A poignant part of reading through the 1946 issues of The Sporting News was the on-going coverage of Walter Johnson’s last months.
In April, Johnson had been hospitalized at Georgetown Hospital in Washington, D.C., suffering from what was eventually diagnosed as a brain tumor.
Every couple of issues TSN reported on Johnson’s condition in what was an eight-month series of rallies and relapses, with the great pitcher slipping into and out of comas and varying degrees of lucidity. As his condition worsened, the once-husky Johnson wasted away to 100 pounds.
In a news short in the Dec. 4 issue, the sporting paper reported that Johnson had sent a birthday card to his old boss, Clark Griffith, who turned 77 on Nov. 20. The item read . . .
CARD FOR GRIFF FROM BIG TRAIN
One of the most prized mementoes of the seventy-seventh birthday anniversary of Clark Griffith, president of the Senators, was a card from Room 103, Georgetown University Hospital. Accompanying the card was a letter from Nurse Sara Shea, who wrote: “Walter Johnson asked me take his hand in mine and help him guide the pen so he could sign it. I did and I enclose his greeting to you.”
On Dec. 7, Johnson went into a coma from which he never regained consciousness. He died just before midnight on Dec. 10.
As a collector, I’d like to think that what must surely have been Walter Johnson’s last “autograph” survives somewhere today.