It was the kind of fuss that would have made Walter Johnson blush.
There was a newsreel of his exploits and speech upon speech about his virtues. The governor sent best wishes. The president of the United States called him "the heart and soul of the old Washington Senators." And then his family stood and there was the applause, the whoops and palm-stinging stuff so reminiscent of what once greeted Johnson, one of the greatest major-league pitchers ever, whenever he walked to the mound of Griffith Stadium.
Walter Perry Johnson would have been 100 years old last week. At the Montgomery County high school that is the namesake for the legend who died in 1947, his birthday was a chance for students, members of his family and baseball aficionados to honor once again the most famous of the Washington Senators.
For those who know the summer game as more than a spectator sport, it was a time to talk about fear and the wonder of what can only be called a "whooshball," Johnson's fastball that for 21 years sped past home plate and almost any unsuspecting batter.
"I know one thing," Brooks Robinson, former third baseman for the Baltimore Orioles and a member of the Hall of Fame, told an assembly of more than 1,200 students Friday. "I'm glad I didn't have to hit off him."
Johnson's famous motion -- a long, sidearm swing that dipped under and over his chest -- flickered across a motion picture screen in the school's auditorium. Again, came that arm. Again, the fluid, powerful lunge that put Johnson's name on the record book 67 times, more than any other pitcher.
The sight was enough to make the students buzz. As Shirley Povich, sports editor emeritus at The Washington Post, told the students later: "I am one of the survivors. I'm so pleased to be able to say I did see Walter Johnson pitch. The memories are, well, ongoing."
No one ever pitched more shutouts -- 110 -- than Johnson. Only one pitcher -- Cy Young -- won more games than Johnson's bounty of 416. He accumulated 3,508 strikeouts and 56 consecutive scoreless innings, and he still holds the single-season batting record for pitchers at .433.
If newspaper stories and radio announcers heralded Johnson, the Kansas-born pitcher accepted the acclaim with a self-effacing manner that bordered on reluctance. Baseball was his business. He merely did the best he could with what he had. When he retired from baseball in 1927, he took up farm life and community service in Montgomery County, where he reared six children. That, speakers said, is perhaps the best legacy of Walter Johnson.
"If Walter Johnson was here today, I don't think he'd talk to you about baseball," Robinson said. "I think he'd tell you no matter how difficult things look at times, if you follow the example of your chosen hero, you can do it."
"If Dad was here today, he would have been pleased but he wouldn't have cared for the grandstanding," said his daughter Carolyn Johnson Thomas of Chevy Chase. "If he would've been called on to speak, I think he would have said one thing: 'Thank you very much.' "