In 1922, Hearst Newspapers’ International News Service asked Walter Johnson to share his pitching philosophy:
“If a pitcher has a good fast ball that is always his one best bet.
“I don’t mean just an ordinary fast ball, but one with a lot of ‘swift’ on it, as Nick Altrock would say.”
Johnson claimed he came to the major leagues with just one pitch:
“When I came to the American League I scarcely knew there was anything other than a fast ball in a pitcher’s repertoire.
“For three years I used a fast ball entirely, to fool the great hitters of the American League. I really believe I enjoyed my greatest success during those three years.”
From 1907 to 1909, the period of his “greatest success, “Johnson was 32-48 with a 1.94 ERA; he was 385-231 with a 2.20 ERA over the next 18 seasons.
“In those first three years, I could just about throw my fast one by the batsman, as we put it in baseball. No pitcher could retain forever the terrific speed that I had when I came to the American League. At the close of my third year (when he was 21). I began to realize that I was slowing up a bit.
“I had been working on a curve ball in the meantime, and when it became evident to me that I was losing a bit of my speed, I began to resort to the curves to cross the batters up.
“I met with almost as much success with my curve as my fast one. However, I will always believe that I made a mistake in using too many curve balls, after once acquiring a good ‘hook.’”
Johnson, on his way to 417 career victories, concluded that had he been a more “wise” pitcher, he would have been a better
“I am convinced that the wise pitcher who has dazzling speed, holds his curve in reserve. That is what I should have done.
“When I switched from to a curve ball pitcher from a fast ball pitcher exclusively, I still had perhaps more speed than any other pitcher in the American League. I should have continued the use of the fast ball, with the curve as a constant threat.
“I am sure I would have been a better pitcher had I done so.”