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Walter Johnson

Posted: 2/28/2014 10:56 AM

Walter Johnson 


Seeking some info here.  Heard on MLB Network about all the Cardinal hard throwers so Walter Johnson popped into my mind.  I remember reading a book years ago that had a picture of Johnson and the caption read....."No mere mortal can throw a ball as hard as the newcomer from Idaho, Walter P. Johnson"

So, my question is, anybody have any idea how hard Walter Johnson threw?  Was he a hard thrower for his day?  Or was he one of the hardest throwers in the history of major league baseball?  And any idea what he would have hit on the radar gun?  85?  90?  95?  100?

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Posted: 2/28/2014 11:45 AM

Re: Walter Johnson 


Not sure why Cardinals pitchers would remind you of Johnson, since he played his entire career in the American League. They did not have radar guns then, but one experiment calculated his velo at 91.36 MPH, a high number in that day. His long success was said to be due to a sidearm delivery and repeatable mechanics along with his velocity.
Brian Walton
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Posted: 2/28/2014 12:24 PM

Re: Walter Johnson 


91.36 mph? My sister gets them up harder than that. I bet those calculations somehow went astray and Walter could bring the heat somewhere in the neighborhood of 99-101mph.
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Posted: 2/28/2014 1:18 PM

Re: Walter Johnson 


I've wondered about pitching velocity over time. It seems like most athletic feats evolve to where today's athletes are faster and stronger,  on average, than say 50 years ago.

But then I think that the top athletes of any era are probably not much different. Also, I'm not sure pitching velocity has changed that much over the years. In a rather crude experiment with Bob Feller throwing a baseball along with a speeding motorcyle, I believe they estimated he threw in the mid 90s.

I'm thinking Walter Johnson probably could top out as Pugs states, in the high 90s to possibly 100.

Of course then there was the famous quote by Johnson when Smoky Joe Wood was having his fabulous season in 1912, where someone asked Walter "Can you throw as fast as Joe Wood?" Johnson's replied "No one can throw as fast as Joe Wood".
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Posted: 2/28/2014 2:03 PM

Re: Walter Johnson 


What made Johnson so remarkable for his time wasn't so much that he threw hard, but that he threw hard far more often and consistently than others. Back in his day, remember, pitchers were trained to pace themselves, saving the hard stuff for crucial situations, since they were expected to pitch - or at least try to pitch - the entire game.

You could get away with that in the deadball era.

When the lively ball came into vogue in the 1920’s, things changed - the threat of a home run at any time required pitchers to crank it up more often, and that's when we stopped seeing 400-inning seasons and fewer complete games.

I wouldn't be surprised, therefore, to see that most pitchers 100 years ago were throwing probably 85-90 on a regular basis, and occasionally cranking it up to 95 or more when the need arose.

BTW, Feller, in "Baseball When The Grass Was Real", insisted that he threw over 100 plenty of times, and that early-radar-gun experiment and the motorcycle thing gave skewed results because, he claimed, it only measured how fast it was going when it crossed home plate, not when he released the pitch. Weird interview.
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Posted: 2/28/2014 3:12 PM

Re: Walter Johnson 


Ran across this on Wikipedia:

"

"On August 2, 1907, I encountered the most threatening sight I ever saw in the ball field. He was a rookie, and we licked our lips as we warmed up for the first game of a doubleheader in Washington. Evidently, manager Pongo Joe Cantillon of the Nats had picked a rube out of the cornfields of the deepest bushes to pitch against us. ... He was a tall, shambling galoot of about twenty, with arms so long they hung far out of his sleeves, and with a sidearm delivery that looked unimpressive at first glance. ... One of the Tigers imitated a cow mooing, and we hollered at Cantillon: 'Get the pitchfork ready, Joe—your hayseed's on his way back to the barn.' ... The first time I faced him, I watched him take that easy windup. And then something went past me that made me flinch. The thing just hissed with danger. We couldn't touch him. ... every one of us knew we'd met the most powerful arm ever turned loose in a ball park."[7]


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Posted: 3/1/2014 12:21 PM

Re: Walter Johnson 



Jmodene1 wrote: 

BTW, Feller, in "Baseball When The Grass Was Real", insisted that he threw over 100 plenty of times, and that early-radar-gun experiment and the motorcycle thing gave skewed results because, he claimed, it only measured how fast it was going when it crossed home plate, not when he released the pitch. Weird interview.
On both occasions you mention he was measured at the not inconsiderable speed of 98.6 mph.

What I think Feller what have been referring to is that today the velocity of a fastball is not measured from the hand to the plate but from the hand to a point about 50 feet from the plate.  This is because the typical pitch loses 8-11 mph from the 50 foot point to the plate with 9 mph being about the average.

The early radar gun measure you refer to was:

. . .a photo-electric cell device from the Aberdeen, MD ordinance plant so Feller could pitch through it just prior to the game.(j)(q) These devices were used to measure the speed of artillery rounds during the war. 

The above information comes from a site called eFastball.com.  The site lists the fastest pitchers though 2013,  Adjusting to 50 feet Feller is ranked second at 107.6 (nine mile adjustment) mph ranking him second to Randy Johnson who was measured at 108.1.  Third fastest was Aroldis Chapman at 105.1 in 2010.

The site also has a video of Feller's test.  His mechanics have long been abandoned by baseball.
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Posted: 3/1/2014 11:45 PM

Re: Walter Johnson 


Very very neat stuff from JMo and JenniferMarie....with a special tip of the cap to Jen-Jen for her offering. I don't think I'd be far off base by equating JenniferMarie's post to a sizzling Randy Johnson heater, from an "awe" standpoint. R.Johnson #1, B. Feller #2 and A. Chapman #3 sounds about right to me. You just know W. Johnson's name has to be in the mix. I'd say somewhere in the all time Top 20. I don't know why, but for some reason #17 stands out to me as to where Walter would fit on this list. All of we old timers can remember the 1993 All Star game like it was yesterday when R. Johnson sailed that first pitch over J. Kruk's head and then Kruk basically waved the white towel of surrender during the rest of the at bat by bailing out on the rest of the pitches. Watching that you just knew you were sitting in on something truly spectacular in the person of R. Johnson's intimidation factor. To this day, it remains a mystery to me why he didn't start out every batter with a heater over the helmet. He may have tripled the number of career no hit games that Nolan Ryan amassed. And if you remember, it was just 4 years later during the '97 All Star game, where R. Johnson started Colorado's Larry Walker's at bat off in the same hair raising fashion. The future Redbird responded by not doing a Krukish bailout job, but rather turned his helmet around backwards and moved from the left side of the dish to the right, where he coaxed a free pass off The Big Unit. Just thinking out loud here.....I bet 150 years ago, people held the same fascination for that time's heroes... gun fighters. They would most likely argue for hours on end of who was the all time quickest gun in the west. Was it Wild Bill Hickcock? Doc Holiday? Maybe a John Wesley Hardin or a Billy the Kid? One would guess that some of their debates a century and a half ago ended up with one debater whipping out a pistol of his own and gunning down the person he was arguing with, with a quick shot to the chest. Pretty uncivilized if you think about it. In today's world, it would be akin to Crdswmn, while in heated disagreement with CardsInChiTown, quickly reaching into her fanny pack to snatch a baseball and then plunking our friend from Chicago on the noggin with a steaming fastball.
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Posted: 3/2/2014 8:43 AM

Re: Walter Johnson 


Wow! Great stuff! I am thinking RB is probably thinking of "Old Pete" He tossed from a Cardinal mound for about three years but really earned his stripes as a Philly and a Cub i believe. Guy had like a .240 ERa career and was a very hard thrower for the time. I don't think "big train" every pitched for the Cards. With no real guns there is no telling how hard he actually threw but they say he could knock the spit out of a batters mouth just by throwing high and tight. Don't remember who did the games on the old WPIX but i do remember one of the announcers claiming that Dwight Gooden threw as hard as anyone since Walter Johnson.  That should tell you all there is to know about his velocity RB. Old timers will claim that Johnson could throw he ball through the side of a barn.

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Posted: 3/2/2014 8:32 PM

Re: Walter Johnson 


Thinking of our club, Rosenthal might throw about as hard as anyone who has worn a Cardinal uniform.

Bob Gibson could bring it. I've got a tape of a 1962 KMOX broadcast for a June game against the Giants. It was Gibson vs Marichal, two of the best of the '60s. This was a little before Gibson really hit his stride as a great pitcher. But you can really hear the ball popping the catcher's mitt in this one, and Harry Caray comments a couple of times "...Gibson is really throwing hard out there...". 

Playing those sim games, I stumbled on a guy from that same era and a guy who shares Mike Shannon's rookie card by the name of Harry Fanok. Apparently Fanok could really throw as his nickname was "Flame Thrower". 

He struck out 35 in his brief major league career with the Cardinals, in only 33 innings. He also walked 24, so he must have been the classic "flame thrower" who did not always know where the ball was going. If Fanok could have harnessed his control, maybe today we would be saying things like "it looks like Michael Wacha has a chance to be another Harry Fanok, although that is putting a lot of pressure on the kid".
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Posted: 3/2/2014 11:35 PM

Re: Walter Johnson 


Great post BM. I had never heard of this guy before but i sure am going to look him up. You have to love Baseball Reference. Thank you Sir! biggrin

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Posted: 3/3/2014 10:42 AM

Re: Walter Johnson 


I thought I read somewhere that Johnson threw about 92 or 93 but that was so much harder than anyone at the time.
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Posted: 3/3/2014 10:59 AM

Re: Walter Johnson 


Harry Fanok has a chapter in a 2013 book about the 1964 Cardinals that includes a series of bios written by SABR members. I have it, but haven't read the whole thing.

Highlights from Fanok's section:

Converted third baseman
Led his minor leagues in Ks three years in a row, but also walked 4.8/9
Johnny Keane changed his motion to try to mimic Sandy Koufax coming over the top
Fanok went back to AAA and learned a curve
Hurt his shoulder in 1963 and was never the same
Sat out in 1965 and tried to come back with Reds in 1966-67
Retired to Ohio and was a tool and die maker
Still alive
Brian Walton
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Posted: 3/3/2014 12:11 PM

Re: Walter Johnson 


Fascinating stuff about Fanok. 

My favorite obscure Card from the 60's, though, may be George Cernak - first baseman who was supposed to replace Bill White in 1966 after a couple of good AAA seasons.

Howsam traded White to the Phillies, the Cards played Cernak at first, and he utterly bombed - to the point where the Cards went out quickly and got a coming-off-injury Orlando Cepeda to take over.
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Posted: 3/3/2014 12:35 PM

Re: Walter Johnson 



Jmodene1 wrote:

Howsam traded White to the Phillies, the Cards played Cernak at first, and he utterly bombed - to the point where the Cards went out quickly and got a coming-off-injury Orlando Cepeda to take over.

And how did this Cepeda thing work out for the Cardinals?

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Posted: 3/3/2014 1:51 PM

Re: Walter Johnson 



RatsBuddy wrote:
Jmodene1 wrote:

Howsam traded White to the Phillies, the Cards played Cernak at first, and he utterly bombed - to the point where the Cards went out quickly and got a coming-off-injury Orlando Cepeda to take over.

And how did this Cepeda thing work out for the Cardinals?

Rat
wink

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Posted: 3/3/2014 2:33 PM

Re: Walter Johnson 


Fanok. "Fan"ok. Great name for a strike-out pitcher! Heck of a lot better than the name that Grant Balfour was "blessed" with. So much goes into a name and hence how one acts and is treated. Want a rough tough bruiser for a son? Go with "Nick", "Chet", "Rocco", "Gunner" or "Maximus". Want a cellist? Try "Simon", "Alfred", ,"Ian" or "Poindexter". Want a chubby kid who eats Elmer's Glue? Try "Pugsley".
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Posted: 3/3/2014 2:56 PM

Re: Walter Johnson 



Jmodene1 wrote: Fascinating stuff about Fanok. 

My favorite obscure Card from the 60's, though, may be George Cernak - first baseman who was supposed to replace Bill White in 1966 after a couple of good AAA seasons.

Howsam traded White to the Phillies, the Cards played Cernak at first, and he utterly bombed - to the point where the Cards went out quickly and got a coming-off-injury Orlando Cepeda to take over.
It is Kernek.
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Posted: 3/3/2014 7:16 PM

Re: Walter Johnson 




---------------------------------------------
--- nathanleopoldjr wrote:

It is Kernek.

---------------------------------------------

Kernek The Magnificent, Nate?
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Posted: 3/4/2014 7:45 AM

Re: Walter Johnson 



Domeboys wrote: Harry Fanok has a chapter in a 2013 book about the 1964 Cardinals that includes a series of bios written by SABR members. I have it, but haven't read the whole thing.

Highlights from Fanok's section:

Converted third baseman
Led his minor leagues in Ks three years in a row, but also walked 4.8/9
Johnny Keane changed his motion to try to mimic Sandy Koufax coming over the top
Fanok went back to AAA and learned a curve
Hurt his shoulder in 1963 and was never the same
Sat out in 1965 and tried to come back with Reds in 1966-67
Retired to Ohio and was a tool and die maker
Still alive
Cool stuff. It's always fun to look at relatively obscure players and wonder what might have been. Here is that Mike Shannon rookie card, with our friend Harry Fanok.  As a kid I always loved that photo of Shannon where you see a lot of the name on his uniform. I thought that was cool. 

1964 TOPPS #262 MIKE SHANNON CARDINALS ROOKIE
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