Sunday, November 06, 2011

Happy Birthday to the Big Train

Walter Johnson was born today in 1887, in Humboldt, Kansas.

Ty Cobb talked about facing Johnson the first time:
The first time I faced him, I watched him take that easy windup. And then something went past me that made me flinch. The thing just hissed with danger. We couldn't touch him... every one of us knew we'd met the most powerful arm ever turned loose in a ball park.
They called it a pneumonia ball - the wind it raised was so strong it would chill you to the bone (where most fastballs are "heat", the Big Train's were cold...)

When it comes to the perennial debate, there were no speed guns. Johnson said, "Can I throw harder than Joe Wood? Listen, Mister, no man alive can throw any harder than Smokey Joe Wood." But Wood said, "Oh, I don't think there was ever anybody faster than Walter." We'll never know. But we do know this: In an era when the strikeout was not king, Johnson racked up 3,509 of them, a record that stood for 55 years (he's now 9th on the list). Batters feared facing him, and in return he feared killing them - Cobb exploited that fear by crowding the plate; he couldn't hit Johnson but he could draw walks.

He won 417 games, second to Cy Young's impossible 511, and the two of them remain the only pitchers with 400+ wins.

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