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.
I came across this graphic quite accidentally, but now that I’ve found it, I’m thinking it’d be fun and interesting to see if there are more like it for other Hall of Famers. Craig Biggio never won a World Series with the Astros (though they appeared in one in 2005), but he was still a player worth talking about. Biggio was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2015.
I spent much of the last week visiting an old friend who now lives in New York state. Though I was only there for a few days, we managed to cram a lot into our limited time together. We spent a full day in Manhattan — my first time ever in New York City. Another day, we went on a five-mile hike up a mountain in the Hudson River Valley. I also insisted, so long as I was making the trip halfway across the country, that we had to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
The day we reserved for visiting the Hall of Fame came the day after our NYC day, and we didn’t get to bed until about 2:00 a.m. that night before. Cooperstown is about a three-hour drive from my friend’s home, and as late as we were out the previous night, there was no way we were going to be on the road by 6:00 am to be there in time for the 9:00 open time. Instead we pulled into town a bit after noon, and we stopped for sandwiches and coffee at a nice little café called Stagecoach Coffee (which I highly recommend, by the way, if you’re ever in Cooperstown).
We finished our lunch and arrived at the Hall of Fame around 1:00, leaving us about four hours to explore before closing time. There ended up being a couple of exhibits we didn’t get to see (pro tip: don’t go out the night before so you can get there earlier than we did), but we did see most of it, and I took an insane number of pictures in the process. For sanity’s sake, I’ll just post a few of the highlights here, but if you are somehow just morbidly curious, I’ve created a public album including all my photos here.
Ernie Banks, “Mr. Cub,” was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977. I love the fact that he starts this speech with his signature, “Let’s play two.”
The Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) voted, via mail, to select from major league players retired less than 25 years for the Hall of Fame class of 1950. On February 16 of that year, the organization ended up selecting no one for induction. The top vote-getters in the balloting were former Giants Mel Ott (69%) and Bill Terry (63%), however, this fell short of the 75% of the writers’ ballots required for induction. Ott would get elected the following season, and Terry entered the Hall of Fame in 1954.
The first five men elected into baseball’s new Hall of Fame on February 2, 1936 were Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson, and Christy Mathewson. The Hall of Fame was scheduled to open in Cooperstown, New York in 1939 as part of baseball’s celebration of its “centennial,” that is, the centennial based on the myth of Doubleday’s invention of the game.
Congratulations to Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome, and Trevor Hoffman on their election into the Baseball Hall of Fame!