Monday, July 02, 2012

Walter Johnson: Baseball's Big Train

There are few athletes that can actually live up to the label "hero." Walter Johnson is certainly one.

Born in 1887 in Humboldt, KS, raised in Orange Country, CA, played his minor league ball in the West, and built his Hall of Fame pitching career in Washington DC, arguably without rival.

Barney began with the Washington Senators as a 19 year old in 1907, he spent the next 21 years into 1927 with the Senators throwing one pitch -- one of baseball's greatest fastball.

Washington was rarely competitive in those 21 years, winning the AL title only twice and the World Series once. His .599 winning percentage was only 118th place all-time, however his 417 wins places him in second place all-time behind Cy Young's 511, two records that will never be surpassed. Yet his demand for a trade or his desire to join another team was minimal. He was Nationals baseball for twenty years.

Like most baseball biographies, they are packed full of statistics. "Walter Johnson: Baseball's Big Train" by Henry Thomas, is no exception. Each chapter is basically a year of his professional life sandwiched between his formative and retirement years. However, what is amazing about Walter Johnson is less about baseball and more about quality of character.

By all accounts he was a model son, brother, husband, father, son-in-law, player, teammate, coach, and business partner.

In 1947 Frank Graham wrote "Walter Johnson had all the virtues commonly but not always truthfully attributed to athletic heroes: honesty, decency, dignity, thoughtfulness and a genuine modesty. A simple man, he was, a great man."

As I have read the stories of baseball's inital five inductees into the National Baseball Hall of Fame -- Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson. Without a doubt, Walter is the most compelling and likeable, the one historical sports figure I would love to meet in the afterlife.

Greatness is found in all professions, in all cities, towns and neighborhoods. Walter Johnson will always be a fascinating figure in American history, albeit sporting history.

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