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.


This day in baseball: The almost-no-hitter

On June 11, 1904, Bob Wicker of the Cubs pitched 9 1/3 innings of no-hit baseball before Giants’ outfielder Sam Mertes managed New York’s only hit in the 10th. Wicker had to settle for a 1-0, twelve-inning one-hit victory.

Bob_Wicker

Wikipedia


“Poem for My Father,” by Quincy Troupe

This piece was published in 1996 in Avalanche, a collection of poetry by Quincy Troupe.  It is not only a piece from a son to his father, but also a great tribute to the Negro Leagues.

*

for Quincy T. Trouppe Sr.

father, it was an honor to be there, in the dugout
with you, the glory of great black men swinging their lives
as bats, at tiny white balls
burning in at unbelievable speeds, riding up & in & out
a curve breaking down wicked, like a ball falling off a table
moving away, snaking down, screwing its stitched magic
into chitlin circuit air, its comma seams spinning
toward breakdown, dipping, like a hipster
bebopping a knee-dip stride, in the charlie parker forties
wrist curling, like a swan’s neck
behind a slick black back
cupping an invisible ball of dreams

& you there, father, regal, as an african, obeah man
sculpted out of wood, from a sacred tree, of no name, no place, origin
thick branches branching down, into cherokee & someplace else lost
way back in africa, the sap running dry
crossing from north carolina into georgia, inside grandmother mary’s
womb, where your mother had you in the violence of that red soil
ink blotter news, gone now, into blood graves
of american blues, sponging rococo
truth long gone as dinosaurs
the agent-oranged landscape of former names
absent of african polysyllables, dry husk, consonants there
now, in their place, names, flat, as polluted rivers
& that guitar string smile always snaking across
some virulent, american, redneck’s face
scorching, like atomic heat, mushrooming over nagasaki
& hiroshima, the fever blistered shadows of it all
inked, as etchings, into sizzled concrete
but you, there, father, through it all, a yardbird solo
riffing on bat & ball glory, breaking down the fabricated myths
of white major league legends, of who was better than who
beating them at their own crap
game, with killer bats, as bud powell swung his silence into beauty
of a josh gibson home run, skittering across piano keys of bleachers
shattering all manufactured legends up there in lights
struck out white knights, on the risky edge of amazement
awe, the miraculous truth sluicing through
steeped & disguised in the blues
confluencing, like the point at the cross
when a fastball hides itself up in a slider, curve
breaking down & away in a wicked, sly grin
curved & posed as an ass-scratching uncle tom, who
like old sachel paige delivering his famed hesitation pitch
before coming back with a hard, high, fast one, is slicker
sliding, & quicker than a professional hitman—
the deadliness of it all, the sudden strike
like that of the “brown bomber’s” crossing right
of sugar ray robinson’s, lightning, cobra bite

& you, there, father, through it all, catching rhythms
of chono pozo balls, drumming, like conga beats into your catcher’s mitt
hard & fast as “cool papa” bell jumping into bed
before the lights went out

of the old, negro baseball league, a promise, you were
father, a harbinger, of shock waves, soon come


This day in baseball: The first pinch hit

On June 7, 1892, the Spiders’ Jack Doyle became the first player to collect a pinch hit with a single, coming off the bench to bat for Cleveland hurler George Davies. The Spiders lost 2-1 that day to the Grooms at Brooklyn’s Eastern Park.  Doyle, a utility player, would finish his 17-year career going 3-for-5 (.600) as a pinch-hitter.

John Joseph

Jack Doyle (Wikipedia)


Infographic: Catching: A History

I haven’t had a chance to do much more than skim all the information on this infographic, but what I’ve noted so far is certainly fascinating.  Click on the image below for a (slightly) larger version — though even then, you might still need to zoom in on it.

catching infographic


Roger Maris

Most baseball fans are familiar with the name Roger Maris.  Those who paid any attention to the home run race of 1998 definitely have a familiarity with the name, because from 1961 until 1998, Roger Maris held Major League Baseball’s single-season home run record.

Roger Eugene Maras was born on September 10, 1934 in Hibbing, Minnesota, the son of Rudolph S. “Rudy” and Corrine Maras (Roger would later change his last name to “Maris”).  Roger also had a brother, Rudy, Jr., who was older by a year.  In 1942, the Maras family moved to Grand Forks, North Dakota, then onto Fargo, North Dakota in 1946.

Maris attended Shanley High School in Fargo, and he met his future wife, Patricia, during his sophomore year.  Roger and Rudy Maras, Jr. both competed in sports throughout high school, including track and football.  During the summers, they participated in American Legion baseball, and in 1950, Roger led his North Dakota legion team to the state championship.  Roger was also a standout football player and was even recruited to play for the University of Oklahoma.  Though he initially planned to attend Oklahoma, he

rookie roger maris

Maris in his rookie year with Cleveland (Wikipedia)

changed his mind in favor of staying close to his brother, who had been diagnosed with polio.  Maris instead decided to pursue a baseball career, and at the age of 18, he signed with the Cleveland Indians, starting out with their Fargo farm team.

After a few years in the minors, Maris made his Major League debut on April 16, 1957 playing outfield for the Indians.  Halfway through the 1958 season, he was traded to the Kansas City Athletics.  He recorded 28 home runs during the 1958 season, then in 1959, he represented the A’s in the All-Star game.  However, he missed 45 games during the 1959 season due to an appendix operation and only hit 16 home runs.

In December 1959, Maris was traded to the New York Yankees, along with Kent Hadley and Joe DeMaestri.  In the 1960 season, Maris hit 39 home runs, which was a career high for him at that time, and led the American League with 112 RBIs.  He again played in the All-Star game, and the Yankees won the American League pennant.  However, New York lost the World Series in seven games to the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Maris won the Gold Glove award and was also named the American League’s Most Valuable Player.

Roger Maris

biography.com

In 1961, Major League Baseball extended its season from 154 to 162 games.  When the season started, Maris started out slow, but he hit 11 home runs in the month of May and another 15 in June, putting him on pace to reach the single-season record of 60 set by the Babe Ruth in 1927.  As mid-season approached, it seemed wholly possible that either Maris or fellow Yankee Mickey Mantle, if not both, would break Ruth’s home run record.  The media focused intensely on the home run chase, fabricating a rivalry between Maris and Mantle that didn’t actually exist.

Very much an introvert, Maris grew weary of having to talk about the record with reporters day in and day out, and his hair started falling out due to increasing pressure.  To make matters worse, as the season progressed, there was much discussion as to what would happen if Maris couldn’t break the record within 154 games, some going so far as to say the record didn’t count if Maris couldn’t do it within those 154 games as Ruth did.  The popular belief that an asterisk would be placed on Maris’s record if achieved after 154 games, however, was urban legend.

Maris wound up with 59 home runs during that allotted 154-game time frame, and then Maris tied Ruth in game 159.  He hit his 61st homer on the last day of the season.  From then, until 1991, Ruth and Maris were acknowledged separately in the record books, just not with an asterisk.  Maris also led the AL with 141 RBIs and 132 runs scored in 1961, winning the American League’s Most Valuable Player award once again.  The Yankees went on to win the World Series over the Cincinnati Reds, four games to one.

In 1962, Maris compiled 33 home runs and 100 RBIs and he was named to the All-Star team for the fourth consecutive year.  The Yankees repeated as World Series champs, this time defeating the San Francisco Giants, four games to three.  In 1963, Maris played in only 90 games, hitting 23 home runs.  He also missed much of the World Series due to injury.  In 1964, Maris made a bit of a comeback, appearing in 141 games and batting .281 with 26 home runs.  His play continued to decline after that season, however, and in 1966, the Yankees traded Maris to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Maris played his final two seasons with the Cardinals, helping them to win the 1967 and roger maris cardinals1968 pennants.  While the Cardinals won the 1967 World Series, they lost a very close 1968 Series, four games to three, to the Detroit Tigers.  Maris retired from baseball after that season.

His playing days behind him, Maris and his brother owned and operated Maris Distributing, a Budweiser beer distributorship in Gainesville, Florida.  Maris also coached baseball at Gainesville’s Oak Hall High School, which named its baseball field after him in 1990.  On July 21, 1984, his jersey number 9 was permanently retired by the Yankees, and that same year, the Roger Maris Museum was opened in the West Acres Mall in Fargo.

In 1983, Maris was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma.  He died from the disease in Houston, Texas, on December 14, 1985.  He was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Fargo, North Dakota.


This day in baseball: Gehrig’s streak begins

Lou Gehrig made the only pinch-hit appearance of his career on June 1, 1925 when he came off the bench to hit for infielder Pee-Wee Wanninger.  While the common tale told is that Gehrig’s 2,130-game streak started when he replaced Wally Pipp at first base (held out of the line-up due to the aftereffects of a concussion), the first game of Gehrig’s streak actually came the day before, with this pinch-hit appearance.

gehrig

The ALS Association Greater Philadelphia Chapter