Date: April 30th, 2020 6:32 PM
Author: orchid razzle-dazzle crotch spot
I believe he did this wearing a suit on flat ground
And while we can’t tell you exactly how fast the ball went, we do have a clue. Johnson was the first pitcher to have his fastball’s speed measured. True, it was measured by an archaic (and ingenious) apparatus developed by the Remington Arms Company. But it’s something. Remington had developed the machine to time the speed of bullets. Johnson’s fastball seemed the obvious next thing.
Johnson and another pitcher, Nap Rucker, showed up in a large room at the Remington lab in Connecticut. The scientists had him stand 60 feet, 6 inches away and throw his fastball through a mesh square. The ball would brush through the mesh, triggering the clock. Then, 15 feet later, the ball would slam into a metal plate, stopping the clock. Johnson’s fastball covered that distance in .1229 seconds, which means that it traveled 122 feet per second.*
*Rucker topped out at 113 feet per second.
This became a pretty famous measurement of the time: 122 feet per second! That’s fast! As newspapers reported in the day, “The Twentieth Century Limited, flying at a mile a minute gait over the rails, makes only 88 feet per second!” He threw it faster than a train!
This was not the reason Johnson was called Big Train, by the way. We’ll get to that.
What is 122 feet per second as we would understand it now?
It is 83.2 miles per hour.
It’s OK to feel let down. But the story isn’t over yet.
First, there’s the measurement point. As mentioned above when talking about how fast Feller and Ryan really threw, the speed of today’s pitchers is measured out of the hand. Feller’s pitch was measured as it crossed the plate. But Johnson’s pitch was measured seven and a half feet after it crossed the plate.
So, that requires a major adjustment. The “Fastball” physicists did the calculations and found that today Walter Johnson’s pitch would actually be measured at 94 mph or so.
That’s obviously very fast, though it certainly would not make anyone in today’s game back away. But there’s more: Johnson threw the ball with a shirt and tie on. He did not throw off of a mound. And most of all, he did not throw as hard as he could because he was trying to guide his pitches through the target. It was an awkward thing, and it took him numerous tries to get it right.
“He didn’t throw full speed or anything close,” Rucker said after the experiment. “If he had, he would have thrown over 150 feet per second.”
For the record, 150 feet per second is more than 102 mph. In church clothes. On flat ground.