This poem is short, but I think sports fans can all identify with it. It’s unfortunate that money has become such a pervasive force in professional sports, but then, I suppose it is the money that makes them professional and not amateur.
Money to the left of them and money to the right,
Money everywhere they turn from morning to the night,
Only two things count at all from mountain to the sea,
Part of it’s percentage, and the rest is guarantee.
Considered 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.
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.
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.
Theodore Roosevelt, it seems, did not think highly of the game of baseball. This revelation saddens me somewhat, as Roosevelt is one of my top two favorite Presidents in United States history (the other being Abraham Lincoln). In 1909, Grantland Rice published this piece in Baseball Magazine in an attempt to coax the President into a favorable perspective by highlighting the aspects of the game that Roosevelt would be most likely to find appealing.
That’s the only job for you, take your tip now, Theodore,
Think of how your pulse will leap when you hear the angry roar.
Of the bleacher gods in rage, you will find the action there,
Which you’ve hunted for in vain, in the Presidential chair.
Chasing mountain lions and such, catching grizzlies will seem tame,
Lined up with the jolt you’ll get in the thick of some close game.
Choking angry wolves to death as a sport will stack up raw,
When you see Kid Elberfeld swinging for your under jaw.
When you hear Hugh Jennings roar, “Call them strikes, you lump of cheese!”
Or McGraw rushing in, kicking at your shins and knees.
This is a cool little find that I happened to come across this morning. In 1930, a little over a year after he retired from baseball, Ty Cobb gave an interview with Grantland Rice. He was 43 years old at the time of this interview, reflecting on his career and the players he faced. He also talks about his conditioning, the differences between baseball in his time and the current game (in 1930), and his predictions for the future.
I stumbled across this piece last night and fell in love with it instantly. Grantland Rice, the man who wrote “Casey’s Revenge,” wrote this poem in 1910. This is titled “Game Called,” and it captures the aftermath of a hard-played ballgame with beautiful metaphor and imagery.
Across the field of play
the dusk has come, the hour is late.
The fight is done and lost or won,
the player files out through the gate.
The tumult dies, the cheer is hushed,
the stands are bare, the park is still.
But through the night there shines the light,
home beyond the silent hill.
Where in the golden light
the bugle rolled the reveille.
The shadows creep where night falls deep,
and taps has called the end of play.
The game is done, the score is in,
the final cheer and jeer have passed.
But in the night, beyond the fight,
the player finds his rest at last.
Upon the field of life
the darkness gathers far and wide,
the dream is done, the score is spun
that stands forever in the guide.
Nor victory, nor yet defeat
is chalked against the players name.
But down the roll, the final scroll,
shows only how he played the game.
Published in 1907 in The Nashville Tennessean, this poem by Grantland Rice is the sequel of the original “Casey At the Bat.” It certainly captures the spirit of the roller coaster ride of any player’s season.
There were saddened hearts in Mudville for a week or even more;
There were muttered oaths and curses—every fan in town was sore.
“Just think,” said one, “how soft it looked with Casey at the bat,
And then to think he’d go and spring a bush league trick like that!”
All his past fame was forgotten—he was now a hopeless “shine.”
They called him “Strike-Out Casey,” from the mayor down the line;
And as he came to bat each day his bosom heaved a sigh,
While a look of hopeless fury shone in mighty Casey’s eye.
He pondered in the days gone by that he had been their king,
That when he strolled up to the plate they made the welkin ring;
But now his nerve had vanished, for when he heard them hoot
He “fanned” or “popped out” daily, like some minor league recruit.
He soon began to sulk and loaf, his batting eye went lame;
No home runs on the score card now were chalked against his name;
The fans without exception gave the manager no peace,
For one and all kept clamoring for Casey’s quick release.
The Mudville squad began to slump, the team was in the air;
Their playing went from bad to worse—nobody seemed to care.
“Back to the woods with Casey!” was the cry from Rooters’ Row.
“Get some one who can hit the ball, and let that big dub go!”
The lane is long, some one has said, that never turns again,
And Fate, though fickle, often gives another chance to men;
And Casey smiled; his rugged face no longer wore a frown—
The pitcher who had started all the trouble came to town.
All Mudville had assembled—ten thousand fans had come
To see the twirler who had put big Casey on the bum;
And when he stepped into the box, the multitude went wild;
He doffed his cap in proud disdain, but Casey only smiled.
“Play ball!” the umpire’s voice rang out, and then the game began.
But in that throng of thousands there was not a single fan
Who thought that Mudville had a chance, and with the setting sun
Their hopes sank low—the rival team was leading “four to one.”
The last half of the ninth came round, with no change in the score;
But when the first man up hit safe, the crowd began to roar;
The din increased, the echo of ten thousand shouts was heard
When the pitcher hit the second and gave “four balls” to the third.
Three men on base —nobody out —three runs to tie the game!
A triple meant the highest niche in Mudville’s hall of fame;
But here the rally ended and the gloom was deep as night,
When the fourth one “fouled to catcher” and the fifth “flew out to right.”
A dismal groan in chorus came; a scowl was on each face
When Casey walked up, bat in hand, and slowly took his place;
His bloodshot eyes in fury gleamed, his teeth were clenched in hate;
He gave his cap a vicious hook and pounded on the plate.
But fame is fleeting as the wind and glory fades away;
There were no wild and woolly cheers, no glad acclaim this day;
They hissed and groaned and hooted as they clamored: “Strike him out!”
But Casey gave no outward sign that he had heard this shout.
The pitcher smiled and cut one loose —across the plate it sped;
Another hiss, another groan. “Strike one!” the umpire said.
Zip! Like a shot the second curve broke just below the knee.
“Strike two!” the umpire roared aloud; but Casey made no plea.
No roasting for the umpire now —his was an easy lot;
But here the pitcher whirled again—was that a rifle shot?
A whack, a crack, and out through the space the leather pellet flew,
A blot against the distant sky, a speck against the blue.
Above the fence in center field in rapid whirling flight
The sphere sailed on —the blot grew dim and then was lost to sight.
Ten thousand hats were thrown in air, ten thousand threw a fit,
But no one ever found the ball that mighty Casey hit.
O, somewhere in this favored land dark clouds may hide the sun,
And somewhere bands no longer play and children have no fun!
And somewhere over blighted lives there hangs a heavy pall,
But Mudville hearts are happy now, for Casey hit the ball.