Walter Johnson made his debut as a major league pitcher in August 1907. During the following winter he came down with an illness which almost ended his pitching career, to say nothing of his life. This article about Johnson's mastoidectomy appeared in the Los Angeles Times' Sunday sports section.

The story of his recovery came in a much shorter notice in the local news section of a later issue, by a writer who knew so little about baseball that he confused the major American League with the minor American Association.



Walter Johnson, the phenom twirler of the Washington team who has been wintering at his home in Olinda, was operated upon at a hospital in Fullerton1 for acute mastoiditis Thursday, and the physicians say he will not be out for a month. A piece of bone was removed from an abcess back of Johnson's right ear and to perform the operation it was necessary to put him under the influence of anesthetics, from which he did not awaken until near noon Friday. He is a little better today and has been able to eat some and recognizes members of his family.

Johnson kept to his bed for nearly two weeks before the operation and his condition grew steadily worse until the surgeons decided the abcess had to be removed, and with it came a piece of the skull bone. The injury is practically the same from which Thomas A. Edison, the inventor is suffering, and Johnson came very near to fatal illness as a result. He put off the operation, hoping that the abcess might be cured otherwise so that he could join the Washington team on its training trip, but the injury kept getting worse.

It is not yet certain that the operation is a success, but the attending surgeons say that they believe the sick man will pull through all right.

Johnson has been pitching semi-professional ball all winter, mostly on Saturdays and Sundays, and it is believed these games did him no good, as he has been feeling badly most of the time, say his friends. It is thought that the abcess was the result of being hit by a pitched ball, but Johnson is too ill to confirm it and his family is non-committal.

Johnson's pitching has not always been of the best, as he has either been careless or not in good condition to twirl a fine game, but at times his work has been of that brilliant nature which made him a star in his first season in the American League.

Johnson's illness has been kept secret as much as possible by his relatives and near friends. Most of them did not realize its seriousness until he took to his bed and the operation was decided upon. The nature of the injury makes it necessary that Johnson remain in bed for some time and at best he will only be able to sit up or hobble about with great caution. It is believed that this will so weaken him that it will take weeks for him to get into pitching form, even after he is able to be out.

Los Angeles Times 1 Mar 1908 page VIII-4


ANAHEIM, May 23.--Walter Johnson of Olinda, who underwent an operation several weeks ago, has nearly recovered, and will pitch for the Washington Association baseball team the coming season. It is reported that five teams of the American Association have offered $10,000 for his release.

Los Angeles Times 24 May 1908 page I-11
1 The hospital was probably Fullerton General Hospital, whose original wooden building was built at 201 E. Amerige Avenue in 1903, then replaced by a Mission-style structure in 1913.