January 2, 2024

The best player in Twins history? He wasn’t a member of the Twins, says MLB.com

Yes, it’s the baseball offseason, which means those of us who write about the Twins are most likely (at least I am) struggling to come up with enough content until at least March. And we’re not alone: It appears even MLB.com is digging deep for stories after a recent piece on the best players in history for each franchise.

Walter Johnson shakes hands with President Calvin Coolidge. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

As measured by wins above replacement, or WAR, Babe Ruth tops the list at 182.6 for the Boston Braves, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.

In second place is pitcher Walter Johnson, the Big Train, a pitcher who will never be synonymous with the Minnesota Twins; however, Johnson’s Washington Senators, as all Twins fans know, eventually relocated to Minnesota for the 1961 season. So be it: Johnson’s incredible accomplishments on the mound always make for interesting reading.

Over 21 seasons, Johnson produced the following: 5,914-plus innings pitched, 3,509 strikeouts, 531 complete games, 417 wins, 110 shutouts and a career ERA of 2.17. He also won 20 or more games in a season 10 times and was twice a 30-game winner. In 1909, he recorded 25 losses, but did so allowing only a little more than two runs per game.

But what was his biggest moment? The Senators were never a very good team, but they finally made it to the World Series in 1924, which was very late in Johnson’s career, to face John McGraw’s New York Giants.

The series went seven games. Johnson, at 36, went 12 innings in Game 1, but lost 4-3. He lost his next start in Game 5, and then was called on to pitch in relief in Game 7 after so far hurling 20 innings of baseball.

Johnson didn’t disappoint. He pitched scoreless baseball for four innings with five strikeouts and the Senators held on to win their first World Series.

Here’s how the newspapers covered the win:

The (Washington, D.C.) Evening Star:

“Time may erase the solemn pages of history, fleeting ages may sink nations into the dust of forgotten pasts. But nothing will ever dim the memory of that wondrous hour when Washington won the world base ball championship.

“Just as long autumn shadows began stealing into the roaring pit of the Clark Griffith Stadium, Washington’s stout-hearted gladiators rose from the forlorn ruins of crumbling hopes and crushed the mighty Giants in the twelfth inning of the greatest contest in the history of the game.

“And last night this once debonair old Capital made Main street look blase.”

The New York Daily News:

“There is a Santa Claus after all.

“Walter Johnson, the grand old man of baseball, today achieved his lifelong ambition to pitch a winning world series game.

“And fate in granting Walter’s wish gave him full measure. Johnson gets credit for pitching the Senators to a 4-3 victory over the Giants in the seventh and deciding game of the 1924 world series.

“Going to the mound in the ninth inning with the score tied at three all, white as a sheet, nervous, Johnson turned the Giants back in four heart-breaking innings. Innings in which the Senators threw away chance after chance to score. Innings which would have cracked any stouter heart than Johnson’s.

“He gave them three hits, no more than one to an inning, and struck out five batters. He was putting all his hopes on every ball pitched. Every time he hurled the ball at the catcher, his face screwed up as if in pain. If his career is ended now, it closes in the greatest burst of glory ever achieved by any baseball player.”

They just don’t write ’em like that anymore, do they?

Sources: MLB.com, Baseball-Reference.com, Newspapers.com


Hi, I’m Rolf Boone, Twins fan.

I became a fan of the Minnesota Twins after a friendly wager in the early 1980s. I survived Ron Davis, the meltdown in Cleveland, Phil Bradley at the Kingdome and then marveled at a rising generation of stars and two World Series wins in 1987 and 1991. Brad Radke made the 1990s bearable, while Kirby Puckett’s eye injury, exit from the game and eventual death made it almost too much to bear. The new century ushered in more talent — Joe Mauer, Johan Santana, Joe Nathan, Torii Hunter, Justin Morneau — and consecutive seasons of playoff baseball, followed by consecutive seasons of losing baseball. A winning season returned in 2015. So here we are. Go Twins.