Addie Joss could not have been more right when he predicted: “That young fellow is another Cy Young. I never saw a kid with more than he displayed. Of course, he is still green, but when he has a little experience he should be one of the greatest pitchers that ever broke into the game. He has terrific speed and a motion which does not put much strain on his arm and this will all improve as he goes along."
Walter Johnson came from humble beginnings, the son of a Kansas farmer. It wasn’t until his parents moved the family out west that he began to pick up the trade that would make him one of the most recognizable stars the game has ever seen. Johnson was a natural from the moment he stepped onto the Southern California sandlots.
"From the first time I held a ball, it settled in the palm of my right hand as though it belonged there and, when I threw it, ball, hand and wrist, and arm and shoulder and back seemed to all work together," Johnson said.
Labor Day Weekend of 1908, Johnson’s sophomore campaign with the Washington Senators, saw one of the most dominating performances of his career. The 20-year-old Johnson started three consecutive games, Sept. 4, 5 and 7, and shut out the New York Yankees in each of those contests giving up six, four and two hits respectively – truly one of the most remarkable pitching performances of any generation.
In 1911, famed sportswriter Grantland Rice popularized the nickname “The Big Train” in referring to Johnson. At a time when trains were the fastest things known to man, Ty Cobb recalled Johnson’s fastball as “Just speed, raw speed, blinding speed, too much speed.”
“The Big Train” added to his arsenal when he developed a curveball in the early 1910s and put together a string of 10 straight 20-win seasons.
In 1913, Johnson was 36-7 with a 1.14 ERA. His WAR of 15.1 that season is the best single-season total for any pitcher in the modern era (post 1900). Johnson's 13.2 WAR in 1912 is second on that list.
During his career, Johnson amassed 10 full seasons with a sub 2.00 ERA and completed 531 of his 666 career starts.
In 1924, the Senators made the World Series for the first time. After playing on poor teams for nearly two decades, Johnson finally got the opportunity to shine on baseball’s grandest stage.
In the ninth inning of Game 7, Senators skipper Bucky Harris called on Johnson in relief: “You're the best we've got, Walter, We've got to win or lose with you.” Johnson blanked the Giants for four innings and earned the victory and Washington’s only World Series championship.
Johnson finished his career with a record of 417-279 and a 2.17 ERA. His 3,509 strikeouts were the big league standard for more than 50 years.
Johnson was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1936. He passed away on Dec. 10, 1946.