Monday, February 1, 2010

Spotlight On: Christy Mathewson

I've recently decided that every few days I'm going to do a Spotlight On blog... these will be focused completely on the history of baseball and will include players, managers, parks, events, etc- all celebrating the greatest and some of the least known or publicized parts of baseball history. My whole point in doing this is to hopefully teach those of you who don't focus much on baseball prior to the 1990's, some interesting tidbits about the game.

I will also be doing a Spotlight On: Prospects, blog once or twice a week. I'd like to get more traffic on the site and be able to pass some of my knowledge and favorite reasons why I love this sport to others.

Today I decided to start with someone I learned about based on reading Eight Men Out. Hugh Fullerton, a Chicago sports writer, and Christy Matthewson sat in box seats during the 1919 World Series and circled "suspicious" plays including two by ace, Eddie Cicotte, in Game 1.

The first play that cued Mathewson, who was a retired Reds player and manager, off? An intentional hit of Cincinnati lead off hitter Morrie Rath to single to New York gamblers that the players were in agreement with the fix.

It comes as no surprise that Christy Mathewson would be one to watch every game in deep scruntity of every play. As a manager he had suspended Hal Chase for "indifferent playing." On and off the field "Matty" as he was nicknamed in the bigs was the epitome of a role model. He never played ball on Sundays, went to Bucknell University, and served as his college class president.

In a time when booz, gambling, and women were rampant in baseball, Mathewson was the odd man out. He attended a literacy club, and coined the phrase "you can learn little from victory, but everything from defeat."

He was deemed arrogant by his teammates but he was one of the few who could easily be arrogant and it be acceptable.

Matty started his professional baseball career playing minor league ball with the Norfolk. From there he was bought for $1,500 from the Giants, and after going 0-3, returned with receipt in hand when the big league team demanded their money back. Soon afterwards he was sold to the Reds for $100 and then went full circle and was traded back to the Giants for a burnt out fast ball pitcher.

Christy has a little more than a fastball under his belt. Andrew Foster taught him a pitch that he used maybe only 12 times a game- but was always a threat. Called a "fadeaway" in the dead-ball era, Christy Mathewson is one of the best known screwball pitchers in baseball history. (A screw ball is a reverse curve that breaks in to right handed batters. It usually leaves the batters line of vision easily hence the nickname "fadeaway").
With a combination fastball, screwball, and change up, Matthewson won a career 373 games, had a 2.13 career ERA with 80 career shutouts, 2,502 K's and only 844 walks.

In 1905 the Giants won the World Series. Matty, always persevering, started in Games 1, 3, and 5. Christy Mathewson not only pitched 3 complete games by himself, but gave up only 14 hits and no runs. That's right- this guy pitched 3 complete game shutouts during the 1905 World Series.

By 1908 Matty had completed 2 no hitters, had won the Triple Crown for pitching twice, and was regarded as baseball's first real superstar.

Due to his morality and passion for God and life in general, he was the perfect role model for young boys. He took it a step further when he joined the army for World War I in 1918 and went over seas with Ty Cobb to fight for America's freedom.

In France he was accidentally gassed and as a result, developed tuberculosis.

Matty returned home to coach the Giants during the 1919-1920 season, but his illness kept him out of baseball after that except for a brief stint with the Boston Braves as a co-president in 1923. He suffered silently and ultimately passed away in 1925 at only 45 years old.

Christy Mathewson died on Opening Day of the 1925 World Series and members of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Senators wore black arm bands and the US mourned his passing.

11 years later Mathewson was one of the first five players ever to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. He was the only one not there to see it.

Matty will always be remembered for his insane arm, his 13 times winning 20+ games and 4 times winning 30+, his intelligence, his love for the game and trying to keep it clean, and-a personal favorite of mine- what I call the "curse of Christy Mathewson." Matty pitched and lost a playoff game against the Chicago Cubs who went on to win the 1908 World Series. They haven't won one since. I've always found that little piece of history entertaining.

"M is for Matty
Who carried a charm
In the form of an extra
Brain on his arm"
-Ogden Nash
We Are Chicago Baseball

No comments:

Post a Comment