125th birthday for Walter Johnsonby Chris Jaffe
November 06, 2012
Today marks the 125th birthday of one of the greatest ballplayers who ever lived, Walter Johnson.
He’s famous for several things. He won 417 games, the most of any 20th century pitcher. He did it despite toiling for many seasons with a substandard Washington Senators team. (While it’s true the Senators were typically bad when he played for them, it’s worth noting they had their moments, including a pair of back-to-back pennant winning seasons with Johnson in 1924-25).
Johnson is also one of the founding five – among the first batch of inductees into Cooperstown in 1936, alongside Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth, and Christy Mathewson.
Since we’re commemorating his birth, let’s note a few things about that. Born on Nov. 6, 1887, Johnson is part of one of the all-time great birth years in baseball history. He’s one of four Hall of Famers born that year, and two others are (like Johnson) inner circle guys – 300 game winner Pete Alexander and 3,000 hit man Eddie Collins. The fourth immortal is Harry Hooper, a bad joke of a selection.
If Hooper didn’t have anywhere near enough talent to belong in Cooperstown, he’s balanced out by fellow 1887 baby, Shoeless Joe Jackson. Obviously, Jackson had the talent to enter Cooperstown, but his involvement in the 1919 World Series fix will forever keep him out.
Besides them, you have Cy Williams (the second man to ever get 200 homers), Heinie Zimmerman (who nearly won the 1912 NL Triple Crown), Clyde Milan (a speedy outfielder who played centerfield for Walter Johnson’s Senators), Donie Bush (a long time infielder who was a walk machine at the plate), Doc Crandall (the game’s first relief pitcher) and others.
Johnson, however, died fairly young. He was just 59 when he passed away in 1947. Yes, it was a different era and life spans were shorter, but 59 was still a bit young, especially for someone who had been so healthy and athletic.
To put it in perspective, George Brett turned 59 this year. So did Jim Rice, Keith Hernandez, Larry Parrish, and Frank Tanana.
In a literal sense, Johnson has now been dead longer than he’d been alive. But his accomplishments in his life make he a remembered name even now, and that life began exactly 125 years ago today.
Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that occurred X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim through things.
2,000 days since John Mabry appears in his last game.
5,000 days since Arizona pitcher Kenny Robinson dies in a car crash. Teammate John Rosengren is arrested for second-degree murder in this alcohol-related fatal car crash.
6,000 days since Houston releases Greg Swindell, marking an effective end to his days as a starting pitcher.
7,000 days since Mark Whiten has one of the greatest games by any player ever, homering four times with 12 RBIs, both marks tie single game records.
8,000 days since the White Sox sign free agent Charlie Hough.
8,000 days since California signs free agent Floyd Bannister.
15,000 days since the first night game in World Series history, as the Pirates come back to beat the Orioles, 4-3.
30,000 days since Yankees pitcher Red Ruffing homers twice in one game, allowing the team to beat the Browns, 7-6 in 10 innings.
Also, at some point today it will be 1,000,000,000 seconds since the Cubs trade slugger Dave Kingman to the Mets.
1889 Over 30 players and financial backers meet at the Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York City to form the Players National League of Base Ball Clubs. It will last just one year.
1922 Morgan Buckeley, the first NL president, dies at age 84.
1928 Arnold Rothstein, the man who helped fix the 1919 World Series, dies at age 46 two days after being shot while playing poker in New York City.
1930 The Pirates trade shortstop Dick Bartell to the Phillies for infielder Tommy Thevenow and pitcher Claude Willoughby.
1931 Hall of Fame pitcher Happy Jack Chesbro dies at age 57.
1935 Billy Sunday, 19th century ball player who became a popular and nationally known preacher, dies at age 72.
1935 The White Sox release veteran pitcher Sad Sam Jones, helping to end his career, and Jocko Conlan, allowing him to begin a Hall of Fame umpiring career.
1938 At a West Coast charity game, all three DiMaggio brothers – Vince, Joe, and Dom – play outfield together.
1942 Yankees shortstop Frankie Crosetti is suspended 30 days for pushing umpire Bill Summers in Game Three of the 1942 World Series.
1943 The White Sox purchase Hal Trosky from the Indians. Trosky was one of the game’s leading sluggers until migraine headaches derailed his career.
1945 The Braves sign Billy Southworth as their manager. Southworth recently led the Cardinals to three straight pennants from 1942-44.
1950 Branch Rickey signs a five year contract with the Pirates to serve as executive vice president and GM.
1953 John Candelaria, 1970s Pirates pitcher, is born.
1961 Roy Hartzell, led the 1909 AL in at bats, dies at age 80.
1963 Clarence Mitchell, one of the spitballers grandfathered in when the pitch was outlawed, dies at age 72. He is also the person who hit into Bill Wambsganss’ unassisted triple play in the 1920 World Series.
1972 Montreal trades aging catcher Tim McCarver to the Cardinals. McCarver played just one season in Canada.
1974 A letter Hall of Famer Sam Rice wrote the Hall of Fame in 1965 is opened on this day. In 1925, he’d caught a ball in the stands in the World Series, and there has always been controversy about whether he caught it or not. He refused to comment, leaving just this letter behind to be opened after his death. He just died, and the now-opened letter says that Rice indeed did catch it and maintained possession of it the entire time. (A few days later a fan from the front row of the stands that Rice landed in on that day says the letter isn’t fully true – Rice caught it, then dropped it and picked it back up).
1976 In the first year of free agency, Bill Campbell becomes the first player of the class to sign, joining the Red Sox.
1987 Atlanta signs amateur free agent Javy Lopez.
1987 The Royals trade hard luck pitcher Danny Jackson to the Reds for Kurt Stillwell as part of a five-player trade.
1987 The Pirates send Joe Orsulak to the Orioles.
1997 Boston trades starting pitcher Aaron Sele to the Rangers.
2001 Baseball owners vote to give Bud Selig the authority to “begin the process” of contraction by a 28-2 vote.
2002 The Giants announce that Dusty Baker won’t return as their manager in 2003.
2009 Milwaukee trades infielder J.J. Hardy to the Twins for Carlos Gomez.
2010 While pitching in the Dominican League, Jamie Moyer re-injures his elbow.
History instructor by day, statnerd by night, Chris Jaffe leads one of the most exciting double lives imaginable; with the exception of every other double life possible to imagine. Despite his lack of comic-book-hero-worthiness, Chris enjoys farting around with this stuff. His new book, Evaluating Baseball's Managers is available for order. Chris welcomes responses to his articles via e-mail. Oh, and now he's on twitter.