“He had Everything the Ideal Pitcher Requires”

19 Aug

Walter Johnson “wrote” a series of syndicated columns during the off season between the 1924 and ’25 seasons.

In one he said he received, “About a hundred letters,” asking him to name the greatest pitcher of all time.

Johnson acknowledged:

“I risk endless criticism.

“But my reply is—Rube Waddell.”

Rube

Johnson defended his pick:

“After making all allowance for his wild habits, if I were a manager and had my choice, the late Rube Waddell would be my first choice of all the pitchers I have ever seen work. And that, of Course, includes the best in both major leagues during the past twenty-five years.”

Johnson called Waddell, “the pitcher’s pitcher.”

He said he left off A. G. Spalding, Amos Rusie, John Clarkson, “and other famous pitchers before my time,” but said that should not diminish the pick of Waddell:

“(C)ertainly the general run of pitchers in any generation would be about the same, and on that basis, it would take a strong argument to make me believe there was ever a man capable of being as near to the perfect pitcher as the famous George ‘Rube’ Waddell. He had everything the ideal pitcher requires except, of course, his one great failing—discipline.”

Johnson said he wouldn’t burden readers with a recitation of “all the scrapes and eccentric stunts,” of Waddell’s career because they were well known, “so I will confine these comments to his record as a pitcher.”

Walter Johnson

Johnson based his opinions, he said, less on “the way of averages,” and more on “personal experience or observations.”

Rube, he said, “had the two chief requirements,” for a great pitcher:

“(A) real curve ball and a real fast ball. And speed—no man ever lived with greater speed! If that big lefthander had possessed a little common sense, no pitcher in history could have compared with him.”

Johnson’s next three were Grover Cleveland Alexander, Christy Mathewson, and Ed Walsh.

“Alexander is one of the smartest f all pitchers. He has a lot of good stuff…Some experts have called Alexander the best of all curve ball pitchers. Wonderful control has always been his chief asset…Alex’s slow ball is a dandy, and his disposition—so necessary to a winning pitcher—is ideal.”

Johnson called Mathewson, “An eight-letter word ending in ‘Y’ meaning to break a batter’s back.” He attributed his success to the Fadeaway:

“Whenever that word is mentioned by the fans or players, it suggests the name of Matty before any other figure in baseball. Of course, he has a good fastball, but he always held that more in reserve. Matty’s control was the best in either big league, and his knowledge of rival batters was greater perhaps than any pitcher of his day. But it was the ‘fadeaway’ that made him famous.”

Walsh was an “iron man,” said Johnson:

“The spit-ball and overwork, almost to the point of slavery, cut short his wonderful career. Walsh ought to be in there yet. He was a powerfully built fellow and one of those pitchers who needs hard work, and lots of it. But he worked too hard and too often.”

Ed Walsh

Johnson called it a “calamity” that Walsh, with “such an arm and such a disposition” had his career shortened by overwork.

More of Johnson’s top picks tomorrow.

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