Walter Johnson throws only career no-hitter

Part of the INSIDE PITCH series
Written by: Ryan Turnquist

Walter Johnson’s 21 big league seasons comprise one of the best pitching records in the game’s history.

But Johnson’s greatest individual moment may have come during his most trying year in the majors.

On July 1, 1920 – 97 years ago this week – the Washington Senators right-hander would throw the first and only no-hitter of his illustrious career. Facing the Boston Red Sox, Johnson would strike out 10 in the game, which ended in a 1-0 Senators victory.

The Senators’ only run came in the top of the seventh inning on a hit by second baseman Bucky Harris – who, like Johnson, was on his way to Cooperstown Harris also made an error in the game that accounted for the sole baserunner surrendered by Johnson.

The victory would bring the Senators record to 33-28 for the season, and Johnson’s record to 8-8. It would however, prove to be a costly win long-term for the team and for the pitcher.

Shortly after tossing the no-hitter, Johnson sustained an arm injury that would derail the rest of his season. The future Hall of Famer would only be able to make two more starts in the 1920 campaign before being shut down after a complete game loss to the White Sox on July 16.

The Senators would go just 30-46 over the final 76 games of the season following Johnson’s injury. They would finish the season with a 68-84 record, placing sixth out of eight teams in the American League.

Walter Johnson won 417 games, the second-highest total in history behind fellow Hall of Fame pitcher Cy Young, over 21 seasons with the Washington Senators. BL-1017-85 (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

Nicknamed “The Big Train,” Johnson would spend his entire career with the Senators. Over his 21 years, he would amass 417 wins, ranking second all-time behind fellow Hall of Famer Cy Young. His 5,914.1 innings rank third all-time behind Young and Pud Galvin. Johnson also ranks ninth in career strikeouts – his 3,509 Ks ranked first on the all-time list from his retirement in 1927 until Nolan Ryan passed him in 1983 – and 12th in earned-run average.

Johnson led the American League in strikeouts 12 times, including eight in a row from 1912-19.

“He had such an easy motion it looked like he was just playing catch. That’s what threw you off. He threw so nice and easy and then, swoosh, and it was by you,” Hall of Famer Sam Crawford said.

Johnson’s 110 shutouts are the most all-time, and his 531 complete games rank fifth.

Johnson was a member of the Hall of Fame’s inaugural class in 1936.

Fellow member of that inaugural class, Ty Cobb, summed up what it was like to face Johnson: “We couldn’t touch him. Every one of us knew we’d met the most powerful arm ever turned loose in a ballpark.”

Ryan Turnquist is the 2015 public relations intern in the Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
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Part of the INSIDE PITCH series