Walter Johnson’s Single Signed Ball Attributed to the “Last Out” of the 1924 World to be Auctioned Off
On Tuesday, June 5, 2007, Sotheby’s and SCP Auctions will offer three unprecedented single-owner collections: The Estate of New York Baseball Legend Casey Stengel, The Collection of Mitsuhiko Fujita featuring memorabilia from the 1934 Tour of Japan and the finest private collection of Hall of Fame basketball jerseys ever to come up for auction. Included in the auction is the baseball attributed to the last out of the 1924 World Series.
To this day, the seven-game World Series victory of Walter Johnson’s Washington Senators over the powerhouse New York Giants in 1924 represents the pinnacle of baseball in the Capital City. This baseball is attributed as the ball that was used for the last out of the seventh and deciding game of that historic “Fall Classic” played in Griffith Stadium. It marks the Senators first and only World Championship. It has been consigned by Walter Johnson’s grandson, and was passed down to him by his mother, Johnson’s daughter.
Before the 1924 season, Johnson announced that he would be winding down after 17 years as the major league’s premier pitcher. At the age of 37, the “Big Train’s” engine was finally slowing. Despite routinely winning more than 20 games and leading the league in strikeouts and ERA throughout his career, the Senators could only manage to win 90 games twice, and finished within 10 games of the pennant only twice.
In 1923, under manager Donie Bush, the Senators couldn’t even break .500, going 75-78 despite Johnson’s 17-12 record. So, no one, least of all Washington’s long suffering fans, thought that the Senators could even compete for the 1924 American League pennant - particularly with Ruth’s defending champion Yankees and Cobb’s Detroit Tigers playing tough ball. However, Washington’s owner, Clark Griffith, named 28-year old second baseman Bucky Harris as the fourth Senators manager in four years.
“I liked Harris’ cockiness,” Griffith said. “He told me he thought he knew as much baseball 'as that old buzzard (John) McGraw,' even if it was his first year as a manager.”
Infused by Harris’ confidence and Johnson’s turn-back-time season where he once again won the pitcher’s Triple Crown award, the Senators found themselves still in the race in September of 1924. Shocking all of baseball, they swept the Yanks in a late series to win their first ever pennant by two games, with a 92-62 record.
Posting a 23-7 record, Johnson was unquestionably the year’s most dominant pitcher. He was also the sentimental favorite entering the World Series, prompting Will Rogers to devote an entire newspaper column to the nation’s love affair with the “Big Train.” It was simply entitled, “Everyone’s Pulling for Walter.”
However, it appeared that fate would deliver a cruel blow to the hopes of millions when McGraw’s Giants, winners of four straight pennants and two World Series, sent Johnson down to defeat in his first two Series starts. But the Washington club fought back to tie the series, setting the stage for a seventh and deciding game on October 10, 1924. President Coolidge was just one attendee in a packed house of 31,000 that would see one of the greatest games in baseball history.
In a dramatic twist no novelist would ever dare try to put over, the final game went into the ninth inning tied and the Senators were out of available pitchers. The tense crowd roared in disbelief upon seeing Johnson, their greatest star for two decades, stroll to the mound. The “Big Train” promptly revved up his engines and held the Giants’ powerful lineup in check for four nerve wracking innings. Finally, in the bottom of the 12th, Nats catcher Muddy Ruel slapped a single with one out. Up next, Johnson himself hit a single as well. With runners on first and second, Senators rookie Earl McNeeley (who had batted .330 in 43 regular season games) stepped up to the plate. McNeely hit a grounder that caromed off a pebble right over the leaping arms of third baseman Freddie Lindstrom and into left field. Ruel, Washington’s slowest runner, somehow lumbered around third and scored the winning run. Washington won their one and only World Series.
Even Walter Johnson could not contain himself, failing to hold back tears on the field amidst the celebration that ensued. The following day the Nats were greeted with a hero's parade down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House where they were hailed by President Coolidge and 100,000 ecstatic fans.
This ball is signed by Johnson on the sweet spot and notated “World Series 1924” in his hand as well. It is further distinguished by an “X” mark on a side panel. According to Johnson’s heirs, the “X” was added as a means to unmistakably distinguish this ball from any other. This keepsake, one of only three balls personally saved by the Washington Senators pitcher, is being offered for the very first time. As though the historical importance and lineage of this treasure were not enough, the vigor of Johnson’s handwriting upon it gives it a presentation quality that is beyond reproach. In addition to authenticating the penmanship, PSA/DNA has assigned the writing a grade of 9.
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