Sunday, April 15, 2007
The Walter Johnson Memorial
Walter Johnson is the finest Professional Baseball Player to ever call Washington, DC his home. As THE STAR PLAYER for The Original Washington Senators from 1907 through 1927, "THE BIG TRAIN" was the game's PREMIER PITCHER of his time. When he retired after 21 Major League Seasons, Walter Johnson had racked up 2 American League Most Valuable Player Awards, 5 American League Earned Run Average Titles, 417 Wins, 279 Loses, 3509 Strikeout and an AMAZING 531 Complete Games. Walter was the WINNING PITCHER in Game 7 of the 1924 World Series against The New York Giants. The Only World Series Title in Washington Baseball History. The Washington Senators "World Champions" (Sounds Strange, "Champions", Doesn't it).
This Washington Senators Franchise finished above .500 for each of the last four seasons with Walter Johnson on their team. Yet, only 5 other seasons out of the first 17 years with Walter Johnson PLAYING IN HIS PRIME, did The Senators do as well. Washington was MEDIOCRE, at best-- and that's being kind. Those facts make Walter Johnson's accomplishments in baseball, all the more impressive.
After retiring as a player, Walter briefly managed both The Washington Senators and Cleveland Indians, to mixed results. But, most importantly, in 1936, Johnson became AN ORIGINAL CLASS MEMBER to The Baseball Hall of Fame. No one ever doubted this man's greatness. Walter Johnson is THE GREATEST RIGHTHANDED PITCHER IN THE HISTORY OF BASEBALL!!
After Walter's untimely death in 1946 due to a brain tumor at the age of 59, The Washington Senators and their Owner, Clark Griffith, honored "The Big Train" with the unveiling of a Special Commemorative Bronze Plaque at Old Griffith Stadium (Now The Howard University Hospital). This Special Plaque of such importance to Washingtonians, that President Harry Truman, The 33rd President of The United States, honored The Johnson Family by personally attending the ceremony and revealing the Artwork on June 21, 1947.
President Truman stating: "I am honored and privileged to be called upon to unveil this plaque to a man, who in my opinion is the greatest ballplayer who ever lived (Walter Johnson). He was a great ballplayer, a great American, and a great citizen of The United States." (The Washington Star Newspaper, June 22, 1947).
From that date in 1947 through the very last game played at Griffith Stadium by The Original Senators (who moved to Minnesota after the 1960 season) and through 1962 for The Expansion Senators, The Walter Johnson Memorial was on display for all baseball fans to remember this Great Man and Ballplayer. When 1963 rolled around, The Expansion Senators moved, along with The Washington Redskins into the brand spanking new, Architectural Marvel of its Time---DC Stadium. Now, fondly known to us, as RFK STADIUM.
With Old Griffith Stadium scheduled for demolition, The Johnson Family asked for the plaque to be moved to Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, Maryland. It seemed appropriate at the time. There was no place for it at New DC Stadium and Walter Johnson High School is built on donated Farm Land given to Montgomery County by Walter Johnson himself, upon his death. When The Expansion Senators left for Dallas-Ft.Worth after the 1971 season, no one could question the decision of placing The Bronze Plaque at Walter Johnson High School. As we all came to realize, Major League Baseball would not return to DC for over three decades.
Now, times have changed, dramatically. Since the very first official word The Montreal Expos were moving to The District becoming Our Washington Nationals in late 2004, thoughts of a brand New Stadium to house the team immediately followed. We all know Nationals Park is being built on South Capitol Street right now, and is scheduled to open in April, 2008. Not one day seems to pass that someone, somewhere, talks about honoring Washington's Rich Baseball History on this new site.
Personally, Officials from both Our Washington Nationals and The DC Sports & Entertainment Commission have told me they are looking into various ideas for honoring Washington's Baseball Past--although nothing more specific has come forward. Many fans have asked about Statues Honoring, not only Walter Johnson, but also Frank Howard (The Finest Player to ever call RFK his home) and Negro League Great, and Hall Of Famer, Josh Gibson surrounding the new ballpark. All three GREAT CHOICES, among many others.
Yet, on many occasions, since that very first day of Baseball's Return to The Nation's Capital, talk of preserving and placing The Original Walter Johnson Memorial at Nationals Park has been talked about and debated. Many fans are hoping something can be worked out to possibly move This Historical Baseball Artifact back to where it was originally intended--outside a Washington, DC Baseball Stadium, to be enjoyed by thousands of baseball fans each and every year. At Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, the Bronze Artwork is placed inside a Brick Wall, under the Schools Flag Pole, facing the front of the school, not toward the street. Many times over the years, the plaque has been vandalized and STOLEN TWICE.
Lets make one thing perfectly clear. In this case, no one is trying to take ANYTHING AWAY from Walter Johnson High School and Montgomery County, Maryland. Walter Johnson's Grandson, Hank Thomas, has shown an interest by the family to allow this move to happen. Walter Johnson's direct surviving descendants desire to see the Bronze Plaque returned to its original intended purpose. A chance for All Baseball Fans to enjoy a Significant Person in Washington Baseball History. And, if this credited "Donation" occurs, Walter Johnson High School would receive, IN RETURN, an EXACT REPLICA to be placed in the Brick Wall, under The Flag Pole, outside the entrance to the high school. And no doubt, the goodwill of Washington Baseball Fans everywhere.
The Walter Johnson Bronze Memorial was built and originally placed openly in a Baseball Venue to HONOR one of Washington's Greatest. Now, more than ever, is the perfect time to RE-DEDICATE "The Big Train", Walter Johnson with the transfer of this Historical Marker back where it belongs, on South Capitol Street, with Our Washington Nationals--alongside Major League Baseball- to be Adorned and Cherished by Baseball Fans Now And In The Future.
With no disrespect toward anyone who attends, graduated or works at Walter Johnson High School, personally, I hope this transfer comes to fruition. For me, there is no better way to to relish Washington's Baseball Past. This Plaque is HISTORICALLY IMPORTANT TO WASHINGTON'S BASEBALL HISTORY. Being able to view and touch The Walter Johnson Memorial upon entering Nationals Park is a great way for Our Washington Nationals to honor DC's Finest Baseball Playing Son. For over 33 years, Major League Baseball went missing in Washington, DC. Now, baseball's back. There is an opportunity to BRIDGE THE GAP for those lost years and make Baseball in Washington Whole Again.
The right set of circumstances are directly in our path. June 21, 2007 is the 60th Anniversary of The Original Unveiling Ceremony. Why not Honor The Past by making this very near Future Date, historically important again. Please, lets not miss out.