Yesterday marked the 104th anniversary of Walter Johnson's major league debut for Washington - Aug. 2, 1907 - and the beginning of the journey that eventually made him one of the first five inductees into the Hall of Fame.
All these years later, there's a high school in Montgomery County - close to where he lived for several years - named in his honor, and a multi-armed statue of the Big Train in the center field plaza at Nationals Park. Those things are very nice, to be sure, but the one honor that has eluded him - and indeed, every great player in Washington baseball history - is having his number retired.
I know what you're thinking: "What's wrong with you? Surely you know that Johnson never wore a number as a player." True. But he did wear a number - in fact two numbers - as a manager, 23 and 25. One of those would do the trick.
I've heard some fans insist that the Twins should be the team to retire his number, since the Minnesota franchise is the original Washington American League ballclub. Johnson, though, never played for the Twins; I'm not altogether certain he ever set foot in the state. A few years ago, Twins' fans complained loudly for that very reason when the ballclub held a Johnson bobblehead night.
Every team in baseball retired No. 42 to honor Jackie Robinson several seasons back. Retiring a number for Walter Johnson in Washington makes perfect sense, since it's the city he's most associated with. It might make for a neat promotion, with the Nationals having their own Johnson bobblehead night, featuring the Big Train wearing whatever number they select. Better yet, let Johnson's daughter, Carolyn Thomas, choose which digit to hang up.
If you're a rabid Nats fan, you probably know that no one who has played for the major league Nationals since their arrival in 2005 has worn No. 33. In 2005, pregame coach Jack Voigt wore it, but he was never on the field once the game began. No. 33, of course, is the number associated with Frank Howard, though he actually wore No. 9 for four of his seven years in D.C. It's one of those unofficially retired digits, which I'll chalk up to sentiment, and there's nothing wrong with that. An honest-to-goodness official retirement ceremony would be even better.
The day will eventually come when a Nationals star has his uniform number retired by the club and hung prominently inside the park. The franchise re-issued the numbers that had been retired in Montreal, since those players had no connection - no games played - in Washington. Why wait 15-20 years to honor an individual from the 21st century when there are a few 20th century stalwarts deserving of recognition?