Tuesday, March 2nd, 2021

Walter Johnson’s First Game – August 2, 1907

August 2, 2010 by  
Filed under Baseball History, Baseball Writing

Washington Senator’s manager “Pongo Joe” Cantillon was on the lookout for new players when he sent injured catcher Cliff Blankenship out west to scout future Senator Clyde “Deer Foot” Milan.  While he was out there, Cantillon asked Blankenship to scout another raw talent in Weiser, Idaho–Walter Johnson.  Immediately impressed, Blankenship offered Walter a contract, eventually signed on the back of a piece of brown paper meat wrapping.

On Friday, August 2, 1907, Walter Johnson pitched his first game in the big leagues. Johnson’s inaugural tilt was the first game of a double header in Detroit and he lost 3-2.  He had trouble fielding and the Detroit team took full advantage.  The Senators dropped both halves of the twin bill as their last-place record fell to a dismal 28-60.  Detroit, on the other hand, raised its American-league-leading record to 54-35.  Of Big Train’s performance, Cobb said….

“On August 2, 1907, I encountered the most threatening sight I ever saw in the ball field. He was a rookie, and we licked our lips as we warmed up for the first game of a doubleheader in Washington. Evidently, manager Pongo Joe Cantillon of the Nats had picked a rube out of the cornfields of the deepest bushes to pitch against us… He was a tall, shambling galoot of about twenty, with arms so long they hung far out of his sleeves, and with a sidearm delivery that looked unimpressive at first glance… One of the Tigers imitated a cow mooing, and we hollered at Cantillon: ‘Get the pitchfork ready, Joe– your hayseed’s on his way back to the barn.’
…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.”

Walter Johnson’s biography

Walter Johnson: Baseball’s Big Train by Henry Thomas

Walter “Big Train” Johnson won 417 games as a pitcher in his early-twentieth-century baseball career, and when the inevitable“greatest ever” arguments arise, even diehard modernists will grudgingly include him in the mix. This detailed, carefully researched and annotated biography certainly does justice to Johnson’s extraordinary on-field accomplishments, and it also emphasizes his decency, humility, and self-effacing humor. Now, one might question the objectivity of author Thomas, who just happens to be Johnson’s grandson. Don’t bother. Even today’s tabloids would have trouble digging up dirt on Walter Johnson. The text is too heavy with play-by-play game accounts, but Thomas strives to emphasize aspects of Johnson’s character that provide context beyond the score. An excellent chapter deals with Johnson’s 1915 signing with the rival Federal League and his subsequent reversal and resigning with the Washington Senators. Johnson publicly acknowledged that he had treated both sides badly and had put himself in a “humiliating position.” It’s not the sort of honesty we’re going to see from today’s athlete. A much-needed, comprehensive biography of a baseball legend. Wes Lukowsky of Booklist.

QUOTES ABOUT JOHNSON: (Source: http://www.cmgww.com/baseball/johnson/quotes.htm)

“He’s got a gun concealed about his person. You can’t tell me he throws them balls with his arm.”
— Ring Lardner, sportswriter

“…arguably the greatest pitcher of all time.”
— Tim Kurkjian, sportswriter

“He had a slingshot delivery with nice, easy movement, which didn’t seem to be putting any strain at all on his arm. But he could propel that ball like a bullet.”
— Fred Lindstrom, New York Giants

“You can’t hit what you can’t see.”
— Cliff Blakenship, Washington Senators

“His fastball looked about the size of a watermelon seed and it hissed at you as it passed.”
— Ty Cobb, Detroit Tigers

“There’s only one way to time Johnson’s fastball. When you see the arm start forward-swing.”
— Birdie McCree

“I felt sorry for him when we shook hands because his hand trembled so. I knew what he was thinking. He was thinking he mustn’t let down the fans all over the country who were rooting, even praying for him.”
— Art Nehf, New York Giants

“Those last four innings of the world series comprise beyond all question the most dramatic stretch that sport has ever known… In the space of two hours, Walter Johnson had come from a lone, dejected and broken figure in the shadows of the clubhouse to a personal triumph that no other athlete had ever drawn in all the history of sport.”
— Grantland Rice, sportswriter

Walter Johnson pitching

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