Walter Johnson joined the Washington Senators in July of 1907 and supposedly signed a contract that paid him $450 a month. A very large sum of money for any ballplayer in this era. He debuted on August 2, 1907, in a game against the Detroit Tigers. Walter Johnson has two true rookie cards.
Walter Johnson a Gentle Giant
The day after his debut August 3rd the Washington Herald released a headline, “Johnson A Wizard.”
The paper went on to say “Johnson, who was recently unearthed in the wilds of Idaho by scouts from Cantillon’s camp, gave one of the most remarkable exhibitions of pitching ever witnessed in this city.”
It’s also been said and well documented that Walter Johnson was a humble man. A gentle natured giant that was not only a legendary pitcher but a role model of good sportsmanship.
He was such a gentleman he preferred not to throw a pitch inside due to concerns that he might hit someone.
However, we would error if we judged too quickly. His concerns about hitting someone were legit for a pitcher in his day.
How Walter Johnson Got the Nickname “The Big Train”
The key to Walter Johnson’s success was his low to mid 90’s fastball which for that era of baseball had never been seen before.
It was a consistent, overpowering fastball that buckled the knees of many hitters. My guess is he probably had a bad experience at some point by hitting a batter and perhaps injuring them.
Ty Cobb was one that took advantage of his kindness. Knowing that Johnson would not pitch inside he would crowd the plate in order to gain an edge.
Later, Cobb would describe Johnson’s fastball as, “Just speed, raw speed, blinding speed, too much speed.”
Even though Johnson offered batters a handicap he was still one of the most dominating pitchers in baseball history and he’s held many records for many decades.
The six-foot-one inch, 200 pound Johnson was raised in Humboldt, Kansas as a farm boy.
He was given the nickname, “The Big Train” in 1911 by sportswriter Grantland Rice.
The nickname stuck and was given to him because at the time trains were the fastest and most powerful thing known to man.
Walter Johnson’s Achievements on the Mound
Check this out, between 1910-1916 he won 25 or more games for seven straight seasons. In 1912 he won 16 consecutive games!
And let us not forget his remarkable 1913 season where he won 36 games! He finished that season 36-7 with a 1.14 ERA!
In 1924, at the age of 36 years old, he led the league with a 23-7 record and an ERA of 2.72 earning him his second MVP.
When I compare these numbers to today’s players I can’t help but think, they don’t make them like they used to. And yet I haven’t told you about his most amazing achievement that is still an MLB record:
Walter Johnson remains the All-Time Leader in Shutouts with 110. C’mon man are you serious!?
The Mediocrity of the Washington Senators
Despite Johnson’s super-hero pitching performances, the Washington Senators were the very definition of mediocre.
He has 65 losses in which the Senators failed to score a single run. Overall Johnson’s win/loss record is 419-279 which puts him second all-time and his career strikeouts of 3,508 led all of baseball for 55 years.
But in 1983 the all-time Strikeout King had to give up the crown to Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton, and Gaylord Perry, all three men surpassed the previous mark set by Johnson that year.
His greatest career achievement came in 1924 when the Senators finally made it to their first World Series. It was Game 7. Tied score in the ninth inning. Bucky Harris, manager for the Senators called on The Big Train in relief.
When Johnson arrived at the mound the skipper told him, “You’re the best we’ve got, Walter, we’ve got to win or lose with you.” Johnson shut down the Giants for four innings and went on to get the win as the Washington Senators were World Series Champs!
Career Stats & Accomplishments
Walter Johnson played for 21 seasons all of them with the Washington Senators.
Win/Loss 419-279 | ERA 2.17 | Strikeouts 3,508 | Shutouts 110 | WAR 164.5 (2nd All-Time)
- 3x Triple Crown (1913, 1918, 1924)
- 2x MVP (1913, 1924)
- 12x Strikeout Leader
- 5x A.L. ERA Leader
- World Series Champion (1924)
- Hall of Fame Induction 1936 (HOF Pioneer)
Walter Johnson True Rookie Cards:
1909 T204 Ramly, #60 (RC)
Ramly was the name of a cigarette brand. In this era many tobacco companies included sports cards inside their packs of smokes, it was their way of marketing their brand.
One side of the card featured a photo of a player along with their name, position, and team, the other side featured the name, brand, and logo of the cigarette company.
The design reminds me of one of the picture frames my grandma had on her dresser with a photo of my great-grandfather.
This 121 card set is beautifully designed and in my opinion, was ahead of its time. Walter Johnson is the key card in the set and has been embraced by collectors as his true rookie card.
1909-1911 T206 (RC)
The T206 is the most collected set of the prewar era. It’s a 524 card set and features many Hall of Famers.
Cards were inserted into packs of 16 different brands of tobacco all owned and manufactured by the American Tobacco Company.
This is a benchmark set in the world of sports card collecting. Iconic and Americana and because of its many variations has lots of hobby appeal.
The portrait photo of Walter Johnson’s rookie card is very dignified with a jersey buttoned all the way to the top and a very nice team logo.
There are 7 known variations of this portrait, all of them featuring a different tobacco brand on the back but the same photo on the front.
A second card in the set features Johnson pitching. This one is much easier to find and has 15 known variations with a different tobacco brand featured on the card back.
Something you should know. A long time hobby standard says, when there is more than one card of a player featured in a set the first card released gets the RC designation.
That being said, the portrait card of Johnson is the true rookie card. The action photo gets a Rookie-Year Card identifier.
For a more detailed explanation on what is and is not a rookie card check out my article, The 10 Commandments of the Rookie Card.
Happy Collecting Collectors,
Learn. Collect. Enjoy.