Christy Mathewson

christy mathewsonConsidered the first great pitcher of the modern era, Christopher “Christy” Mathewson was born in Factoryville, Pennsylvania on August 12, 1880, the oldest of six children of Minerva (née Capwell) and Gilbert Mathewson.  He attended high school at Keystone Academy, and then college at Bucknell University. At Bucknell, Mathewson served as class president, played on the school’s football and baseball teams, and he was also a member of the fraternity of Phi Gamma Delta.

In 1895, when Mathewson was fourteen years old, the manager of the Factoryville ball club asked him to pitch in a game against a rival team in Mill City, Pennsylvania. Mathewson helped the Factoryville team to a 19-17 victory. He continued to play with semipro teams until he left for Bucknell.

At Bucknell, though Mathewson pitched for the baseball team, he was better known for his accomplishments as a football player, where he spent three years as the varsity team’s first-string fullback, punter, and drop kicker. It was also at Bucknell that Mathewson met his future wife, Jane Stoughton. After playing ball throughout his time at Bucknell, Mathewson signed his first professional baseball contract in 1899 with Taunton of the New England League. In 1900, he went on to play with Norfolk of the Virginia-North Carolina League, finishing the season with a 20-2 record.

In July of 1900, the New York Giants purchased Mathewson’s contract from Norfolk for $1,500. He appeared in six games for the Giants, compiling an 0-3 record before the Giants sent him back to Norfolk, demanding their money back in frustration.  In September of that year, the Cincinnati Reds obtained Mathewson off the Norfolk roster, then traded him back to the Giants that December.

Christy Mathewson won 20 games in his first full major league season in 1901. He then posted at least 30 wins a season from 1903-05 and led the National League in strikeouts five times between 1903 and 1908. In 1908, he set a modern era record for single-season wins by an NL pitcher with 37. From 1903 to 1914, Mathewson won at least 22 games each season and led the NL in ERA five times.

Christy Mathewson

Wikipedia

In postseason play, during the 1905 World Series, Mathewson pitched three complete-game shutouts in three starts against the Athletics, giving up only 14 hits total in those three games. In 1911, the Giants won their first pennant since 1905, however they ultimately lost the 1911 World Series to the Philadelphia Athletics. Mathewson and Rube Marquard allowed two game-winning home runs to Hall of Famer Frank Baker en route to the Series loss.

The Giants captured the pennant again in 1912, facing the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. Though Mathewson threw three complete games in the Series and maintained an ERA below 1.00, the Giants as a team committed a number of errors, including the infamous lazy popup dropped by Fred Snodgrass in game 7, costing them the championship. Though the Giants would win 101 games in 1913, they lost the World Series that year four games to one, again to the Athletics.

Mathewson played with the Giants for seventeen years. After the 1913 season, however, both Mathewson and the Giants as a team began to decline. In 1916, Mathewson was traded back to the Reds and was named player-manager. He appeared in only one game as a pitcher for the Reds, on September 4, 1916 against the Cubs. Mathewson and the Reds won that contest, 10-8.

In his career, Mathewson posted a 373-188 record (.665 winning percentage). His career ERA was 2.13 (8th all time) and he posted 79 shutouts (3rd all time) over the course of said career. Mathewson also recorded 2,507 career strikeouts against only 848 walks.

Nicknamed the “Christian Gentleman,” Mathewson was held in high regard in his time. Mathewson was handsome, college-educated, and temperate, making him an anomaly in the rowdy world of baseball during this time period. It made him, easily, one of the most popular ballplayers of the age. “He gripped the imagination of a country that held a hundred million people and held this grip with a firmer hold than any man of his day or time,” wrote sportswriter Grantland Rice.

christy_mathewson

baseballinwartime.com

Late in the 1918 season, Mathewson enlisted in the United States Army for World War I. He served as a captain in the newly formed Chemical Service along with Ty Cobb. While he was in France, he was accidentally exposed to mustard gas during a chemical training exercise and subsequently developed tuberculosis. Mathewson served with the American Expeditionary Force until February 1919 and was discharged later that month. He returned to serve as an assistant coach for the Giants until 1921, but continued to battle tuberculosis the entire time.

After some time away, Mathewson attempted to return to professional baseball in 1923 when he and Giants attorney Emil Fuchs put together a syndicate that bought the Boston Braves.  Initially, Mathewson was to be principal owner and team president, but his health had deteriorated so much that he turned over the presidency to Fuchs after the season. Christy Mathewson died in Saranac Lake, New York of tuberculosis on October 7, 1925. He is buried at Lewisburg Cemetery in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, near Bucknell University.

In 1936, Mathewson became one of the first five players elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.


Ken Burns’s Baseball: The Third Inning

3rd inning

The Third Inning of Baseball: A Film By Ken Burns explores the game during the 1910s.  This disc opens with a discussion of fan involvement, and how the setup of the field during this time period gave fans a greater amount of influence in the events of the game.  Fans often spectated standing in foul territory or directly on the field behind the outfielders, allowing them not only to yell at players more effectively, but also to potentially become physically involved in some plays.  And it wasn’t just fans rooting for their teams who sought to influence the outcome of games.  Gamblers during this time period were heavily involved in the sport.

Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics dominated the first half of the decade.  Meanwhile, the saga of Ty Cobb continues, from his 1910 race for the batting title against Nap Lajoie to Cobb’s suspension from organized baseball for beating the snot out of a fan in 1912.

Buck O’Neil, who has contributed to the commentary of the documentary series in the first two innings, was born in 1911, and now discusses his experience with baseball as a boy.  Baseball’s “gentleman’s agreement,” however, continued to exclude black players from the game, though teams at times undermined this agreement with light-skinned minority players.

The 1912 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Giants became an unusual eight-game Series when the second game was called due to “impending darkness.”  Game eight of this Series was the one in which Fred Snodgrass dropped an easy fly ball, which allowed hitter Red Sox Clyde Engle to make it all the way to second.  Engle would later score, tying the game at 2-2, and Red Sox went on to first load the bases, then score the winning run.  Poor Snodgrass joined the ranks of dubious fame with Fred Merkle as a result.

The clouds of scandal appear early with the figure of Hal Chase.  His willingness to throw games was so well-known that even fans took to chanting, “What’s the odds,” whenever Chase took the field.  Players throughout baseball expressed their own discontent with the reserve clause and the complete control of owners over their contracts.  The formation of the Federal League attempted to address this discontent in promising players the opportunity for free agency.  The new league only lasted two seasons, however, and the players found themselves still without a voice.

On this disc, we meet pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander, and we see more of the progression of Branch Rickey’s baseball career.  The 1916 World Series went to the Boston Red Sox over the Brooklyn Superbas.  The 1917 Series went to the Chicago White Sox over the New York Giants, then Boston returned to win the 1918 Series, this time over the Cubs.  When World War I broke out, Major League Baseball as a whole seemingly turned a blind eye.  Some players did serve during the war, including Grover Alexander, Ty Cobb, and Christy Mathewson, and Branch Rickey joined the effort as well.

The last half hour of the Third Inning went into detail covering the 1919 Black Sox scandal.  I particularly found it fascinating that Burns managed to find a Chicago fan who had been fifteen years old at the time of the scandal.  This fan recalled his disbelief that the White Sox had managed to lose the Series, being too young to understand the world of gambling at the time.  His shock and disappointment no doubt reflected the feeling of baseball fans everywhere at the time.  Though as Buck O’Neil describes at the very end of this disc, while the scandal turned a lot of folks away from the game at the time, it wouldn’t be long before a new hero would draw them back — a man named Babe Ruth.


Charlie Faust and the 1911 New York Giants

Week one of classes has come to an end, and the baseball literature class has thus far exceeded my hopes and expectations.  On day one, the professor came into the classroom and commented, “By the way, this class is baseball,” for the benefit of the unsure.  His appearance, no doubt, did leave some students unsure, as it was difficult to ignore the all-white mop of hair, the thick glasses, and the large belly — all indications that his days of actually playing any form of baseball were long behind him.  He intends to retire at the end of the year, an announcement that made me realize that I could very well be sitting in on the final offering of this course.

Then he started talking, and it quickly became evident that this man’s knowledge of baseball and its history made my own seem amateurish by comparison, and I certainly know more than the average Joe off the streets.  He first taught this class in 1974, and while it has been offered at sporadic intervals over the years, his love for the subject matter shows through.  We spent time talking about the Royals and talking about baseball history.  He explained, “Of course, we’re going to talk about baseball literature, but we’re also going to talk about history and about what’s going on in the game today.  We may even go to a game, and if you don’t know how to keep score… well, you’re gonna learn.”

We have begun bouncing around the stories in The Glory of Their Times, and one figure we focused on in class yesterday was Charlie Faust, the good luck charm of the New York Giants during the 1911 season.  Fred Snodgrass discusses Faust’s time with the Giants in his oral history recorded in Glory of Their Times.  Faust approached manager John McGraw during spring training, after a Kansas fortune teller supposedly told him that he needed to join the Giants and help them win the pennant.  McGraw, being the superstitious type, allowed Faust to join the team, though he did not actually grant Faust an actual salary.

Charlie Faust (Wikipedia)

Charlie Faust (Wikipedia)

Faust’s daily needs were covered by the Giants, but otherwise, he mostly just tagged along with the team as a sort-of mascot.  Every day, Charlie Faust warmed up as a pitcher, with a windmill wind up against which even Billy Butler could steal his way home.  But while Faust believed he was an actual member of the team, he really served as little more than an entertainment piece.  Snodgrass describes how fans showed up at the ballpark just to watch Faust warm up, and my own impression as I read Snodgrass’s account was that Faust seemed completely clueless about what was really going on.  Throughout his time with the Giants, Faust served as the butt of a countless number of jokes, entertaining crowds and players both.  Reading more about the topic outside of Glory, Faust clearly had some mental shortcomings, which Snodgrass hints at, but really doesn’t make clear.  Nevertheless, according to Snodgrass, Faust’s presence did turn out to be a good luck charm for the team, as they consistently won while Faust was around, but lost in Faust’s absence.  As fate would have it, the Giants did win the 1911 pennant — the first of three consecutive.

John McGraw did put Charlie Faust into a couple of games in 1911, on October 7 and on October 12.  He is in the record books as having pitched a total of 2.0 innings, giving up two hits and an earned run for a 4.50 ERA.  But while Snodgrass recalls Faust staying with the Giants for a couple more seasons, research by Gabriel Schechter shows that McGraw actually dismissed Faust at the start of the 1912 season, fearing that Faust was becoming less and less an innocent form of entertainment and more and more of an unstable threat to the safety of the team.

Charlie Faust never overcame the disappointment of rejection by, he believed, his true destiny.  In 1914, he was sent to a mental hospital in Salem, Oregon.  On the admission form to the institution, he listed his occupation as “professional ballplayer.”  The hospital diagnosed Faust with dementia, before releasing him into the custody of his brother.  Charlie Faust died of tuberculosis on June 18, 1915.