Johnson threw almost exclusively from a side-arm delivery. He was apparently never an over-the-top thrower, preferring true sidearm release, or occasionally three-quarter sidearm. You could take video of lefthander Randy Johnson and flip it, and it would look much like the video footage we have of Walter’s delivery.
It’s no wonder Johnson pitched nearly 6,000 innings in professional baseball with more than 500 complete games. His sidearm motion was less strain on his shoulder and elbow. The footage of Walter Johnson illustrates how a human being can transform their arm so it resembles a whip: flexing and snapping the baseball to home plate.
Johnson did not have a high leg kick, and the stride with his lead leg was short compared to modern pitchers. Like most hurlers of his day, Johnson had practically no leg lift in his motion. He did not use the windmill technique that some other hard throwers did: Johnson simply leaned back on his right leg, then whipped his right arm around his body forward with a small stride from his left leg. His delivery was simple, with no wasted motion, no loss of energy.
In his era, Johnson didn’t need to throw hard all the time. “I throw as hard as I can when I think I have to throw as hard as I can,” he said.
But his maximum velocity was unusual and unexpected.
“Johnson will always be the greatest pitcher I ever saw. He threw hard, but he threw almost effortlessly,” Satchel Paige said.
It’s hard to believe the man they called “Big Train” was throwing 100 miles per hour with that motion. We have video of Johnson pitching during the 1924 World Series, and also in a handful of regular season games. He doesn’t appear to be creating enough force to throw a baseball more than in the mid-90s. I would suspect that even with that, he was 5-10 miles per hour quicker than almost everyone else. Coupled with the way his release hid the baseball, his long arms, and late movement on his pitches, and Johnson was a nightmare to face.
“His fastball looked about the size of a watermelon seed and it hissed at you as it passed,” Ty Cobb said.
Ranked #1 Among Pitchers All-Time
We rank Johnson as the greatest pitcher in baseball history, check out that list.