Friday, August 03, 2007

Historical Fiction?

The Nats did the right thing yesterday (besides sweeping that punkass Wayne Krivsky) when they honored Walter Johnson and his family on the 100th anniversary of his major league debut.

As you'd expect, SBF from Nats 320 has a bunch of pictures and a recap, including part 2 of his interview with the Big Train's grandson.

One thing jumped out at me though. The Nats wore replica caps supposedly from the 1927 season. (Here's a picture of Zimmerman in one). But if you look at the Hall of Fame database for the Senators, it doesn't look like they wore caps with red bills. The entire decade of the '20s has blue bills. In all but '26 and '27, the entire cap was blue. In those two years, the main part of the cap alternated between white and gray, depending on road or home. I don't see red. Nats wrong? Database wrong? Was there an alternate hat they wore those years?

If you've never really looked at Walter Johnson's stats, do it. They're worth a look. What he was able to do, even in the context of the deadball era, was stunning. Scroll down past the stats to the leaderboard section and look how often he was among the league leaders in the various categories. Look at how often one of those numbers is bolded, indicating he led the league. He wasn't just a product of his era, he was THE dominant pitcher of his time. Picture Pedro at his peak, or Greg Maddux in the mid-90s; that's Walter Johnson. But he did it year after year after year.

Take a look at his 1913 season, a 1.14 ERA in over 300 innings, and a 36-7 record. Amazing, even for the era!

What I love about that season is that that era was known for the high number of unearned runs. Fielders (and the fields they played on) stunk. The average team in 1913 made 250 or so errors (FLop would fit right in!). Needless to say, that meant a lot of unearned runs. For example, look at Johnson's 1911 season -- he allowed 119 runs, but 51 (FIFTY ONE!) of them were unearned because of the guys behind him.

But in 1913, he allowed just 12 unearned runs the entire year, in over 300 innings. Simply incredible. His 1913 season was the 6th lowest ERA of all time. Even if you kick in those unearned runs, his RA of 1.456 is still the 32nd lowest of all time.

A great pitcher, for sure. Most would say he's the best of all time, and nobody would argue that he's in the top three. And by all accounts, a terrific man. Washington was lucky to have him. And the Nats did the right thing, honoring the rich, if not winning, baseball history of this city.

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