Customer Reviews: Walter Johnson: Baseball's Big Train
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on June 26, 2001
Simply stated, this is the most detailed as well as accurate baseball bio, at least of a player from pre-WWII years, we have. Yet Thomas keeps the story moving, and we get the full picture of the man and his family life as well. Jack Kavanaugh's "Ol' Pete" (Grover Alexander), and Reed Browning's "Cy Young" make excellent relievers, but here's your starting pitcher, and Big Train didn't need bailing out very often.
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on February 6, 2002
One of the best baseball books I have ever read- easily on my top ten list and maybe even in my top five. I was not aware that the book was written by Johnson's great grandson until I began reading; this certainly gave the material a lot of credibility.
Walter Johnson was, without question, the greatest pitcher in baseball history. Along with Al Stump's work on Ty Cobb, Robert Creamer's work on Casey Stengel, and the recently published Cy Young biography (author's name escapes me), this book establishes a lasting legacy of Johnson on and off the field.
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VINE VOICEon October 2, 2012
As a rule, I tend to be pretty dubious of biographies written by relatives (or close friends, etc.) of the subject. They tend to be whitewashes at best and, at worst, badly written whitewashes. Big Train is a happy exception to the rule.

In one sense, this is easy - there seems to be little to no evidence that Walter Johnson had anything TO whitewash. Not a hint of scandal, boorishness, distasteful personal habit or significant vice has ever been attached to the man or his legacy. In fact, it is hard to think of another public figure who was so widely admired and respected by both his peers and his audience. Johnson was thoughtful, soft spoken, straightforward, hard working, modest and unassuming. The man was, in a sense, pretty dull. As such, he could have easily made a pretty dull subject. That he is not is a tribute to the facts and circumstances of his career, and a serious nod to his grandson, the biographer.

Exhaustively researched and noted, the book is filled with contemporary accounts that serve to illuminate Johnson's career and times. Thomas quotes his primary sources at length, but prudently, allowing us to see Johnson as his teammates, the press, opponents and other commentators saw him. If there is a tone of adulation here, it comes from those who knew and watched him, not from the author himself directly. He does a fine job of detailing The Big Train's times, on and off the field. But mostly on the field.

Perhaps the most moving chapters in the book are those detailing Johnson's World Series seasons, coming late in his career, after toiling so long and hard for mediocre (at best) teams. It is hard, even knowing the outcomes going in, not to be moved and rooting for him.

It is hard from our perspective today to really grasp Johnson's accomplishments. Just the win total alone (417) is astonishing. Realizing that he spent most of his career on bad teams makes the number all the more amazing. Consider this: Johnson lost (LOST) 26 1 - 0 games in his career. I'm not going to go on and on, but he really was amazing.

Walter Johnson is unfortunately not nearly as well known today as he ought to be. Part of this is very likely the fact that he was not a colorful, larger than life sort of character off the mound. On the mound, however, he was a giant (small g, of course) and in a class by himself. This book has a few years on it and isn't likely to start selling big at this point, but it is a very worthy addition to the baseball history shelf and a reminder that nice guys can finish first once in a while, too.
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on July 12, 1998
Henry Thomas seems to have inherited the Big Train's genes. One gentleman does a big service to another (his grandfather)as Walter johnson is depicted in this well researched and written biography. If you are an avid fan of great pitchers, dead-ball era ballplayers, or just enjoy a heartwarming story of a well respected gentleman baseball player, this book will not disappoint. Walter "Barney" Johnson was more than just the second winningest major league pitcher of all time with a blazing fastball. First and foremost he was the sports main ambassador of goodwill as well as the idol of Washington Senator fans and the entire baseball community. The only matter that the book did not clear up with me was how he derived the nickname "Big Train." In other aspects, the book was extremely well done.
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on June 18, 1996
If you have some time, and enjoy reading about one of
baseball's best eras, then I strongly recommend this book.
Henry Thomas has written a meticulously researched, 400 page
account of the life of Walter Johnson. Not only does it
expound upon his on-field brilliance, but it demonstrates
the love and respect that everyone associated with baseball
had for Walter. The foreword is written by longtime
Washington sportswriter, Shirley Povich, and the book
contains many fine photos. If you are not a baseball fan,
the wordy and intricate game descriptions may be tiresome.
But if you enjoy the game, you will enjoy this book.
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on December 9, 2011
This is an excellent baseball biography about one of the games greatest players. The narrative is clear and concise. It makes you feel as if you have known "The Big Train" all of your life. Very good detail about Johnson's beginnings in his baseball career. His playing days in Idaho and then moving on to Washington to become the games greatest pitcher. The book also points out how much better his statisics could have been if he had played on better teams of his time such as the A's or Yankees. If you are a baseball fan and appreciate its history, like myself, this is a must read book!
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on February 8, 2001
Written from the heart, and it shows. Truly a magnificent piece of work from Henry Thomas. I loved this book from beginning to end. Follow Walter Johnson from beginning to end through the eyes of someone that actually cares about Walter Johnson, his grandson. I cannot say enough great things about this book. Such a teriffic treat about a wonderful character in the history of baseball.
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on December 26, 2011
Only real baseball fans seem to realize it, but Walter Johnson was probably the best pitcher in history. One excellent to way to look at this is to count the number of times someone led his league in some basic categories that everyone recognizes - wins, ERA, strikeouts, and WHIP. It gives you a really good idea how dominant a player was over an extended period of time, no matter what era he played in.

And Johnson did just that 29 times! The next closest pitcher is Lefty Grove, with 25. Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth were able to do the same with similar offensive categories (runs, RBIs, HRs, steals, and average) only 27 times. So, arguably, Johnson may possibly have been the best baseball player ever.

The book is particularly good at translating this into the game-to-game feats for each of the "Big Train's" individual years in the bigs. In fact, if you're not a huge baseball nut like I am, there's a possibility you could get a little bored with the shutouts after shutouts after shutouts, the winning streaks, the extra inning victories, etc.

It's not all hero worship though. The book does a good job of showing Johnsons struggles too (he often started seasons slowly, had a number of injuries and illnesses, and was a good - if not great - manager).

And it's not all stats either. A constant theme is how much "Barney" was loved, not just by DC fans, but by pretty much everyone in baseball. This is probably best shown in the Nats' winning the World Series in 1924, when Johnson was winding down his career. It seemed like everyone was rooting for him - even the opposing Giants.

This may be my favorite part of the book. 1924 was arguably one of the best Series ever (based on: going the full 7 games, the number of extra-inning games, the number of lead changes, the overall run differential, etc.), and Johnson's role in it could not have been any more dramatic.

Add to all this the fact that he was an absolutely wonderful human being to boot (he reminded me a lot of Cal Ripken) and you've got a really excellent, very inspiring tale.

The only possible criticism I have is that the author may have paid too much attention to the baseball side of Barney and not enough to his life. In particular, I would have loved to know more about his wife. She was the daughter of a real senator and quite the debutante. They seemed to have a wonderful marriage and family. Tragically, though, she died very young.

Even given that, it's an excellent book. Can't recommend it highly enough.
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on January 29, 1997
This is a very enjoyable book for anyone wanting to know about baseball's golden age and a different American age.The author's research and attention to detail are superb.His writing style is also quite enjoyable.A minor criticism: the number of footnotes is a little distracting(usually 60 or so per 20 page chapter).It is,after all,a book about baseball,not an academic text.On the positive side again-the "play-by-play" of the World Series games are riveting
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on February 18, 2006
This is one of the all-time best reads! A fascinating real-life story about one of baseball's greatest pitchers, the author does a wonderful job of bringing history to life. The times and career of Walter Johnson are meticulously researched and presented, but not at the expense of the story. The drama builds to the 1924 World Series and keeps the reader on the edge of their seat. It's great to read a biography that brings an era into focus as well as this one.
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