Throughout time superstars in baseball perform extraordinary feats on the diamond. Walter Johnson was one of those superstars. Throwing 110 shutouts, winning 30 games in a season twice, winning 20 or more games for 10 consecutive seasons (1910-1919). All these accomplishments were based on a fastball. The great Ty Cobb once said, “His fastball looked like the size of a watermelon seed, and it hissed at you as it passed.” 1
Johnson, who debuted with the Washington Senators in August of 1907, took the mound on April 27, 1926, at Griffith Stadium in search of his 400th career victory, a figure attained by just one pitcher up to then, Cy Young. He was coming off a 9-5 victory on April 23 over the Philadelphia Athletics. That victory was the 399th of his storied career and the start on April 27 was his first try at number 400.
The Senators were a mediocre team for much of Johnson’s career, except for 1924 and 1925, when they appeared in their only two World Series. The 1924 squad won the World Series (for the only time in Johnson’s career and the team’s history), and in 1925 the team suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates in Game Seven. Johnson came on in relief in Game Seven in 1924 and was the winning pitcher. In 1925, after winning the first two Series games he pitched, Johnson was the losing pitcher in Game Seven.
Entering the game, Washington had a record of 7 wins 6 losses and was two games behind the New York Yankees. Johnson had a 2-1 record and ended the season with a 15-16 record, just the fifth time in his 20-year career that he failed to produce a winning record.
The Senators were led by their player-manager, second baseman Bucky Harris, and also had outfielders Goose Goslin and Sam Rice and pitcher Stan Coveleski, all of whom eventually joined Johnson in the Hall of Fame.
Washington’s opponent was the Boston Red Sox, who were in the midst of a terrible decade after former owner Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth and other stars to the Yankees. The only player on the team to hit over .300 was outfielder Baby Doll Jacobson, and the only pitcher to finish with double-digit wins was starter/reliever Ted Wingfield (11-16).
Johnson’s mound opponent that day was Tony Welzer, who was making his second major-league start in a career that would last just two seasons. He had yet to gain a decision and consequently was 399 wins behind the great Johnson.
Boston took a 1-0 lead in the second inning before an offensive explosion by the Washington nine in the bottom of the third put the game out of reach for the Red Sox.
Before the fateful third inning Welzer had looked good. But in the third he dropped a throw from first baseman Phil Todt on Rice’s grounder.3 Then third baseman Fred Haney and Herrera collided on an easy pop fly by Goslin.4 Even with those miscues, if Welzer had support from his teammates, there might not have been any scoring.5
But Bucky Harris sacrificed, then Joe Harris hit a hot shot to Haney, who let the ball get through and Rice scored.6 Joe Judge forced Harris, but then Bluege hit a scorching shot down the third-base line that hit the stands and bounced over the head of left fielder Rosenthal for a home run that plated three runs.7
The Senators weren’t done. Buddy Myer, hitting .178 going into the game, singled. Myer scored when right fielder Roy Carlyle let Muddy Ruel’s double get away from him.8 Johnson, the sixth batter of the inning, flied out to end the inning. Five runs had scored and that was the ballgame.9
After the debacle of the third inning, Welzer pitched swimmingly until the sixth inning.10 He was driven from the mound by a five-hit barrage that netted four runs.11 Ruel singled and went to third base when Rice beat out a bunt. Another bunt by Bucky Harris caught the Red Sox napping and that scored Ruel.12 Goslin doubled to right field to score Rice and Joe Harris double in Bucky Harris and Goslin. Welzer was replaced by right-hander Del Lundgren, who succeeded in halting the hit parade.13 Rudy Sommers pitched the eighth inning, but his pitching along with Lundgren’s was wasted as the Red Sox were helpless against the pitching of Johnson.14
Goslin led the Washington offense with three hits, including a double. Rice, Joe Harris, and Muddy Ruel each had two hits and Bluege added his home run. Johnson pitched like the Johnson of old, allowing just four hits while walking four and striking out three.
At the end of the game none of the 2,000 to 3,000 fans at Griffith Stadium thought the Red Sox could rally and look like baseball players.15
Washington would finish the 1926 season in fourth place while the Red Sox remained mired in last place for the fourth time in five years. As for the Big Train, he finished the year with a record of 15 wins and 16 losses and 412 wins. He would win five more games in 1927 and retire as a player with 417 victories. Johnson’s last appearance as a major-league player occurred on September 30, 1927, as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning for Tom Zachary, who earlier in the game gave up Babe Ruth’s 60th home run of the season.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author accessed Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and the SABR.org websites.
2 “Johnson Conquers Red Sox with Ease,” Philadelphia Inquirer, April 28, 1926: 22.
3 “Senators Win Sloppy Game,” Baltimore Sun, April 28,1926: 14.
4 “Senators Win Sloppy Game.”
5 “Senators Win Sloppy Game.”
6 “Red Sox Slump in Their Hitting and Are Beaten,” Boston Globe, April 28, 1926: 15.
7 “Senators Win Sloppy Game.”
8 “Senators Win Sloppy Game.”
9 “Senators Win Sloppy Game.”
10 Red Sox Slump.”
11 Red Sox Slump.”
12 Red Sox Slump.”
13 Red Sox Slump.”
14 Red Sox Slump.”
15 N.W. Baxter, “Boston Gets 4 Hits Off Johnson,” Washington Post, April 28,1926