“Runaway Train” by Graig Kreindler

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“Runaway Train” – 20 x 20 in. – Oil on Linen – 2012 – SOLD

Runaway Train

NEW YORK – Expectations for Walter Johnson’s performance during the 1914 season were pretty high. Though he had pitched incredibly well for the Senators since his rookie year, 1913 was the season that really made the right-hander perhaps the foremost hurler in all of baseball.

The pride of Allen County, Kansas captured the Most Valuable Player award from Chalmers Motors that year with some impressive numbers. Johnson won thirty-six games and lost only seven. That figure led the entire major leagues, as did his winning percentage of .837, his ERA of 1.14, his twenty-nine complete games, his 346 innings pitched, his 243 strikeouts, and his eleven shutouts. The batters in the American League were practically helpless against him, averaging a mere .187. Walter also only walked thirty-eight of them – less than one per nine innings. He also had multiple winning streaks of fourteen, ten and seven games. Five of those thirty-six games were by 1-0, six by 2-1, fifteen by one run, and six by two. He was a perfect 7-0 in relief and was an astonishing 20-3 on the road. In the field, he handled 103 chances without an error. And offensively, he batted .261 with an impressive .433 slugging average.

His stellar season earned him a $5,000 raise to $12,000 for the 1914 campaign. But perhaps most importantly, that spring, Walter renewed his acquaintance with Hazel Lee Roberts. The daughter of a Nevada congressman, she was a beautiful debutante in the Washington social scene. Though in attendance at the President and Mrs. Taft’s silver wedding jubilee at the White House in 1911, she was also quite an athlete herself – a part of the Carson City High School girls’ basketball team, Nevada state champions in 1909. She would become captain of that same team in 1910. And in those same years, she acted in her high school production of Julius Caser, sketched and wrote poetry. She was also active in the suffragist movement, playing a prominent role in the demonstration for women’s voting rights in Washington in 1913.

It was at the Dewey Hotel at 13th and L in Washington, D.C., where their paths crossed for the first time. The first class apartment-hotel included a number of congressional families as its tenants, as well as many of the ballplayers on the Senators. When the two of them met, by all accounts they were instantly smitten with each other. They were married on the night of June 24, 1914, at a small ceremony at the Roberts’ new apartment on Monroe Street.

That year, the ‘distracted’ Walter Johnson won ‘only’ twenty-eight games.