Jan 21, 2013

Masterpiece Moments Monday: Walter Johnson

"First in war, first in peace, last in the American League" sung the old refrain for the Washington Senators. In reality, that was before "The Big Train", Walter Johnson, arrived on the scene.

He came blazing to the forefront of the American League pitching pantheon on the heels of a fastball that could only be described as wickedly rapid.  He would wind up behind his head and let it fly in an almost complete sidearm motion.

The effect was the same for many batters; there would be a pop as the ball pounded the back of the catcher's mitt or a weak crack as there was yet another feeble groundball or flyball.  Check out the majesty of the pitching motion.

Some contemporaries likened him to a pitching machine.  It looked like an easy motion, just like the ball rolling around a pitching machine, and then the ball would go by you.  The famous story is that one batter decided to go to the dugout after two strikes.  The umpire called him back and the batter responded, "I know, you can have the next one.  It won't do me any good."

When he retired in 1927, after 21 years of nearly unmatched dominance, he stood 2nd all-time in wins (417), 1st all-time in strikeouts (3508 until Ryan and Carlton came along), and 1st all-time in shutouts (110). He had 9 seasons with a WHIP less than 1.  He had two 300 K seasons, when it was rare to achieve 200 Ks in a season, leading the league in Ks 12 times.  He also won three pitching triple crowns during his career.

One of these years was the incomparable 1913.  He was 36-7 with a 1.14 ERA (259 ERA+), 0.78 WHIP, 242 K, and 11 shutouts.  He also allowed a league leading 9 home runs.   And that wasn't even the year where he won 16 straight decisions (1912), which stood until later that year when Smoky Joe Wood tied it, and eventually Rube Marquard broke it.

Though the time was different, the game connects, and great pitching performances live on.  Even now, he can be considered the most dominant pitcher of any era for the length of his career.

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