About 100 years ago, arguably the greatest pitcher in baseball fell into Washington's lap. The Senators were perennially a mediocre squad for the American League when they called up a lanky young kid from rural Kansas named Walter P. Johnson.
Before steroids and human growth hormones and scandal, there was a time in baseball when you simply had to bring it. And Johnson, the 'Big Train', brought it for 21 seasons in Washington. Johnson won 417 games and registered more than 3,500 strikeouts. He was a gentle giant, a humble competitor. While Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb grabbed headlines for their brashness and aggression, not to mention their fighting and drinking and womanizing, Johnson just dominated the games he pitched. Every year.
His long arms provided an unfair advantage. He rocked on the mound slowly, with precision and balance, and his powerful right arm sank into a sidearm motion before unleashing the baseball with blazing fury. The pop of the catchers mitt could be heard by Calvin and Grace Coolidge.
Exactly 100 years ago, Johnson was coming off a 1913 campaign that was...sick. He won 36 games and his ERA was a ho-hum 1.14. In May of that season, he enjoyed 55 consecutive scoreless innings! (Not 9, not 18; but 55.)
The Big Train also brought a championship to Washington, in 1924. Why is that important? Because it's our only World Series title in seventy years of baseball. Johnson retired three years later. His team, the Senators, played at Griffith Stadium, off of Georgia Avenue in Shaw.
In 1999, The Sporting News ranked Johnson as the greatest pitcher of all time. Most diehard Washington sports fans concur: Walter Johnson is the greatest. Nolan who? Sandy who? The next time you and the family go to a game, pay a quick visit to the statue of the great man inside the centerfield gates, installed four years ago.
Have a great season, baseball fans.