Walter Johnson’s road to immortality began on this date

AUGUST 7, 1907 | WASHINGTON, D.C. – Only Cy Young did more amazing things on the pitcher’s mound than Walter Johnson, and they named an award after Young.

Walter Johnson’s road to immortality began on this date in 1907. He grew up on a farm outside Humboldt, Kansas. Johnson was just 19-years old when he pitched the Washington Senators to a 7-2 win over the Cleveland Naps (today’s Indians) – the first of 416 career wins . Only Cy Young has more career wins (511) than Walter Johnson.

Johnson’s accomplishments are stunning. From 1910 to 1919 he won 25, 25, 33, 36, 28, 27, 25, 23, 23 and games.

  • He started 666 games in his 21-year career, completing 531.
  • He pitched 110 shutouts (11 in 1913).
  • He pitched over 300 innings 9 times.

Johnson could hit, too! He had a .433 batting average in 1925 – 42 hits in 97 at bats. He hit .283 in 1924, .270 in 1921, and had a career average of .235 with 24 home runs and 255 runs batted in.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCE:
Walter Johnson: Baseball’s Big Train, by Henry W. Thomas, 1995

 

One of the Greatest Pitching Duels of all-time

AUGUST 6, 1952 | ST. LOUIS, MISSOURISatchel Paige got a rare start on this date in 1952, and ended up in one of the greatest pitching duels of all-time.

Despite the consensus among players, black and white, who played with and against him that he was the greatest pitcher of his day, Paige didn’t make the majors until after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947.

Paige had been playing professional baseball in the Negro Leagues since the mid-1920’s. He was finally invited to play for the Cleveland Indians in 1948. He was 41.

Paige pitched mostly relief. But on August 6, 1952, now with the St. Louis Browns, he got the start against Detroit Tiger right-hander Virgil Trucks. They were two cagey veterans; though Paige had 10 years on Trucks. Virgil was 35 years old. Satchel was 45.

They matched each other pitch for pitch, inning for inning. Trucks pitched 9 scoreless innings. Paige pitched 12 and won 1-0.

Satchel Paige’s long overdue major league career lasted six seasons. He went 6-1 with a 2.48 ERA in his first year, helping the Cleveland Indians win the 1948 World Series. He retired in 1953 at the age of 46, but came back to pitch in one game in 1965 at the age of 58. His career mark was 28-31, but three of those years were with the Browns who usually lost 100 games a year. He finished with a career Earned Run Average of 3.29.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCE:
August 6, 1952 Tigers vs Browns game stats

Baseball and radio – they said it wouldn’t last

August 5, 1921 | PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA – Major league baseball was heard on the radio for this first time on this date in 1921. KDKA radio studio announcer Harold Arlin became the first play-by-play man as he described the Pittsburgh Pirates‘ 8-5 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies from Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. Baseball and radio – they said it wouldn’t last.

Not everyone in major league baseball welcomed the exposure on this new medium called “radio.” Many were concerned games on radio would keep fans at home rather than at the ballpark, an observation that seems shortsighted today.

Staff at KDKA looked at that first broadcast as a one-time thing; baseball would be too slow moving to become regular programming. It turned out radio’s intimacy made it and baseball an ideal match.

Radio’s portability helped too; at home, in the car, at the office, a transistor radio under the pillow. Still, it took years for many teams to recognize the marketing ability of broadcasting games. It was 1938 before major league games were regularly broadcast in New York City, the country’s largest market.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
“Radio and its impact on the sports world,” by Eric C. Covil  
Baseball’s future

Where did the phrase “Big Red Machine” come from?

AUGUST 4, 1969 | PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA • The powerhouse Cincinnati Reds of the 1970’s was known as the “Big Red Machine,” but who coined the phrase and exactly when are up for discussion. Tim Crothers, the author of Greatest Teams, published by Sports Illustrated in 1998, claims “Big Red Machine” first appeared in print on this date in 1969 after the Reds and Philadelphia Phillies slugged it out the night before.

The Reds survived 19-17. Pete Rose was quoted in the August 4th papers saying, “We scored so many runs and it was still a close game, but the Big Red Machine did it again and we’re in first place.”

Crothers said Rose was inspired by a 1934 Ford he once had which he called “Little Red Machine.” The story the Associated Press told on August 14, 1969 was that Big Red Machine was coined by Reds Manager Dave Bristol.

Regardless of its origin “Big Red Machine” remains the moniker of teams that performed with business-like precision from 1970 to 1976. With manager Sparky Anderson at the helm during that time, the Reds went 502-300. They won four division titles, three National League Pennants and two World Series.

They did it with the talents of Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, Pete Rose, George Foster, Dave Concepcion, and others.

It’s odd that the Big Red Machine has a reputation of being the best team of the 1970’s though in fact it was the rambunctious, rebellious Oakland A’s – the antithesis of the buttoned-up Cincinnati Reds – that won three World Series in a row (’72, ’73, ’74), including defeating the Big Red Machine in ’72.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
Greatest Teams: The most dominant powerhouses in sports, by Tim Crothers, published by SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, 1998
Associated Press, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, August 4, 1969.

Let’s Play Two All-star games

AUGUST 3, 1959 | LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA • The Major League Baseball all-star game was such a hit since it was introduced in Chicago in 1933, many people thought, ‘Let’s play two all-star games.’ For four seasons that’s what was done.

A second MLB all-star game was played on this date in 1959. Dual classics were the norm for four seasons – 1959, 1960, 1961 and 1962. The American League won this contest in front of 55,105 fans at the Los Angeles Coliseum, avenging a National League victory on July 7th at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. The LA Coliseum (predominantly a football .dium) was the home of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who came to the west coast in 1958, while Dodger Stadium was being built.

The pitchers of record for this second mid-summer classic were the starters. Jerry Walker of the Baltimore Orioles won it for the American League. Dodger Don Drysdale, pitching in front of his hometown fans, was the loser for the National League.

Jerry Walker was a 20-year old rising star with an 8-4 record at the time of the second all-star game. He never became the kind of star this all-star game foreshadowed. Walker never won more than eight games in any season and finished his eight year major league career with a record of 34 and 44.

Getting back to the August, 1959 all-star game, the highlights were LA Dodgers the introductions of superstars Stan Musial and Ted Williams who were both reaching the ends of their careers. Both would end up in the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
The Associated Press, August 4, 1959, Los Angeles, CA
1959 All-star games

OTHER STUFF – An excellent series of articles on Midwest Ballparks in Chicago Magazine by Jeff Ruby: “Playing the Fields”

a STORY from today in baseball history