BASEBALL URBAN LEGEND: Walter Johnson reenacted a mythical George Washington coin toss.
In John Ford’s classic 1962 western, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, there is a classic line after a newspaperman discovers the truth of who actually shot Liberty Valance. He is undeterred, though, noting “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” That’s exactly what United States history was for quite some time when partially fictionalized histories about famous people like Christopher Columbus and George Washington became accepted as fact by most Americans. In the case of Columbus, Washington Irving’s A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus credited Columbus with proving that the Earth was not flat, a belief no one seriously still had in the late 15th Century. In the case of Washington, Parson Weems’ A History of the Life and Death, Virtues and Exploits of General George Washington invented what is perhaps the most famous George Washington anecdote, the tale of young George confessed to cutting down a cherry tree despite knowing that he would most likely be punished severely for his actions. However, Weems also invented a few other Washington anecdotes, including the time young George threw a silver dollar (since they didn’t actually have silver dollars, it “must” have been a piece of slate the size of a silver dollar) across the Rappahannock river.
In 1936, Hall of Fame pitcher Walter “The Big Train” Johnson decided that he would do in real life what Washington only did in myth.
Did Johnson manage to throw a silver dollar across the Rappahannock river? Read on to find out…