Sunday, October 5, 2014

Watching Walter Johnson Johnson from

(UPDATED with more footage of Johnson pitching - see below)

It was ninety years ago when a Washington baseball franchise won the World Series for the first and only time and just within the last few days the Library of Congress has made available a recently discovered Kinogram newsreel containing not only the only known footage of the 1924 series but the only film footage THC is aware of showing the great Walter Johnson pitching during a game. 

The newsreel was found in the rafters of a garage in Worcester, Massachusetts. It is on nitrate film stock which is highly flammable and unstable so it is miraculous it's survived all these years.  You can read the full story of the discovery and restoration at the Library of Congress website.

The Series, in which the Senators defeated the New York Giants in seven games, was considered, along with the 1912 classic, as one of the two best series played up until that time (for more on the dramatic 1912 series see THC's game by game account).  Four contests were decided by one run, a fifth by two runs and two games went 12 innings including the finale.  This post is particularly timely since THC spent six hours last night watching the San Francisco Giants and Washington Nationals play an 18-inning game won by the Giants 2-1.

The Giants, making their fourth consecutive appearance in the Series (a record at that time) fielded a lineup in which seven of the eight position players ended up in the Hall of Fame and the eighth, Hank Gowdy, was a veteran catcher who had been the star of the 1914 World Series sweep by the Miracle Boston Braves (for their story see The Boston Braves Are In Last Place).  Of course, all hardcore baseball fans know there is a big asterisk around the legitimacy of Hall of Fame credentials for most of this group.  The seven in the Hall are Freddie Lindstrom, Travis Jackson, George "High Pockets" Kelly, Hack Wilson, Bill Terry, Ross Youngs and Frankie Frisch and only Terry and Frisch are considered solid Hall of Famers.  The rest, among the least qualified Hall members, owe their status to Frisch heading the Veterans Committee at the Hall for many years and ensuring that many of his Giants and Cardinals teammate joined him in Cooperstown.

For the Washington Senators the story was the first series appearance of Walter Johnson, considered by many to be the greatest pitcher in baseball history, who had laboured for an often futile Washington team since 1907 (for more on Johnson see Smoky Joe Versus The Big Train). Though pitching decently, Johnson had started and lost games 1 and 5.  The series was tied 3-3 when Game 7 took place on October 10 at Washington's Griffith Stadium.

In the bottom of the eighth, the Giants were leading 3-1 but the Senators had the bases loaded with two outs.  Player-manager Bucky Harris hit a grounder to rookie third baseman Lindstrom which took a bad hop and two runs scored tying the game.

In the top of the 9th, Walter Johnson, with one day's rest, entered the game and went on to pitch four shutout innings striking out five.  THC noticed one interesting bit of strategy in the play by play.  On two occasions, Ross Youngs, a left handed hitter faced Johnson, a right hander, with a man on base.  Both times Youngs was intentionally walked so Johnson could pitch to the right handed High Pockets Kelly who he struck out both times.

  In the bottom of the 12th, Muddy Ruel hit a foul popup but catcher Gowdy tripped on his discarded mask and dropped the ball.  Reprieved, Muel doubled to left field.  Johnson batted and reached first on an error and was followed by Earl McNeely who hit another bad hop grounder past Lindstrom scoring Muel, winning the Series and giving Walter Johnson his first post-season victory.

The Kinogram runs about 4 minutes.  A couple of notes;
- The quality of the film is startlingly vivid and clear.  The score was added with the recent restoration.
- At about 2:00 it says "Senators tie score" but the sequence actually shows the inning ending double play in the Senator's 9th
- At 2:18 is the first appearance of Walter Johnson.  His motion is pretty interesting with a high windup and then dropping down into a sidearm motion.  Johnson is reputed to be the hardest thrower of his era but he could not have thrown 95mph with that motion.  However, there is another possibility.  In 1920, Johnson hurt his arm and missed much of the season; could he have changed his motion when he returned in 1921?  (Since the initial post, THC found more footage which you can see here.  Johnson's motion is remarkable.  It's all arm - and his arms are very long - and almost no leg)
- You see a Giant hit a triple off Johnson.  That's Frankie Frisch who ended up stranded at third in the 9th.

1 comment:

  1. Mark,

    Love it. Walter Johnson always seemed to me to be one of the nicest guys to have played the game. Was he throwing sidearm in that clip? News to me.