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Walter Johnson, the 1900s greatest pitcher

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latimes.com

*Criteria for this question is a pitcher who started his career in the first decade of the 20th century

Who was the greatest pitcher introduced to us in the 1900s (Cy Young is not part of this since he started his career in 1890.)

The three names I came up with were:

  • Christy Mathewson- MLB debut on July 17, 1900
  • Eddie Plank- MLB debut on May 31, 1901
  • Walter Johnson- MLB debut on August 2, 1907

All three of these men had tremendous careers during the first part of the 20th century. The legacy each one left will live on forever in baseball history. Let’s go to the numbers to show how dominant they truly were:

  • Mathewson went 373-188 with an E.R.A. of 2.13 and recorded just over 2,500 strikeouts.
  • Plank went 326-194 with an E.R.A. of 2.35 and recorded over 2,200 strikeouts.
  • Johnson went 417-279 with an E.R.A. of 2.17 and recorded over just over 3,500 strikeouts.

Other stats to account for include:

  • Mathewson won two pitching triple crowns and was a member of two world series teams.
  • Plank was a member of three world series teams.
  • Johnson won three pitching triple crowns and was a member of one world series team.

You might wonder why I include championships, but unfairly, it’s included any time we talk about who was the greatest in their sport. However, all three men won at least one championship so there’s no issue here.

The most underrated on this list is probably Plank but he’s the first great left-handed pitcher. He has the honor of being the first left-hander to reach 200 wins and 300 wins. Without a doubt, he’s one of the greatest pitchers of all time but he’s not my pick for the first great pitcher of the 1900s.

You could do a coin flip to pick between Mathewson and Johnson. The numbers from both are spectacular and you could easily make an argument for who you believe was better. Let’s find out who has the better argument:

  • Mathewson- Better win-loss percentage, better career E.R.A., more World Series titles.
  • Johnson- More wins and strikeouts, better longevity, two MVP awards.
  • Mathewson’s 1905 World Series performance alone puts him in this discussion for completing three shutout wins. Honestly, it still to this day is the greatest playoff performance of all time.
  • Johnson on the other hand, spent his 21 seasons with the Washington Senators. His longevity and dominance are fully seen by the MLB record 110 career shutouts.

My answer to this question can be evident as I mention these facts:

His 1913 season might be the greatest ever by a pitcher as he posted a 36-7 record with an E.R.A. of 1.14 (yes you read those stats correctly).

He pitched the last four innings of the 1924 World Series where he gave up no runs and helped the Senators/Twins franchise hoist up their first championship.

The pure artistry of Walter Johnson on the mound not only puts him as 1900s first best pitcher but on the Mount Rushmore of pitchers. The 6’1 right hander from middle-of-nowhere, Kansas threw a baseball harder than anyone had ever seen (91 miles per hour to be exact). Trains were the fastest thing known to man during this time period, so it was no surprise that his nickname was “The Big Train”. Apparently, the fastball wasn’t enough as Johnson would add a curveball during his prime to truly make it unfair to his opponents.

Fun facts about Walter Johnson:

Walter didn’t play organized baseball until he joined a semi-pro team that was sponsored by an oil company.

Johnson caught the Senators attention by going 77 innings straight without allowing a run for Weiser, Idaho in the Southern Idaho League.

His last game in the majors just happened to be the same game Babe Ruth hit his MLB single season record 60th home run in 1927.

I think this is a fun question and there’s no wrong answer to it. Who do you think was 1900s first best pitcher? And if your answer is Walter Johnson... is he also on your Mount Rushmore of pitchers?