson hurled a shutout on a Friday, another one
on Saturday, and another one on Monday - three shutouts in four days. He
probably would have had four shutouts in four days, but there was no game
scheduled for the Sunday.
Twelve of Johnson's career shutouts were hurled in his
high-water year of 1913, a season when he posted a gaudy 36-7 won-lost
record and a glittering 1.09 earned run average. His 56 straight scoreless
innings pitched that year was a record at the time.
The "Big Train" achieved some other remarkable
career stats, including most 1-0 wins (38), most 1-0 losses (27), and most
shutout losses (65). In 1909 alone he had the misfortune of losing 10
games when the opposing hurler pitched a shutout against his weak hitting
Washington Senators team.
Many argue that Walter Johnson was the greatest pitcher
who ever lived. It is an argument with a great deal of merit, especially
when one considers who he pitched for and what he accomplished.
You can reach
Harvey Frommer at:
About the Author:
Harvey Frommer is in his 38th year of writing books.
A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports
books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and
"Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE
STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL
AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to
acclaim in 2011. The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was
Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One.
His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times,
Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men's Heath,
The Sporting News, among other publications.
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Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz Frommer are the authors of
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