The Big Train Departs the Depot

Walter Johnson winding up

There’s something very sad about the end of a Major Leaguer’s career. Most of them leave under bad circumstances. They get hurt, they weren’t good enough, or age finally took its toll. The last one happens to all of us. And it happened to Walter Johnson in 1927.

The 1927 season is most famous for Babe Ruth’s 60 home runs and the Murderer’s Row Yankees. But it was also Walter Johnson’s final campaign. His Senators placed third in the league but for a change it wasn’t because Johnson had a fine year. For the season he pitched in only 18 games, starting 15, his lowest total of both since his rookie season in 1907 (actually the number of starts tied a low in 1920, a year he was hurt). He won five games that season, the last a 12-2 romp over the White Sox on 28 July. In that game he gave up one earned run, walked three, struck out one, gave up six hits, scored a run, and had two singles. He would lose two games after 28 July and end the season with a 5-6 record.

For the season he pitched 107.2 innings, gave up 113 hits, walked 36, struck out 48 (his lowest career total, including his rookie season and his 1920 injury season). His ERA was 5.10, the only time it was above 3.75 in his career. But even in his final season, Johnson helped his team. He did it with his bat. He pinch hit in eight contests, had two home runs, two doubles, ten RBIs, and hit .348 with a slugging percentage of .522 and an OBP of .388. (OPS of 910). Not bad for a pitcher, right?

His last appearance was in one of the most famous games of the season, 30 September. The Senators played the Yankees in Yankee Stadium. With the score tied 2-2 in the bottom of the eighth, Babe Ruth slugged a two run homer, his 60th of the season, and the game winner. In the top of the ninth, Johnson pinch hit for pitcher Tom Zachary, made an out, and saw his career come to a close. It wasn’t a bad year exactly, a lot of players have worse seasons, but it certainly wasn’t a Walter Johnson season. He retired after the campaign, managed a little (I did a post on him earlier, look it up), and was in the first Hall of Fame class.

I look at those numbers and am glad I didn’t see him that year. It’s always kind of sad to see a truly great player, arguably the greatest pitcher ever, face the end. You get nostalgic for when you remember how good he was and wonder why he hung on so long. I know the answer to that at least. If I had been able to play in the big leagues, I certainly would have hung on for every single inning I could get. So I don’t blame guys like Johnson, but I can’t help feeling a little sorry whenever I see it.

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One Response to “The Big Train Departs the Depot”

  1. William Miller Says:

    I agree. I like it when guys go out on top. Joe D. retired because he said he didn’t ever want people to watch him play at anything less than his very best. I think he was right.
    Nice post, Bill

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