Walter Johnson and Cy Young have 928 career victories between them, and each was dominant pitchers in their eras.
As Johnson was winding up his Hall of Fame pitching career in 1927, the Washington Senators decided to have a day to honor the “Big Train,” who joined the squad in 1907.
On Aug. 2, 1927 — 20 years to the day after he made his major league debut — Johnson was honored at Griffith Stadium before 25,000 fans.
Johnson debuted against Detroit in 1907, and the Tigers were the opponent in 1927. He received many gifts on his day, including a silver cup, a gold distinguished service cross studded with 20 diamonds, and a check for $14,746.05.
However, receiving a handwritten letter from Young might have been the nicest gift of all.
A letter dated July 31, 1927, was addressed to Johnson from the pitcher who won 511 games during his career. That letter, addressed from Young’s home in Peoli, Ohio, will be on the block in Heritage Auctions’ Fall Sports Collectibles Catalog Auction where it’s expected to sell for $20,000 or more. Bidding will open November 19.
According to Retrosheet, Johnson and Young crossed paths twice on the mound, as the Big Train was just beginning his career while Young was on the tail end.
They first met Aug. 31, 1908, in Washington, when Young pitched a complete-game, 7-3 win for the Red Sox to pick up his 18th victory. Johnson pitched 4 2/3 innings in relief.
Their only head-to-head game as opposing starters was June 4, 1910, at Cleveland’s League Park. Johnson (7-6) pitched a complete game in the Senators’ 8-2 victory against the Naps (later called Indians). Young pitched seven innings and fell to 0-3.
Johnson, who won 417 games and struck out 3,509 batters during his career, was a well-loved figure in baseball. Although he toiled for a second-division team for most of his career, he did make it to a pair of World Series in 1924 and 1925 and was the winning pitcher in Game 7 of the 1927 Fall Classic.
“I think Walter Johnson is the greatest pitcher I have seen in the past 25 years,” former umpire-turned-columnist Billy Evans wrote the day after the pitcher’s “day.” “I say that without reservation and without hesitation.”
Hall of Famer Ty Cobb was even more effusive in his praise.
“The first time I faced him (in 1907), I watched him take that easy windup,” Ty Cobb told biographer Al Stump. “And then something went past me that made me flinch. The thing just hissed with danger. We couldn’t touch him. … Every one of us knew we’d met the most powerful arm ever turned loose in a ballpark.”
The Tigers touched the rookie pitcher enough to win 3-2. Cobb went 1-for-4 in Johnson’s debut, scored a run and stole two bases.
In the 1927 game, Johnson went 8 1/3 innings and left with a 5-4 lead but did not figure in the decision as the Senators lost 7-6 when Detroit scored three runs in the ninth inning. Johnson did strike out six to bring his career total to 3,455, according to The Associated Press.
The letter from Young to Johnson comes with a letter of provenance from Johnson’s daughter and grandson, with letters of authenticity from PSA/DNA and James Spence Authentication.
“Dear Friend Walter,” Young wrote. “Allow me to congratulate you on your big day the 2nd. May you continue the good work for many years to come. I was sorry about your injury last spring. Give my best wishes to Griff and all the boys on the team. Wishing your club the best luck ever.”
The single-page letter exhibits “original mailing folds” and “a stain from the glue of the envelope at lower right,” according to Heritage Auctions, but otherwise, it looks to be in nice condition. The handwriting is graded at 8/10, according to the auction house.
It is a simple note, but a historic one.