Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Walter Johnson


Position: Pitcher
Team:
Washington Senators, 1907-1927
Manager: Washington Senators, 1929-1932; Cleveland Indians 1933-1935
Managerial record: 529-432

When Walter Johnson joined the Washington Senators in August 1907, they were the worst team in the American League. Then in their seventh year of existence, the Senators had yet to finish higher than sixth place or have a pitcher who won 20 games in a season.

Walter Perry Johnson (1887-1946) soon remedied the latter shortcoming, but not even his mammoth talents could immediately lift the team out of the nether regions. The Senators finished last or next to last in each of Walter's first five seasons with them even though he twice won 25 games.

Then, in 1912, Washington vaulted all the way to second place as Johnson seemingly had a career season with 32 wins, 303 strikeouts, and a 1.39 ERA. When Walter surpassed belief the following year, winning 36 games and posting a 1.09 ERA, the lowest in American League history by a pitcher with more than 300 innings, the Senators repeated their second-place finish.

Eleven years would pass, however, before Washington again returned to contention, and by then Johnson seemed nearly done. He was 36 years old and had not won more than 17 games in a season for four years.

Those who had written Walter off, though, were in for a surprise. In 1924, with Washington locked in a season-long battle with the Yankees for the pennant, Johnson paced the junior loop in winning percentage, strikeouts, and ERA. More important, his league-leading 23 wins played an essential role in bringing the Senators their first flag.

In the World Series that fall, Johnson was beaten twice by the New York Giants but recovered to win the deciding seventh game in relief. The following season, he spurred Washington to a second consecutive pennant when he again was a 20-game winner. The Pirates, however, proved him mortal in the World Series, topping him in the seventh game after he had twice bested them in earlier rounds.

Nicknamed "The Big Train" by sportswriter Grantland Rice, who was reminded of an express train by Walter's size and the velocity of his pitches, Johnson was also called "Barney" by intimates. Although race car driver Barney Oldfield was the source for the name, it was not inspired by Johnson's blazing fastball but rather by the reckless and erratic manner in which he operated an automobile.

In any case, the name was bestowed on Walter by his teammates with an affection that was wholly understandable. In his 21 years with the Senators, Johnson won 416 games. No other pitcher in this century has won so many.

More to the point, no other pitcher could have won nearly as many games with the teams for which Johnson played. Except for 1926, when he had little left, Johnson's winning percentage exceeded his team's winning percentage in every season that he worked 200 or more innings. Most of the time the difference was well over 100 points.

The Big Train retired as a player after the 1927 season when he was unable to rebound from a broken leg he sustained in a spring training inter-squad game. In 1929, Johnson was appointed manager of the Senators. Replaced in his fourth season at the Washington helm, Walter signed in 1933 to pilot Cleveland. As with most great players, nevertheless, Johnson did not make a good manager.

Johnson was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1936 along with Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner and Christy Mathewson. It was only fitting that the greatest right-handed pitcher in history should be among the elite first group selected for enshrinement.

Here are Walter Johnson's major league totals:

W L ERA G CG IP H ER BB SO
416 279 2.17 801 531 5,923.0 4,921 1,427 1,355 3,508

See more information on the Baseball Hall of Fame:

See the players in the Baseball Hall of Fame by position:

Catchers
Second Basemen
Shortstops
Pitchers
First Basemen
Third Basemen
Outfielders

See the members of the Baseball Hall of Fame by team:

Atlanta Braves
Cincinnati Reds Milwaukee Brewers Philadelphia Phillies Seattle Mariners
Anaheim Angels Cleveland Indians Minnesota Twins Pittsburgh Pirates Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Baltimore Orioles
Detroit Tigers
Montreal Expos
St. Louis Browns Texas Rangers
Boston Red Sox
Houston Astros
New York Mets
St. Louis Cardinals Toronto Blue Jays
Chicago CubsKansas City Royals

New York Yankees

San Diego Padres Washington Senators
Chicago White SoxLos Angeles DodgersOakland A's
San Francisco Giants